Thursday, October 16, 2014

Noah Webster, who gave us the American dictionary, wanted women to be wimmen

It is the birthday of lexicographer Noah Webster (1758), who is best known for compiling the first American dictionary and the blue-back speller textbook, both of which advanced the American spelling of words in the English language. Webster also created his own translation of the Bible in 1833. Webster wrote the speller (1783) as part of a three-volume textbook called A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, which also included a grammar book (1784) and a reader (1785). He was motivated by a belief that the fledgling American nation should have a language and culture that was uniquely American, and to that end he changed the common English spelling of words and included some uniquely American words. Webster, the spelling reformer, managed to get many of his alternative spellings into general usage but not all of them. Colour became color, gaol became jail, centre became center, publick became public but Americans rejected soop for soup, sley for sleigh, tung for tongue, and wimmen for women.

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