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National Dictionary Day

Aloof as the American continent can be geographically, it’s never been far enough to not disrupt, engage, captivate or at times attract criticism or humor (not humour) or even commendation from every corner of the world. Sure, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans cut it off from the rest of the major landmasses on the planet, but it doesn’t appear very far away no matter where you are in the world. The American history is enriched and thus with good reason cherished by the natives but it is no stranger to the rest of the world. The culture and the language of this soil have never been cryptic even for someone who is a stranger to the world history, because each piece of information from across these lands travels over the ocean currents and the winds to reach for comprehension by its patrons and critics alike.


On October 16th, it’s National Dictionary Day in the U.S.A. No, this piece hasn’t been meaning to suggest that it’s celebrated very heartily in the country or that it is the time where everybody takes out their dictionaries and puts them on the mantel and wait for some kind of magical being to slide down their chimneys during late hours of the night and replace the appropriately placed reference books with new shiny ones. No, that is not the case with this special day. Even if, as this article is about to unravel, the day marks a momentous development (or rather someone being born who would institute them at an expedient time), one wouldn’t expect such a commemoratory attract much frolics. On the other hand, to think that days like ‘Punctuation Day’ and ‘Grammar Day’ would enjoy a bigger party celebrating these compared to the desolate ‘Dictionary Day’ brings on certain level of disheartening.


The National Dictionary Day swathes and fosters the infancy of the language that has been through and through most living people’s aural organs. Now then, this article simply rejoices in the recount of how this day came to be and impart some knowledge regarding the birth of American English and it’s coming about in form as it is known today.


The 16th of October has been arranged to be celebrated (or not so much) as National Dictionary Day in the U.S.A. on the occasion of the great American Lexicographer Noah Webster’s birthday. Anyone who by the reason of his residing within the States or his acclivity to the American reads would be aware that Webster is a name synonymous to dictionaries in the United States.


Noah Webster who would go down in history as America’s first language patriot was born on October 16th, 1758. A lawyer and schoolmaster who went to Yale and fought in the Revolutionary War, Webster bought into the Enlightenment view that connected language with nation, and he urged the newly-independent America to adopt its own language, a Federal English that was independent from the speech of its former masters.


Calling for a linguistic revolution to complement the recent political one, Webster wrote, “A national language is a band of national union. Every engine should be employed to render the people of this country national.” And he urged, “NOW is the time, and this the country, in which we may expect changes favorable to language . . . . Let us then seize the present moment, and establish a national language, as well as a national government.”


Webster merged his linguistic patriotism with his need to make a living. Arguing that a newly-independent America shouldn’t import its schoolbooks from England, he began printing domestic spellers and grammars, lobbying Congress to give his textbooks a federal seal of approval. Webster apparently failed to back up these requests with under-the-table campaign contributions, but even without a Congressional endorsement, his blue-backed spellers managed to become staples in America’s classrooms for decades.


Today Webster is better known for his dictionaries than his spelling books. He published his first short dictionary in 1806, and in 1828 he brought out the 2-volume American Dictionary of the English Language. But Webster never forgot about spelling, and his dictionaries were never short of new ways to spell.


Webster sure had something going about himself when he became the first to document distinctively American words such as skunk, hickory and chowder. With the reason that the existing spelling conventions were artificial and needlessly confusing, he adapted himself to alter many words. Some of his alterations caught on and one such was the dropping the ending ‘k’ in certain words as ‘musick’, ‘publick’, etc. which has now become the norm. Other things like changing of ‘z’ to ‘s’, inclination toward ‘er’ instead of ‘re’ as in ‘centre’ brought a drifting apart between American and British English. Other attempts at reform weren’t so much successful such as making ‘women’ sound more phonetic and thus changing it to ‘wimmen’ which he also argued to be the old and true spelling of the word.


Basking in the glory of being the one who made the attempt to look up words in a dictionary possible for many Americans who would otherwise had been loath to do so for they didn’t care for the outlandish British spelling rules, Webster remains one important figure for all to remember and be thankful to. Even with all the confusion it brings to the non-English speaking nations for that puts into picture many different forms of the same language they are trying to learn, the whole American language scenario has been one great watch-out for the world.


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