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Webster Tome Just Keeps On Printing --Cagle

November 2008


PERHAPS YOU had it circled on your calendar and forgot to send him a card. No matter. Noah Webster, he of abridged and unabridged dictionary fame, turned 250 and was feted in mid-October by Yale University, his alma mater. 

In the early 1800s, Webster advertised in a Connecticut newspaper that he was proposing the first “dictionary of the American language,” according to the Associated Press. He taught following the Revolutionary War and felt that Americans should have their own textbooks, not Brit books. 

Thus, he devised a “speller” that taught youngsters how to read, spell and pronounce words. But, back in the day, Webster was vilified and lampooned for challenging the King’s English. 

Apparently, it was easy to dislike Webster, who had a grating personality and boasted a gargantuan ego. When a friend congratulated him on his arrival in Philadelphia, Webster replied, “Sir, you may congratulate Philadelphia on the occasion,” according to his museum in Hartford, CT.

Webster’s “blue-back speller” sold roughly 100 million copies by the end of the 19th century. The book doubled as one of our nation’s earliest history books as well, containing stories about George Washington and other U.S. heroes. 

We have Webster to thank for tweaks to the King’s English, such as dropping the “u” from certain words including color (or switching the order of French words ending in “re,” such as centre) to make it easier for kids to learn phonetically. 

It took 28 years for Webster to complete his 70,000-word dictionary, which contained uniquely American words such as skunk, caucus and chowder, the AP noted.

A tip of the cap to one of America’s underrated historical figures and arguably its greatest reference publisher.

PRESS DEATH: Another printing industry fatality occurred overseas in early October. Maintenance engineer Ian Ebbs, 43, fell into a press and was crushed to death at the St. Ives Web publishing plant in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in the United Kingdom. Fellow employees worked to remove Mr. Ebbs from the press, but he died several hours later at a hospital from internal injuries.

Mr. Ebbs left behind a wife and two teenage children. The U.K.’s OSHA equivalent has launched an investigation into the incident.

Generally this publication does not report on news from outside of North America, and while it is not known if operator error or a safety breech caused this fatality, it seemed too important of a PSA opportunity to pass on. Please post this in your break room.

This machinery—and it is pretty much the same the world over—is unforgiving. You know that better than we do. But what you don’t know, as Yogi Berra might say, is the unknown.

Follow proper lockout/tagout procedures. Do not undo safety guards. Report unsafe conditions. Yes, it’s a pain to go through extra steps to perform certain tasks that would normally take a second or two. But stupid, freakish things happen, that once-in-a-million occurrence that is beyond unlikely...and “Bam!” You’ve just become the unluckiest person on earth. The truth is, you can’t undo that “Bam!” —and your loved ones now have to spend the rest of their lives without you.

Many of you will say you know the press like the back of your hand. But, it can turn on you just like affectionate canines who inexplicably attack people. Turn your back on the press, and the circumstances will forever change not only your life, but your family’s, as well.  

Ian Ebbs has a 13-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, who must now cling to memories of their dad. As unlikely a major catastrophe may be, take the extra time and walk the safety talk. 

DECK THE HALLS: This will appeal to anyone who enjoys collecting oddball items or can appreciate printing samples from long-past periods. According to an AP story, Columbia University has carefully cataloged its collection of 6,356 decks of playing cards that were donated to the school by a collector.

The decks range from simple 1550s Austrian woodblock prints to a 1963 deck with caricatures of the Kennedy family. Included is a 1677 English pack featuring facts about places from China to Florida, and there is a World War I-era German deck that has sketches of scenes including “Zeppelin Uber England.”

The collection was bequeathed to Columbia by Albert Field, a teacher, author, mountain climber, nudist and Salvador Dali archivist. Field began amassing playing cards because they were the only souvenirs he could find while visiting decimated Europe following World War II. 

As an aside, Field became close with Dali and asked the surrealist artist if anyone was keeping tabs of his lithographs and other prints. Dali invited Field to tackle the chore, and he later published an official catalog of Dali’s prints in 1996, according to the AP.

Field died in 2003. PI

—Erik Cagle


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