Tag Archives: Noah Webster

Lest we become urban rubes

At the risk of stirring the good Mr. Webster to spin in his grave, I thought today we might observe his birthday—and National Dictionary Day—with a visit to a more unconventional resource, the online Urban Dictionary.

Given that the Urban Dictionary exercises very few quality standards, I realize this might offend lexicographic purists. Even so, for the sake of balance, we might consider it beneficial, while remaining true to our values, to also remain current with the popular language and slang of our times.

I perused a sampling of the definitions contained within the online Urban Dictionary and immediately came upon one I related to. Post block syndrome (PBS): Similar to writer’s block, only in the context of social networking sites. Unable to come up with post-worthy content.

Here are a few more I found amusing:

Pre-festive: The state of premature holiday celebration by means of decorations, singing, or costume. You might say my blog post of yesterday was pre-festive.

Tongue typo:  What happens when you know perfectly well what you want to say but it comes out wrong. Not to be confused with a tongue taco, the ability to twist one’s tongue into the shape of a taco shell.

Auto incorrect: When the auto-correct feature on your iPhone tries to correct your spelling, but instead changes it to words that just don’t make sense with what you’re typing.

Lap flaps: The flaps found inside magazines that fall out onto your lap.

Finally, here’s one that went over my head for years. My son says it sometimes when we’re talking (or, I suppose, when I’m talking). That’s crazy: The perfect response when you haven’t been listening at all. It works whether the other person has been saying something funny, or sad, or infuriating, or boring….

Well, those are just half a dozen of 5 million definitions contained in the Urban Dictionary. If you have a few spare minutes after properly fêting Noah Webster, check it out. Or go in and add a definition of your own. That’s allowed. Obviously.

Please remember, Word Nymph doesn’t post on Sundays. She’ll be overcoming a bad case of PBS. See you Monday (maybe).

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Confessions of a dictionary dweeb

Allow me to be the first to wish you a Happy Dictionary Day Eve.

Yes, tomorrow is National Dictionary Day, the occasion on which we celebrate the birthday of American lexicographer Noah Webster. I’m giving you advance notice so you’ll have a chance to buy all your Dictionary Day decorations before the party stores run out.

Noah Webster was born October 16, 1758, on a farm in West Hartford, Connecticut. At age 15, he entered Yale College, graduated in 1778 and later studied law. He also fought in the American Revolution.

Having learned mostly from text books produced in England, Noah believed American students should learn from American text books.  In 1783, he wrote his own textbook, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, which was used for more than 100 years in U.S. schools. It is believed Benjamin Franklin used this book to teach his granddaughter to read.

In 1806, Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, the first truly American dictionary. He then wrote his famous An American Dictionary of the English Language, for which he learned 26 languages.

There is so much more to know about Noah Webster. I encourage you to devote part of your Saturday to learning more about him.

You already know I like dictionaries. Here on the blog we’ve taken lessons from The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate and A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Somewhere I have the first dictionary I remember owning. It was a big fat Harcourt Brace that I was required to purchase in fourth grade, the first year I attended public school. I loved that dictionary. Here in my office I have a two-volume Funk & Wagnalls. I am not so sure I even own a Webster; I have gotten so accustomed to looking up words online.

In college, before the board games Pictionary or Dictionary Dabble were invented, we played our own version. One person would choose an obscure word at random from the dictionary, write down the definition on a slip of paper, while the other players made up their own definitions and wrote those on slips of paper. The person who was “it” would read all the definitions aloud and the group would try and guess the real definition. Good times.

Okay, so I’m a dictionary geek. I’m the one you’ll see camping out at the party store, buying up all the Word of the Day toilet paper.

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