October 16th was National Dictionary Day. The day was established to honor the birth of Noah Webster - born in West Hartford, CT in 1758. Mr. Webster is best known for the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary.
While physical dictionary books have largely been swapped out with their digital versions, they still remain critical tools.
To belatedly celebrate Webster’s day, here are a few fun facts for your enjoyment:
Noah Webster - “British vs. American” spellings
Webster felt strongly that as a newly independent country, we should have a distinct way of spelling from the British. In 1806, he published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, which featured many of the “Americanized” spellings we still use today. Words like “colour” became “color”; “programme.” became “program”; and catalogue became “catalog”. However, not all of Webster’s proposed changes became reality. For example, he wanted Americans to spell tongue as “tung”!
The least popular letter
No surprise here - the letter that starts the fewest words in English is an "X". It still starts about 400 words in the current Oxford English Dictionary. However, when Webster first produced his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, the number of listed words beginning with X was a grand total of…one! (Of all things…it was “xebec,” which describes “a three-masted vessel of the Mediterranean.”)
The longest English word?
“Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” is the name of a lung disease. It has forty-five letters. The word was created to poke fun at long, overly technical medical terms. Another, much longer word is actually the longest in English - with 189,819 letters. It would take a full 12 pages to write each letter out, so, as you can imagine, dictionaries choose to omit it. It’s the name for a protein nicknamed “titin.”
You can still celebrate Webster's Birthday with a quick Merriam-Webster quiz. Click here.