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The Other Webster

Noah Webster

Believe it or not, even within the borders of our fair town, there are those that associate the name “Webster” with the author of one of our country’s earliest dictionaries…Noah Webster.

182 years ago, when our town founders were carefully considering which name should appear on the side of future water towers, they likely had never heard of Noah Webster’s dictionary. After spending 26 years writing his tome, only 2,500 copies of the two volume book were printed in 1828 and at a cost of $20 for the pair (that’s more than $500 in today’s dollars). Mr. Webster still had copies available for purchase in 1836. (Volume I | Volume II)

On the off chance, Byron Woodhull and the other town fathers had procured a copy of Webster’s dictionary, as largely conservative “Whigs”, the book’s vast lexicon would have likely been considered too radical, if not vulgar.

Webster was a staunch nationalist. Believing the United States was superior to Europe because its values were superior. With that in mind, Webster felt the United States needed its own fresh interpretation of the English language. Using uncommon alternative spellings as a guide, Webster set about to change how numerous words were spelled.

The most striking and frequently cited example of Webster’s tweaking of our written word is the removal of the “u” from the word colour. Similarly, “flavour” became “flavor” and “harbour” became “harbor”. “Defence” became “defense”, “modernise” became “modernize, and “theatre” became “theater.

Most ironic of all alterations, “anglicise” became “anglicize”.

Despite these successes, many of Webster’s alterations were rejected by the general public. “Soup” did not become “Soop”, “believe” did not become “beleev”, and thankfully “daughter” did not become “dawter”.

A few of Webster’s less successful alternatives:

Ake -> Ache

Beleev -> Believe

Bilt -> Built

Cloke -> Cloak

Dawter -> Daughter

Determin -> Determine

Giv -> Give

Greef -> Grief

Gillotin -> Guillotine

Grotesk -> Grotesque

Hainous -> Heinous

Iland -> Island

Korus -> Chorus

Masheen -> Machine

Neer -> Near

Nightmar -> Nightmare

Porpess -> Porpoise

Sley -> Sleigh

Soop -> Soup

Spunge -> Sponge

Steddy -> Steady

Stile -> Style

Thum -> Thumb

Tung -> Tongue

Turnep -> Turnip

Wimmin -> Women