Today is World Dictionary Day and I am celebrating this day, which is also Noah Webster’s birthday!
Noah is one of my heroes. He wrote the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the very first American dictionary. One of my favorites!!! I use it ALL the time.
It was a HUGE undertaking. I don’t know of anyone personally who has ever done anything this monumental.
A burning purpose impelled Noah. That burning purpose was to preserve the religious and political freedoms of this very new country and its experimental form of never-been-done government, a Constitutional Republic (not a Democracy as so many people mistake).
Noah believed that words are powerful because they’re our direct expression of ideas. America was expressing very new ideas, ideas which defied tyranny and placed power in the hands of the people. For the first time in history the governed became the governors.
Words were important. They would be used to express “the American mind.” They created reality. They created the future.
Noah wanted us to understand every word in our Founding Documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Every word in The Federalist Papers, the series of essays that brilliantly explain our Constitution. Every word spoken by our politicians and written in the newspapers. Then and now.
If you re-define words to mean less than they are… If you manipulate terminology… If you reduce literacy… You reduce intelligence. You reduce the power of understanding. You reduce collaboration. You increase stupidity.
You reduce freedom.
America was freedom.
America is freedom.
But could we define it?
Could future generations define it?
Could evil forces re-define it in ways to enable them to re-create tyranny?
Not on Noah’s watch.
He was meticulous with his definitions. His definitions are powerful and glorious. Complete. Rich. They embody full concepts.
The great French philosopher Voltaire said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” This is one of the most useful things ever said, and I have turned many an “argument” into a creative and deeply satisfying dialogue by doing just that.
I have studied every definition in these words, and so many others. These words have gone from being superficial ideas I heard carelessly bandied about in social gatherings, to robust concepts that are now powerfully ingrained in my spiritual DNA. I am grateful to Noah for them. Possibly you find a word or two here of interest. Warning: there may be words within the definitions you’ll have to look up too.
Did you know that Noah learned 26 languages in the process of writing this dictionary? His purpose was to ensure that his derivations were as pure and true as they could be.
Noah meticulously wrote definitions for 70,000 words. It’s a big, fat dictionary. Still in print, thank God. You can get a hard copy of this dictionary on Amazon: 1828 Dictionary. I find it particularly satisfying to feel its weight and turn its pages and greatly prefer it to the online version.
Keep in mind Noah had no keyboard, this labor of love was all by hand. No electricity either. Candlelight and quill pen.
This was a man who could truly get something done.
And what he did is a service to all humankind.
Little did he know that there would be a woman up in the hills above the San Francisco Bay almost 200 years later whose soul would blossom and whose spirit would soar, whose intelligence would become magnificent, as a result of his long evening’s work. He may not have imagined me, but somehow he knew I would be there and gave this gift to me, as he gave it to you and all our future generations.
May we use it to preserve our religious and political freedoms, and for so much more.
Thank you, Noah, for this most magnificent gift. And Very Happy Birthday!!!