Today is October 16th, and that means it is National Dictionary Day! This unofficial holiday commemorates the birthday of America’s most renowned lexicographer and linguist: Noah Webster (1758-1843).
Noah Webster was born into an average colonial family in the town of Hartford, Connecticut, on October 16, 1758. Webster grew up working on the family farm, where his parents worked hard to be able to indulge his passion for learning by sending him to Yale College, Connecticut’s first college, in the year 1774. After a brief stint serving in the American Revolution, Webster graduated from Yale in 1778 before becoming a teacher.
Webster has a long list of accomplishments—from founding one of New York City’s first daily newspapers (The American Minvera and The Herald) to writing the spelling book A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. But his magnum opus was the creation of America’s first Dictionary: An American Dictionary of the English Language (now the Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Before Webster, every dictionary came over to America from England. Webster believed that America needed its own dictionary because language had adapted and evolved in America from the English of England; America had its own dialect. This means that American English had many different words and terms than the people of England, and these differences were not included in any dictionaries from England. SO in 1801, Webster began working on creating an American dictionary by first observing the various words used by Americans. One other important difference Webster made in his dictionary that distinguishes it from existing dictionaries was changing the spelling of words such as “colour” and “flavour” to simply “color” and “flavor.” Webster’s lexigraphy work took 27 years to complete. In 1828, Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language was finished and published; this complete edition contained definitions for over 65,000 words.
Celebrating National Dictionary Day
National Dictionary Day not only commemorates the important work of Noah Webster, but it also celebrates the importance of words. It gives logophiles (meaning word-lovers) and bibliophiles (meaning book-lovers) the perfect opportunity to spread their appreciation of words and language. There was never a better time than this annual celebration of the dictionary—possibly besides studying for the SATs—to learn the word-of-the-day or search the online thesaurus for some funky new words.
Here are some funny-sounding-and-awesome-words that have sadly fallen out of common usage:
noun | at-uh-RAK-see-uh
Definition: a state of freedom from emotional disturbance, disquiet, and anxiety; tranquil and blissful state of mind
This word is derived from the Greek words ‘a-‘ meaning “not” and ‘tarassein’ meaning “to disturb or confuse.”
adjective | KRAP-yuh-lus
Definition: intemperance especially in eating or drinking; sick from excessive indulgence in alcohol
This word is derived from the Latin word ‘crapula’ which means “intoxication.” The Latin derivative originates from the older Greek word ‘kraipalē‘ referring to a drunken headache.
adjective | er-ə-nā-shəs
Definition: resembling or related to a hedgehog
Ever feel like there was a person that just reminded you of a hedgehog (e.g. the famous case of Martin Freeman!), well put your mind to rest because now you know the word to describe this phenomenon.
noun | ju-kə–tæs-tro-fi
Definition: a sudden joyous turn or resolution in a story; a happy ending
This word was coined by the renowned fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien in the year 1984. Tolkien creates this word by combining the two Greek words ‘ευ-‘ meaning “good” and ‘καταστροφή’ meaning “destruction.”
noun | rah-duh-mun-TAYD
Definition: vainglorious boasting or bragging; pretentious, blustering or ranting
This word originated in Italian poetry from the Renaissance. The noun it takes its form from the name of the proud king Rodomonte, a character in Matteo M. Boiardo’s late 15th-century epic Orlando Innamorato.
If you are interested in celebrating National Dictionary Day, visit the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary for more scintillating and interesting words: https://www.merriam-webster.com/