Tag Archives: 1828 dictionary

The 1828 Noah Webster’s Dictionary

First, let’s pick a Bible that is four-hundred years old. Next lets tell everybody that this ancient text is perfectly understandable by every English speaker from Wales to Walla Walla. Finally as the pièce de résistance let’s tell them that if they are confused (and the Holy Spirit is taking the day off from translation duties) that their best bet is to seek out a dictionary written 217 years after this Bible version on a completely different continent and then pretend that in those two centuries none of the language changed in any significant way.

It was not until I reached my Fundy U that I learned that some dictionaries are LIBERAL and that grammar must be prescriptive not descriptive. Language, it seems, is not a fluid thing that is constantly being updated to reflect advances in science, changes in culture, and boredom on the part of managers everywhere (seriously, if I hear one more person use the term “onboarding”…). Instead, English is seen as an unchanging constant handed down in tablets of stone from wherever-it-was-that-God-invented-it-as-his-favorite-language. Never mind that Modern English as a language didn’t even exist until the 1500’s and hasn’t stopped being updated ever since, we must hold the line and not let people weird language by verbing words!

Perhaps there is a method to this dictionary madness, however. Fundamentalists know all to well that whoever controls the language controls the debate. If a person points out that their logic is flawed, that their evidence is fabricated, and that their contentions are just plain silly then perhaps the best a fundy can hope for is to claim a conspiracy of grammatical nuance and then beat a hasty retreat to their stronghold where nothing ever changes, updates or modernizes. There’s probably a word to describe that kind of ignorance but you’re unlikely to find it in the dictionary.