Webster's impact on the language?

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Harlan Messinger

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Nov 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/25/98
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In another thread someone voiced a theory (an unsupported one, but not one
that he was claiming to be true) about American English deriving many
words from French independently of UK English. Discussion ensued in which
the idea was mentioned that Webster could have had such an impact by
coining such borrowings for his dictionary.

How could a dictionary have such influence? People have never typically
chosen to spend time curled up with their favorite dictionary for the
purpose of adding to their vocabularies words they didn't already know and
use. They use dictionaries to find words that are already in use, that
they have encountered in real life. No?

Rodger Whitlock

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Nov 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/25/98
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It's always been my understanding that Webster's great dictionary innovation
lay in emphasizing the descriptive approach ("this is how the language is
actually used"), as opposed to a prescriptive approach ("this is how the
language _ought_ to be used").

OTOH, Webster did include many simplified spellings, some of which have
never taken proper root, so he certainly made some effort to influence
language usage. But not, I am pretty sure, by introducing large numbers of
neologisms based on French.

[usual warning: this is off the top of my head and I may have misremembered
or misinterpreted what I've read over the years.]

--
Rodger Whitlock

al...@webtv.net

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Nov 26, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/26/98
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In article <73hd1n$gj8$1...@callisto.clark.net>,
Harlan Messinger <gu...@shell.clark.net> wrote in part:

>"...about American English deriving many words from French independently of UK English. Discussion ensued in which the idea was mentioned that Webster could have had such an impact by coining such borrowings for his dictionary.

I believe that Webster had a significant influence on the development of the
English language, as our country attempted to separate itself from the
Queen's English. If fact, I believe that Noah Webster may be one of the most
"underrated" persons in early American history and it's sad that to this day,
few people have come along that could truthfully follow in his footsteps. He
was really one of a kind!

>How could a dictionary have such influence? People have never typically chosen to spend time curled up with their favorite dictionary for the purpose of adding to their vocabularies words they didn't already know and use. They use dictionaries to find words that are already in use, that they have encountered in real life. No?"

I believe that during the life period of Noah Webster (apx. 1750's to
1840's), Webster's Dictionary, which was not an iteration of Samuel Johnson's
1750 Dictionary, was a very respected and referred-to reference book; and it
played an important part in the daily lives of the educated and the
uneducated alike.

Webster's Dictionary was more than a "paper weight" to those many persons who
came to rely on it as the "final authority" on the pronounciation, spellings,
definations and etimology of the American version of the English language.

(And speaking of "paper weights," I have an old 13 vol. Oxford English
Dictionary that I would like to dispose of. I will be posting a separate
item to list these fine books for sale shortly, so please be on the lookout
for it. If you don't see it, please contact me at your convenience. Thank
you!)

As our country attempted to separate itself from the roots of the United
Kingdom in many areas, it was important to be able to express ourselves in a
manner that displayed real independence of thought and meaning. Webster,
through his writings, including his spelling books and dictionaries,
certainly contributed to that end!

Regards and have yourselves a nice Thanksgiving holiday,
Al Gershen,
Grants Pass, Oregon, USA
al...@webtv.net and al...@aonepro.net;
and thru ICQ # 12342782

(Submitted on 11/25/98 at apx. 6:22 PM PST)

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Peter T. Daniels

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Nov 26, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/26/98
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al...@webtv.net wrote:
>
> In article <73hd1n$gj8$1...@callisto.clark.net>,
> Harlan Messinger <gu...@shell.clark.net> wrote in part:
>
> >"...about American English deriving many words from French independently of UK English. Discussion ensued in which the idea was mentioned that Webster could have had such an impact by coining such borrowings for his dictionary.
>
> I believe that Webster had a significant influence on the development of the
> English language, as our country attempted to separate itself from the
> Queen's English. If fact, I believe that Noah Webster may be one of the most
> "underrated" persons in early American history and it's sad that to this day,
> few people have come along that could truthfully follow in his footsteps. He
> was really one of a kind!
>
> >How could a dictionary have such influence? People have never typically chosen to spend time curled up with their favorite dictionary for the purpose of adding to their vocabularies words they didn't already know and use. They use dictionaries to find words that are already in use, that they have encountered in real life. No?"
>
> I believe that during the life period of Noah Webster (apx. 1750's to
> 1840's), Webster's Dictionary, which was not an iteration of Samuel Johnson's
> 1750 Dictionary, was a very respected and referred-to reference book; and it
> played an important part in the daily lives of the educated and the
> uneducated alike.
>
> Webster's Dictionary was more than a "paper weight" to those many persons who
> came to rely on it as the "final authority" on the pronounciation, spellings,
> definations and etimology of the American version of the English language.
>
> As our country attempted to separate itself from the roots of the United
> Kingdom in many areas, it was important to be able to express ourselves in a
> manner that displayed real independence of thought and meaning. Webster,
> through his writings, including his spelling books and dictionaries,
> certainly contributed to that end!

Webster's Dictionaries (the small one in 1806, the unabridged in 1828)
would not have been the main means for getting his notions of spelling
reform into circulation. His "blue-back spellers" were immensely popular
from the 1780s at least (well before the now better known McGuffey's
Readers), and that is where children would have learned American
spelling.

Noah Webster was also important as a patriot and as an evangelist, so
much so that little of the writing on him focuses on his orthographic
and lexicographic work.
--
Peter T. Daniels gram...@worldnet.att.net

Dave Fawthrop

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Nov 26, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/26/98
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In article <73ie3l$vmo$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, al...@webtv.net (al...@webtv.net) writes:

>
>As our country attempted to separate itself from the roots of the United
>Kingdom in many areas,

**Our?**

-- Dave Fawthrop <hyp...@c-h.win-uk.net> <http://www.win-uk.net/~hyphen>
Computer Hyphenation Ltd, Hyphen House, 8 Cooper Grove, Halifax HX3 7RF, UK
Tel/Fax/Answer +44 (0)1274 691092.
Hyphenologist is sold as C source code and splits 50 languages.
Wordlist FAQ at http://www.win-uk.net/~hyphen/wordlist.html
VDU Glasses at http://www.win-uk.net/~hyphen/vduglasses.html

Rodger Whitlock

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Nov 26, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/26/98
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hyp...@c-h.win-uk.net (Dave Fawthrop) wrote:
>In article <73ie3l$vmo$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, al...@webtv.net (al...@webtv.net) writes:
>
>>
>>As our country attempted to separate itself from the roots of the United
>>Kingdom in many areas,
>
>**Our?**

Just another webtver who hasn't awakened to the international scope of the
internet. You must remember that most murricans *do* lead sheltered lives; I'm
sure the majority think the late Di was a fashion model and keep wondering why
they never see any movies starring Prince Charles: "What a funny name to give
a child, 'Prince.' Is he related to the artist formerly known as Prince? Are
they brothers or cousins or something?"


--
Rodger Whitlock

Alan Pollock

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Nov 27, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/27/98
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Rodger Whitlock (totototo+...@mail.pacificcoast.net) wrote:
:
:

Sore loser. Nex


------------------------------------------------------------------
"Ah, if in this world there were no such thing as cherry blossoms,
perhaps then in spring time our hearts would be at peace."
Ariwara no Narihira
------------------------------------------------------------------

Tom Wier

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Nov 27, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/27/98
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Rodger Whitlock wrote:

> Just another webtver who hasn't awakened to the international scope of the
> internet. You must remember that most murricans *do* lead sheltered lives; I'm
> sure the majority think the late Di was a fashion model and keep wondering why
> they never see any movies starring Prince Charles: "What a funny name to give
> a child, 'Prince.' Is he related to the artist formerly known as Prince? Are
> they brothers or cousins or something?"

<sigh>

Kinda like how most Brits would think Newt Gingrich was some
Theodore Geisel creation?

I'm rather tired of bumping into Europeans on the net who think they
know American culture and people by movies and such... <double sigh>

=======================================
Tom Wier <tw...@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu>
ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom
Website: <http://www.angelfire.com/tx/eclectorium/>
"Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."

Dies Irae, dies illa, | Quantus tremor est futurus!
Solvet saeclum in favilla, | Quando Judex est venturus!
Teste David cum Sibylla! | Cuncta stricte discussurus!
=======================================

Scribe1002

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Nov 27, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/27/98
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<<I'm sure the majority think the late Di was a fashion model>>

Nope, just a slut that embarrassed a nation before ending her pathetic life ...
at which point, all was absolved... I think it's time for Billy Boy to do
himself in as well on the same grounds, if he wants some positive PR. Maybe
Queen Elton could provide an equally irritating track about cigars in the wind.

Keith C. Ivey

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Nov 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/29/98
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Rodger Whitlock <totototo+...@mail.pacificcoast.net> wrote:
>hyp...@c-h.win-uk.net (Dave Fawthrop) wrote:
>>In article <73ie3l$vmo$1...@nnrp1.dejanews.com>, al...@webtv.net (al...@webtv.net) writes:

>>>As our country attempted to separate itself from the roots of the United
>>>Kingdom in many areas,
>>
>>**Our?**
>

>Just another webtver who hasn't awakened to the international scope of the

>internet. You must remember that most murricans *do* lead sheltered lives; I'm

>sure the majority think the late Di was a fashion model and keep wondering why
>they never see any movies starring Prince Charles: "What a funny name to give
>a child, 'Prince.'

You mean Di *wasn't* a fashion model!? Actually, I don't believe
the majority of Americans think she was a model, since they don't
generally venerate models as saints. I don't think Kate Moss will
be Elvisified even if she dies young.

Much of what you say about Americans may be true, but the last time
I checked, the pronoun "we" in English did not necessarily include
the audience (at least that's the way it works in *our* country).
I think you and Dave need to turn the sensitivity down a bit on your
provincialism detectors.

Keith C. Ivey <kci...@cpcug.org>
http://cpcug.org/user/kcivey/
Washington, DC

D. Edward Gund v. Brighoff

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Nov 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/30/98
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In article <36609e77...@news.idsonline.com>,

Hear, hear!

(Oops, was that too British? I meant, "Whoo-hoo! You GO, boyfrien'!")

--
Daniel "Da" von Brighoff /\ Dilettanten
(de...@midway.uchicago.edu) /__\ erhebt Euch
/____\ gegen die Kunst!

Mark A. Semich

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Dec 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/4/98
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Noah Webster was one of the key people (along with Benjamin Franklin and
John Adams) involved in the "American Language" movement in the late
1700s and early 1800s. When the U.S.A. was first established, there was
an effort to help create national identity by modifying English to be a
separate tongue from British English. Many people don't realize this,
but in some ways U.S. English spelling is an example of a calculated
language reform program that actually succeeded.

Noah Webster put it this way:

"As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our
own, in language as well as government. Great Britain, whose children
we are, and whose language we speak, should no longer be *our* standard;
for the taste of her writers is already corrupted, and her language on
the decline. <...> We have therefore the fairest opportunity of
establishing a national language and of giving it uniformity and
perspicuiuty, in North America, that ever presented itself to mankind.
Now is the time to begin the plan." (Dissertations of the English
Language, Boston, 1789)

One of the hotly debated issues was spelling reform.

Some of Webster's proposals (he invented most of these himself, but not
all) were:

gaol -> jail
-que -> -ck (as in cheque -> check)
plough -> plow
-our -> -or (ie, behavio(u)r, labo(u)r, etc.)
-re -> -er at the end of words (theat(re/er), centre, calibre, lustre)
traveller - > traveler
-ck -> c at the end of words (ie, physick -> physic, frolic(k), etc)
c -> s (as in defence -> defense)

These "fixes" now look "normal", but some of his proposals were rejected
and still appear strange:

ph -> f (ie, phantom -> fantom)
loss of silent -e (determine -> determin, give -> giv, etc)
ea -> a (ie, bread -> bred, thread - > thred, etc)
ou -> oo (as in group -> groop)
ow -> ou (as in crowd -> croud)
porpoise -> porpess
acre -> aker
thumb -> thum
island - > iland
leopard -> lepard
sow -> soe
woe -> wo
soot -> sut
tongue -> tung
ea -> e (instead -> insted, head -> hed, etc)
ea -> ee (mean -> meen, near - > neer, zeal -> zeel, etc)
women -> wimmen

etc...

In the our->or reform he was trying to "un-french" the language and
return to Latin roots. These changes were incorporated in popular
Spelling Books which were used in schools throughout the U.S. - Noah
Webster did try to encourage his rejected spellings by publishing them
in his dictionary - but removed them when it became obvious that they
weren't used. However, he remained faithful to "chimist" (for chemist)
until his death.

He was pretty much responsible for U.S. English spelling as we know it
today.

For more info, see "The American Language" by H. L. Mencken

- M

Mark Rosenfelder

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Dec 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/4/98
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In article <366777...@world.std.com>,

Mark A. Semich <m...@world.std.com> wrote:
>These "fixes" now look "normal", but some of his proposals were rejected
>and still appear strange:

Almost all of these are reasonable and modest; pity they didn't catch on.

>ph -> f (ie, phantom -> fantom)

Except this one. There always seems to be a temptation in spelling reform
to fix what isn't broken. You have to search awhile to find a word where
ph isn't f (like uphill).

>loss of silent -e (determine -> determin, give -> giv, etc)

Both examples have short i spelled with a misleading silent e, which
usually indicates a long i (as in mine, strive). Perhaps that was what he
meant?

>ea -> a (ie, bread -> bred, thread - > thred, etc)
>ou -> oo (as in group -> groop)
>ow -> ou (as in crowd -> croud)
>porpoise -> porpess
>acre -> aker
>thumb -> thum
>island - > iland

I assume Webster was eager to undo the error of earlier tinkerers here.

>leopard -> lepard
>sow -> soe
>woe -> wo

This pair doesn't make sense, though: if oe is an acceptable spelling of
/o/, what's wrong with <woe>?

>soot -> sut

Did he pronounce it 'sutt' then?

>tongue -> tung
>ea -> e (instead -> insted, head -> hed, etc)
>ea -> ee (mean -> meen, near - > neer, zeal -> zeel, etc)
>women -> wimmen

Hmm, so there's a male precedent for feminist tinkering with this word...

Paul L. Allen

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Dec 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/4/98
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In article <7489a0$7...@xochi.tezcat.com>
mark...@xochi.tezcat.com (Mark Rosenfelder) writes:

> In article <366777...@world.std.com>,
> Mark A. Semich <m...@world.std.com> wrote:
> >These "fixes" now look "normal", but some of his proposals were rejected
> >and still appear strange:
>
> Almost all of these are reasonable and modest; pity they didn't catch on.
>
> >ph -> f (ie, phantom -> fantom)
>
> Except this one. There always seems to be a temptation in spelling reform
> to fix what isn't broken. You have to search awhile to find a word where
> ph isn't f (like uphill).

So? It wasn't a global search-and-replace thing. I bet somebody
compiling a dictionary by hand could manage to leave "uphill" alone.

I'm also unsure why both of you think this proposal was totally rejected.
Or am I wrong in thinking that Merkins write "sulfur" instead of "sulphur"?
Maybe it came along later, but if so I suspect that Webster influenced it.

--Paul

Brian M. Scott

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Dec 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/4/98
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Mark Rosenfelder wrote:

> Mark A. Semich <m...@world.std.com> wrote:

[snip]

> >sow -> soe
> >woe -> wo

> This pair doesn't make sense, though: if oe is an acceptable spelling of
> /o/, what's wrong with <woe>?

Perhaps he'd have preferred <so> for <sow> and added the <e> only to
avoid confusion?

Brian M. Scott

Keith C. Ivey

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Dec 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/5/98
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p...@sktb.demon.co.uk (Paul L. Allen) wrote:

>I'm also unsure why both of you think this proposal [ph -> f]

>was totally rejected. Or am I wrong in thinking that Merkins
>write "sulfur" instead of "sulphur"? Maybe it came along
>later, but if so I suspect that Webster influenced it.

"Sulfur", like "color", is one of those spellings the OED says are
"now U.S." That is, it was used in England in earlier times and is
not an American invention. In fact, the ancient Romans wrote both
"sulfur" (though they also wrote "sulphur") and "color", a few years
before Webster.

And while we're at it, "tung" (mentioned earlier in this thread as a
spelling that didn't catch on) was used in English in earlier times
and seems preferable to the Frenchified upstart "tongue", which the
OED calls "neither etymological nor phonetic, and ... only in a very
small degree historical."

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