Lexicographers love National Dictionary Day



"Young people invent words all the time," said John Morse, the president of Merriam-Webster, the publishing company that printed the first American dictionary in 1828.

Today is National Dictionary Day, when America honors the birthday of Noah Webster, the word lover who thought Americans should have their own dictionary. Before Webster, all English-language dictionaries came from England.

The world's oldest dictionary was inscribed on a mud tablets 4,500 year ago in the ancient Akkadian Empire — today's Iraq and Syria. The first English alphabetical dictionary was written by English schoolteacher Robert Cawdrey in 1604, when Shakespeare was still writing plays. (Before that, dictionaries were organized by topic, which would mean that all types of food would be listed together, for example).

Webster's first American dictionary had 70,000 words — and their definitions — in it. About 12,000 of those words had never been in any dictionary before, Morse said.

The idea behind Webster's dictionary, Morse said, "is that English-speaking people decide what English is, not professors or historians."

"Check out 'selfie,' a new word we just added to the online dictionary," he said. "It means taking a picture of yourself maybe on your cellphone and posting it somewhere. A picture of yourself taken by yourself [is] a 'selfie.' "

Kids are invited to send in new words, Morse said. "All you do is log on to Webster's open dictionary site and make your own suggestions for new words," he explained. That website is located at www3.merriam-webster. com/opendictionary. Always ask a parent or other responsible adult if it's okay for you to go online.

"We look at every new word sent to us — and plenty come from kids — and if it pans out, the word goes on our universal page, and eventually if there are enough 'hits' on the word, we'll print it in our paper dictionaries, too," Morse said. "Some of those words may live forever in the dictionary."

Deciding what words go in the dictionary is a big job. A 2010 study by Harvard and Google researchers found that today there are more than 1 million English words, with 8,500 new ones added to the dictionary each year.

"I remember falling in love with words at a very, very young age," Morse said. Both his parents were librarians, "and at the drop of a hat, if I wondered what a word meant, not only did they tell me to look it up in the dictionary, but they showed me how, and brought over three or four big fat dictionaries for me to look at."

"Now, I just click on a Web search," he said with a laugh. "Dictionaries are easier today."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biology Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Biology Teacher for fixed term contrac...


£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Luton: SECONDARY PRU / SEN / LSA experie...

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Teaching Assistants Needed in Bolton

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you an...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments