THE NOAH WEBSTER LEGACY – PART V
THE LOVE OF WORDS led Noah Webster, Jr. into a life of writing and authorship. While he is known as possibly the most important lexicographer of his time, who author S.C. Roberts (The Story of Doctor Johnson) defined as “a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge,” Webster is also an example of confident tenacity. His passion for developing word definitions and pronunciations that FIT the New World—our United States of America—went beyond “the common passions” to an absolute need to complete his work and be part of something bigger than himself…the birth of a nation. It is my belief that you would not be reading this blog today unless you, too, held that love, that passion, that wakes you up—or doesn’t let you sleep—in order to write one more sentence and make a difference.
Are you re-creating words? Are you developing extended definitions for the words you’re using in the dialogue of your characters? Most writers I know would say, “Certainly not.” “Specific words and their specific definitions are the only way to clearly communicate what writers want to say.” However, I challenge you keep this question in the margins of your thoughts as you write. Words and additional definitions are being added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary every year and no one else would be happier about that that Noah Webster who deeply understood the concept of language as a living thing. Just a few examples of his work include transforming such words as:
- defence to defense: “Anything that opposes an attack; The Almighty is the defense of the righteous.”
- gaol to jail: “A prison; place for confinement; also, something written very improperly and as improperly pronounced.”
- musick to music: “Melody or harmony; entertainment; the science of harmonic sounds;”
- nabor to neighbor: “One who lives near another; an intimate or confidant; a fellow being;”
In the Preface of Webster’s 1828 Dictionary he writes: “It is not only important, but, in a degree necessary, that the people of this country, should have an American Dictionary of the English Language; for, although the body of the language is the same as in England, and it is desirable to perpetuate that sameness, yet some differences must exist. Language is the expression of ideas; and if the people of one country cannot preserve an identity of ideas, they cannot retain an identity of language.” Webster’s two-volume work of more than 70,000 entries became the first truly American dictionary. He eliminated Old English words that were not useful to Americans and included words specifically used in the U.S. such as squash and skunk.
Building and enhancing the world of words is now in our hands and the editors of the Merriam-Webster dictionary invites our participation. Their website www.merriam-webster.com tells us that they “scour books, newspapers, magazines, electronic publications [and more] in search of new words, new usages of existing words, variant spellings, and inflected forms–in short, anything that might help in deciding if a word belongs in the dictionary, understanding what it means, and determining typical usage. Any word of interest is marked, along with surrounding context that offers insight into its form and use.” It is also made clear that for a word “to be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.”
SO, Dear Author, write your book, your articles, your blogs and tweets and BE CREATIVE. Who knows, one of your uniquely developed terms may just be added to the next edition of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Just think of the publicity you could glean from that in the promotion of your work! And, don’t hesitate to self-publish. Make Noah Webster, Jr. proud! ⚓︎
|ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene has been writing something since before kindergarten days and continues to love the process. Through her small business—DOYLE WRITING SERVICES—she brings more than 40 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their projects. This is a nice fit as she develops these blogs for Outskirts Press (OP) a leading self-publisher, and occasionally accepts a ghostwriting project from one of their clients. Her recent book release (with OP) titled FIREPROOF PROVERBS, A Writer’s Study of Words, is already receiving excellent reviews including several professional writer’s endorsements given on the book’s back cover.
Royalene’s writing experience grew through a wide variety of positions from Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to Teacher of Literature and Advanced Writing courses and editor/writer for an International Christian ministry. Her willingness to listen to struggling authors, learn their goals and expectations and discern their writing voice has brought many manuscripts into the published books arena.