Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slice of Life - Day 18

Eulogy for Noah Webster

70,000. That is how many words that Noah Webster Jr. collected, organized, and defined to create his American Dictionary. It was the first dictionary of its kind in that it presented not only words that had been previously used in literature but also words that were used in everyday life.  In addition, Webster's dictionary presented American English as different from British English.  He added words that Americans were creating as the country grew and scientific pursuits were achieved.  And perhaps most important, Webster revised the definitions of words so that they included thorough descriptions that distinguished the minute differences among similar words. 
Though Noah Webster Jr. is best known for this ultimate achievement, he did much more than this in his 85 years.  Because of his authorship of the dictionary and his instructional spelling book for school children, Webster promoted the need for copyright laws throughout the United States.  When he published The American Spelling Book in 1782, people had no way to protect their intellectual property.  Webster used his connections with politicians of the time, including Thomas Jefferson, to urge legislators to create copyright laws.
In addition, Webster began the first marketing campaign to sell his speller.  He promoted his own work by writing advertisements and publishing them in newspapers.  The salesman sought support from local officials and was able to capitalize on their acknowledgement of the merit of his speller in order to promote his books. This was a predecessor to the blurbs of praise on modern-day book jackets.
Though it may seem like these contributions benefitted Webster himself, much of his literary life was devoted to encouraging support for the federal government during times of conflict. When the constitution was drafted, he wrote editorials that provided sound reasoning for states to ratify.  
As the new nation dealt with yellow fever, Webster strove to understand the cause of the disease.  He attempted to gain information about the disease by sending a questionnaire to doctors in various large cities.  His questionnaire was the first scientific survey and spurred medical professionals to develop processes of medical research. 
Noah Webster was a motivated man who had a strong opinion of what America should be like.  He was assiduous (he worked nearly 27 years) in his creation of a dictionary that mimicked the language of the people using it.  Though some may say that one who creates a dictionary is merely copying what others say, I would assert that Noah Webster Jr. was a true innovator.  After all, his ideas have become essential elements in the United States today. 

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea that Noah Webster was a marketer, salesman and author. Thank you for a slice of history!