Friday, April 14, 2017

Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language is printed

Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language is printed » 1818


An 1888 advertisement for Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
The name Webster's Dictionary may refer to any of the line of dictionaries first developed by Noah Webster in the early nineteenth century and numerous unrelated dictionaries that adopted Webster's name just to share his prestige. The term "Webster's" has become a generic trademarkin the U.S. for dictionaries of the English language. For this reason the term may otherwise refer to any dictionary at all that chooses to use the name. Also, "Webster's" is often used to refer to a generic dictionary.  (However, the only succeeding dictionaries that can trace their lineage to the one established by Noah Webster are those now published by Merriam-Webster.)

Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language

Noah Webster (1758–1843), the author of the readers and spelling books that dominated the American market at the time, spent decades of research in compiling his dictionaries. His first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, appeared in 1806. In it, he popularized features that would become a hallmark of American English spelling (center rather than centre, honor rather than honour, program rather than programme, etc.) and included technical terms from the arts and sciences rather than confining his dictionary to literary words. Webster was a proponent of English spelling reform for reasons both philological and nationalistic. In A Companion to the American Revolution (2008), John Algeo notes: "it is often assumed that characteristically American spellings were invented by Noah Webster. He was very influential in popularizing certain spellings in America, but he did not originate them. Rather [...] he chose already existing options such as center, color and check on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology". In William Shakespeare's first folios, for example, spellings such as center and color are the most common. He spent the next two decades working to expand his dictionary.

First edition 1828

Title page of the 1828 first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language featuring an engraving of Webster
Extract from the Orthography section of the first edition, which popularized the American standard spellings of -er (6); -or (7); dropped -e (8); -or (10); -se (11); doubling consonants with suffix (15)
In 1828, at the age of 70, Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in two quarto volumes containing 70,000 entries, as against the 58,000 of any previous dictionary. There were 2,500 copies printed, at $20 for the two volumes. At first the set sold poorly. When he lowered the price to $15, its sales improved, and by 1836 that edition was exhausted. Not all copies were bound at the same time; the book also appeared in publisher's boards; other original bindings of a later date are not unknown.

Second edition 1841

1841 printing

In 1841, 82-year-old Noah Webster published a second edition of his lexicographical masterpiece with the help of his son, William G. Webster. Its title page does not claim the status of second edition, merely noting that this new edition was the "first edition in octavo" in contrast to the quarto format of the first edition of 1828. Again in two volumes, the title page proclaimed that the Dictionary contained "the whole vocabulary of the quarto, with corrections, improvements and several thousand additional words: to which is prefixed an introductory dissertation on the origin, history and connection of the languages of western Asia and Europe, with an explanation of the principles on which languages are formed. B. L. Hamlen of New Haven, Connecticut, prepared the 1841 printing of the second edition.[9]

1844 printing

When Webster died, his heirs sold unbound sheets of his 1841 revision American Dictionary of the English Language to the firm of J. S. & C. Adams of Amherst, Massachusetts. This firm bound and published a small number of copies in 1844 – the same edition that Emily Dickinson used as a tool for her poetic composition. However, a $15 price tag on the book made it too expensive to sell easily, so the Amherst firm decided to sell out. Merriam acquired rights from Adams, as well as signing a contract with 

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