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The American Dictionaries of Webster and Others

The next great lexicographer after Samuel Johnson was an American, Noah Webster (1758–1843). The first edition of the book later known as Webster's Spelling Book appeared in 1783. For years the annual sales of this book were more than a million copies. To help those who had mastered the Spelling Book to continue their education, Webster published (1806) his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, with concern for "what the English language is, and not, how it might have been made. " His larger dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, in two volumes, was published in 1828. Authorized publishers have issued a series of skillful revisions and abridgments that have retained for Webster's dictionaries their popularity. The largest of Webster's dictionaries, called "the Unabridged," appeared as the 5th edition (1846) and included linguistic material that set it apart from previous Webster's dictionaries and made it outstanding. Continually revised, it is currently published in one volume.

Another notable one-volume American dictionary was that by Joseph Emerson Worcester (1784–1865), first published in 1830; an edition revised by the author appeared in 1860 and was the first to employ a group of expert consultants, use illustrations, and indicate synonyms in the text. A later one-volume American dictionary was the Funk and Wagnalls Standard, completed in 1895. This dictionary listed definitions according to current rather than historical frequency of usage, an innovation that was generally adopted. The Century Dictionary, an American dictionary in six volumes, with encyclopedic features, was completed in 1891. Supplementary volumes were The Century Cyclopedia of Names (1894) and The Century Atlas of the World (1897).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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