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How Hard Was It to Put Together America’s First Dictionary?

In 1806, Noah Webster published the first American dictionary, entitled A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. Soon after, he started work on An American Dictionary of the English Language, a book that would become the standard of lexicography. It was an authoritative guide to the English language, with some 70,000 entries. In order to research the origins of the American version of English, Webster learned 26 languages, including Anglo-Saxon, Aramaic, and Sanskrit. Webster finally published the work in 1828, at the age of 70.

The final word on Noah Webster:

  • Webster was born in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1758. He went to Yale at age 15 and graduated in 1778. His cousin was statesman Daniel Webster.

  • He believed strongly in the cultural independence of the United States, especially in chronicling and preserving the distinctive American language, with its own idioms, pronunciation, and style.

  • George and Charles Merriam inherited the Webster legacy in 1843, acquiring the rights to revise the dictionary from Webster’s heirs -- beginning the decades-long collaboration known as Merriam-Webster.

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