Happy National Dictionary Day! We asked Noah Webster, star and editor of Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, to answer a few questions in honor of the occasion. (Author Tracy Nelson Maurer might have helped him out a bit.)
First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
You want to know only “a little bit” about me? Oh, but there’s so much to tell you! I was born in Connecticut in 1758 and learned to read and write exceptionally well as a young boy. A college education at Yale prepared me to ask questions and stake my opinions, which I often (very often) did. I learned about 20 different languages (self-taught), played the flute, and enjoyed dancing now and then.
I consider myself a patriot and a founding father of America (although not everyone agrees that I helped to write the Constitution, the dullards). I was a teacher, a newspaper editor, a statesman, a statistician, public health activist, copyright advocate, and America’s first best-selling author. AND I wrote the first dictionary of the American-English language. With a quill pen. By myself. But enough about me.
What inspired you to write a dictionary?
The American Revolution to win independence from Great Britain (and King George’s horrid taxation without representation) prompted me to write a dictionary that would help separate American-English from British-English. The British dictionary had no American words in it—not even “skunk.” I think “skunk” is a good word to know, don’t you?
What are your favorite treats?
Raisins and peppermints! Mmmm!
There have been a lot of words added to your dictionary since it was first published in 1806! What are some of your favorites? Are there any you’d spell differently?
We add about 1,000 words every year to our dictionary, because the language is always changing (I was the first to argue–a lot–in support of this idea). I always prefer the simplest spellings; most look okay these days. Here are three favorites:
Ginger: a person with red hair (me, for example)
Humblebrag: to humbly draw attention to one’s achievements (who would ever do such a thing?!)
Yowza: expressing surprise or amazement (probably from someone reading my dictionary)
Did you know that your birthday is also National Dictionary Day? How are you planning to celebrate?
Dear, I’m rather certain National Dictionary Day exists because it’s MY birthday. I’ll celebrate the usual way: by eating peppermints and reading a good book (probably my dictionary). I love learning new words! I’ll also read one of my favorite books again: Noah Webster’s Fighting Words. I highly recommend it. (I edited it, you know!)