Wednesday, June 19, 2013
He was one of the giants of the early days of this nation, though no one may have known it then.
He volunteered and served in Washington’s troops when the war broke into his study of law.
This was Noah Webster, the greatest lexicographer (wordsmith) America has ever produced.
"He was one of the giants of the early days of this nation, though no one may have known it then."
- Elizabeth Widel
My information comes from the Encyclopedia Americana, 1958 edition.
After the war, things were too unsettled for him to get work in his field, so he taught school for a few years. But his interest in the English language and its structure was evident even then.
Early in his life he was writing books.
He wrote a speller, a grammar (one work titled “short” was in two volumes!), and he continued his study and his effort to stabilize the language continued throughout his life.
An early speller was very popular for more than a century and sold more than 60 million copies, which, when you consider the population of those days, is an impressive figure.
In the year of his death, 1843, he sold his dictionary to the Merriam Co., and to this day we are buying and using the Merriam Webster dictionary — or getting it from the Internet.
His interests ranged widely, all the way from textbooks to histories to a version of the Bible.
The Encyclopedia Americana, at the close of its article on this man, lists a number of books and other publications in which he had an interest, and it is a wide-ranging list.
I have been told that the English language now contains more than 1.4 million words. Webster published 5,000 of these for the first time.
One suspects that Webster would have been delighted, even if it did come from the Internet. Can you imagine, in his pre-mechanical days, how much handwriting this would have entailed?
Soldier, teacher, researcher, newspaper publisher, lexicographer, attorney, historian and a man of wide-ranging interests, he would have been great in any age.
We, his fellow citizens, are much the richer for his work.
Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for
The Chronicle. This is the 2,840th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.