Noah Webster

(redirected from Webster, Noah)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.
Noah Webster
Noah Webster, Jr.
BirthplaceWest Hartford, Connecticut, USA
Lexicographer Author Connecticut state representative

Webster, Noah,

1758–1843, American lexicographer and philologist, b. West Hartford, Conn., grad. Yale, 1778. After serving in the American Revolution, Webster practiced law in Hartford. His Grammatical Institute of the English Language, in three parts, speller, grammar, and reader (1783–85), was the first of a list of publications which made him for many years the chief American authority on the English language. The first part, often revised, was his famous Elementary Spelling Book, or "Blue-backed Speller," with which he helped to standardize American spelling. Pioneer families on the frontiers taught their children to read from it; in the schools it was a basic textbook, and in settlements and villages its lists were read out for lively spelling matches. By 1850, when the total population of the United States was about 23 million, the annual sales of Webster's spelling book were some 1 million copies, and the figures increased yearly.

An active Federalist, Webster became a pamphleteer for centralized government and wrote his Sketches of American Policy (1785), proposing the adoption of a constitution. The difficulty of copyrighting his works in 13 states led Webster to agitate for many years for a national copyright law; it was passed in 1790. In 1793 he left Hartford to support Washington's administration by editing the New York's first daily newspaper, American Minerva (later the Commercial Advertiser); he was also editor, at various times, of several magazines. Webster also wrote scholarly studies on a great diversity of subjects, including epidemic diseases, mythology, meteors, and the relationship of European and Asian languages.

During most of his later life he lived in New Haven, Conn., and Amherst, Mass., and was a member of the first board of trustees of Amherst College. Deriving his income from his schoolbooks, he devoted most of the rest of his life to compiling dictionaries. After his Compendious Dictionary was published in 1806, he worked on another, the two-volume The American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), which included definitions of 70,000 words, 12,000 of which had not appeared in such a work before—many were unique to American English. Its definitions were excellent, and the dictionary's sales reached 300,000 annually. Webster's foremost achievement, the work helped to standardize American pronunciation. He completed the revision of 1840, and the dictionary, revised many times since, has retained its popularity. See also dictionarydictionary,
published list, in alphabetical order, of the words of a language. In monolingual dictionaries the words are explained and defined in the same language; in bilingual dictionaries they are translated into another language.
..... Click the link for more information.


See his letters, ed. by H. R. Warfel (1953); biographies by H. E. Scudder (6th ed. 1971) and J. Kendall (2011); E. J. Monaghan, A Common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Back Speller (1982); E. Skeel, A Bibliography of the Writings of Noah Webster (ed. by E. H. Carpenter, Jr., 1958).

Webster, Noah

(1758–1843) philologist and compiler of popular comprehensive American dictionary. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 902]

Webster, Noah

(1758–1843) lexicographer; born in West Hartford, Conn. The son of a dairy farmer, he graduated from Yale College in 1778 and served under his father as a private in the American Revolution. He was admitted to the bar in 1781, but earned his living for some years as a teacher. In 1783 he published the first volume of A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. This small volume, in later editions titled The American Spelling Book, became widely known as The Blue-Backed Speller. It was immensely popular and continued in use in schools throughout the country well into the 20th century. Webster was an ardent patriot and Federalist and entered into his speller many of those spelling forms that continue to distinguish American from British writing. He also worked for the passage of the first U.S. copyright law in 1790. For ten years he served as editor for Federalist newspapers in New York City, but from 1803 he devoted himself largely to the study of language. A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806) established his reputation as a lexicographer, but it was the appearance of a much expanded work in 1828, An American Dictionary of the English Language, that assured his preeminence in the field. As even the title hints, Webster recognized in his dictionary American contributions to the language in both new vocabulary and the development of new meanings. Although the dictionary was his main occupation for over 20 years, he also found time for other interests, including writing works on diseases, agriculture, and scientific subjects. During a ten-year residency in Amherst, Mass. (1812–22), he helped to found Amherst College (1821) and he served two terms in the Massachusetts legislature. In his later years he continued to revise his dictionaries, campaign for unified copyright laws, and write essays. In 1833 he published a somewhat expurgated revision of the Authorized Version of the Bible. After his death, Webster's dictionary was seen through subsequent editions by his son-in-law, Chauncey Allen Goodrich.