Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dictionary Anniversaries

Given my recent readings in lexicographical history I cannot let the opportunity pass to note that this weekend marks the anniversary of two important dictionary publications. On 14 April, 1828, Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language was published; the product of two decades' labor, it contained 70,000 entries in two quarto volumes, and included such 'American' words as skunk and squash. Webster also simplified British spelling, giving us color and center rather than colour and centre. Garrison Keillor has some comments on Webster's in Saturday's "Writer's Almanac."

And on this day, 15 April, back in 1755, Samuel Johnson's great Dictionary of the English Language made its debut. It had taken nine years to produce, and appeared in two (or more, depending on the binder) large folio volumes. There were 42,773 word entries in the first edition, explained by some 114,000 literary quotations. Johnson's remained the "dictionary of record" in England until the appearance of the OED. Keillor mentions Johnson's too, but has the date wrong by twenty years.

For more on Webster, Johnson or dictionary-history in general, see my reviews for Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun and Henry Hitchings' Defining the World.

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