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Webster Tome Just Keeps On Printing --Cagle

November 2008

BITS AND PIECES

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.

 

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