Category Archives: Language

Item of the Day: A Collection of Essays and Fugitiv Writings (1790)

Full Title: A Collection of Essays and Fugitiv Writings. On Moral, Historical, Political and Literary Subjects. By Noah Webster, Jun. Attorney at Law. Printed at Boston, for the author, by I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews . . . MDCCXC. [1790]

[The following text has been transcribed exactly as it appears in the preface. No corrections or alterations have been made to grammar or spelling]. 


The following Collection consists of Essays and Fugitiv Peeces, ritten at various times, and on different occasions, az wil appeer by their dates and subjects. Many of them were dictated at the moment, by the impulse of impressions made by important political events, and abound with a correspondent warmth of expression. This freedom of language wil be excused by the frends of the revolution and of good guvernment, who wil recollect the sensations they hav experienced, amidst the anarky and distraction which succeeded the cloze of the war. On such occasions a riter wil naturally giv himelf up to hiz feelings, and hiz manner of riting wil flow from hiz manner of thinking.

Most of thoze peeces, which hav appeered before in periodical papers and Magazeens, were published with fictitious signatures; for I very erly discuvered, that altho the name of an old and respectable karacter givs credit and consequence to hiz ritings, yet the name of a yung man iz often prejudicial to hiz performances. By conceeling my name, the opinions of men hav been prezerved from an undu bias arizing from personal prejudices, the faults of the ritings hav been detected, and their merit in public estimation ascertained.

The favorable reception given to a number of theze Essays by an indulgent public, induced me to publish them in a volum, with such alterations and emendations, az I had heerd suggested by frends or indifferent reeders, together with some manuscripts, that my own wishes led me to hope might be useful.

During the course of ten or twelv yeers, I hav been laboring to correct popular errors, and to assist my yung brethren in the road to truth and virtue; my publications for theze purposes hav been mumerous; much time haz been spent, which I do not regret, and much censure incurred, which my hart tells me I do not dezerv. The influence of a yung writer cannot be so powerful or extensiv az that of an established karacter; but I hav ever thot a man’s usefulness depends mor on exertion than on talents. I am attached to America by berth, education and habit; but abuv all, by a philosophical view of her situation, and the superior advantages she enjoys, for augmenting the sum of social happiness.

I should hav added another volum, had not recent experience convinced me, that few large publications in this country wil pay a printer, much less an author. Should the Essays here presented to the public, proov undezerving of notice, I shal, with cheerfulness, resign my other papers to oblivion.

The reeder wil obzerv that the orthography of the volume iz not uniform. The reezon iz, that many of the essays hav been published before, in the common orthography, and it would hav been a laborious task to copy the whole, for the sake of changing the spelling.

In the essays ritten within the last yeer, a considerable change of spelling iz introduced by way of experiment. This liberty waz taken by the writers before the age of queen Elizabeth, and to this we are indeted for the preference of modern spelling over that of Gower and Chaucer. The man who admits that the change of housoonde, mynde, ygone, moneth into husband, mind, gone, month, iz an improovment, must acknowlege also the riting of helth, breth, rong, tung, munth, to be an improovment. There iz no alternativ. Every possible reezon that could ever be offered for altering the spelling of wurds, still exists in full force; and if a gradual reform should not be made in our language, it wil proove that we are less under the influence of reezon than our ancestors.

Hartford, June, 1790.



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Filed under 1790's, Culture, Early Republic, Education, Eighteenth century, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: An Essay Towards Real Character, And a Philosophical Language (1668)

Full Title: An Essay Towards a Real Character, And a Philosophical Language. By John Wilkins . . . London: Printed for A. Gellibrand, and for John Martin Printer to the Royal Society, 1668.




It may perhaps be expected by some, that I should give an account of my ingaging [sic] in a Work of this nature so unsuitable to my Calling and Business.

For the satisfaction of such, they may please to take notice, that this Work was first undertaken, during that vacancy and leasure [sic] which I formerly enjoyed in an Academicall [sic] station, to which the endeavours of promoting all kind of usefull [sic] knowledge, whereby Learning may be improved, is a very suitable imployment [sic]. In the time of that daily and intimate converse which I then injoyed [sic], with that most Learned and excellent Person Dr. Seth Ward, the present Bishop of Salisbury. I had frequent occasion of conferring with him, concerning the various Desiderata, proposed by Learned men, or such things as were conceived yet wanting to the advancement of several parts of Learning; amongst which, this of the Universal Character, was one of the principal, most of which he had more deeply considered, than any other Person that I knew. And in reference to this particular, he would say, That as it was one of the most usefull, so he judged it to be one of the most feasible, amongst all the rest, if prosecuted in a regular way. But for all such attempts to this purpse, which he had either seen or heard of, the Authors of them did generally mistake in their first foundations; whilst they did propose to themselves the framing of such a Character, from a Dictionary of Words, according to some particular Language, without reference to the nature of things, and that common Notion of them, wherein Mankid does agree, which must chiefly be respected, before any attempt of this nature could signifie [sic] any thing, as to the main end of it.

It was from this suggestion of his, that I first had any distinct apprehension of the proper course to be observed, in such an undertaking; having in a Teatise I had published some years before, proposed the Hebrew Tongue as consisting of fewest Radicals, to be the fittest ground work for such a design.

Besides the many Private conferences to this purpose, I must not forget to mention, that Publique account which he hath given to the World, of Vindiciae Academiarum; wherein he endeavours to vindicate those Ancient and famous schools of Learning, from such reproaches, whereby some Ignorant and ill-natured men (taking the advantage of those bad Times) would have exposed them to contempt and ruine [sic]. In which Treatise there is mention made of some considerable preparations, towards the Design here proposed, which if his other necessary employments [sic] would have permitted him to have prrosecuted, would without doubt, long ere this, have been advanced to as great a Perfection, as the first Essay in so difficult a matter could have attained. . . .

If any shall suggest, that some of the Enquiries here insisted upon (as particularly those about the Letters of the Alphabet) do seem too minute and trivial, for any prudent Man to bestow his serious thoughts and time about. such Persons may knwo, t hat the discovery of the true nature and Cause of any the most minute thing, doth promote real Knowledge, and therefore cannot be unfit for any Mans [sic] endeavours, who is willing to contribute to the advancement of Learning. Upon which Account some of the most eminent Persons, in several Ages, who were Men of business, have not disdained to bestow their pains about the First elements of speech . . .



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Filed under 1660's, Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Mrs. Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy and Germany.

Full Title: Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy and Germany. By Hester Lynch Piozzi. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Strahan, and T. Cadell, 1789.

The Bolognese dialect is detected by the other Italians, as gross and disagreeable in its sounds: but every nation has the good word of its own inhabitants; and the language which Abbate Bianconi praises as nervous and expressive, I would advise no person, less learned than himself, to censure as disgusting, or condemn as dull. I staid very little at Bologna; saw nothing but their pictures, and heard nothing but their prayers: those were superior, I fancy, to all rivals. Language can be never spoken of by a foreigner to any effect of conviction. I have heard our countryman, Mr. Greatheed himself, who perhaps possesses more Italian than almost any Englishman, and studies it more closely, refuse to decide in critical disputations among his literary friends here, though the sonnets he writes in the Tuscan language are praised by the natives, who best understand it, and have been by some of them preferred to those written by Milton himself. Mean time this is acknowledged to be the prime city for the purity of praise and delicacy of expression, which, at last, is so disguised to me by the guttural manner in which many sounds are pronounced, that I feel half weary of running about from town to town so, and never arriving at any, where I can understand the conversation without putting all the attention possible to their discourse. I am now told that less efforts will be necessary at Rome. 

Nothing can be prettier, however, than the slow, tranquil manners of a Florentine; nothing more polished than his general address and behaviour: ever in the third person, though to a blackguard in the street, if he has not the honour of his particular acquaintance, while intimacy produces voi in those of the highest rank, who call one another Carlo and Angelo very sweetly; the ladies taking up the same notion, and saying Louisa, or Maddalena, without any addition at all.

The Don and Donna of Milan were offensive to me somehow, as they conveyed an idea of Spain, not Italy. Here Signore is the term, which better pleases one’s ear, and Signora Contessa, Signora Principessa, if the person is of the higher quality, resembles our manners more when we say my Lady Dutchess, &c. What strikes me as most observable, is the uniformity of style in all the great towns.

As Venice the men of literature and fashion speak with the same accent, and I believe the same quick turns of expression as their Gondolier; and the coachman at Milan talks no broader than the Countess; who, if she does not speak always in French to a foreigner, as she would willingly do, tries in vain to talk Italian; and having asked you thus, alla capi? which means ha ella capita? laughs at herself for trying to toscaneggiare, as she calls it, and gives up the point with no cor altr. that comes in at the end of every sentence, and means non occorre altro, there is no more occurs upon the subject…  

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Filed under 1780's, Europe, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Travel Literature

Item of the Day: A Grammatial Institute of the English Language (1796)

Full Title: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Comprising an Easy, Concise and Systematic Method of Education. Designed for the Use of English Schools in America. In Three Parts. Part Second: Containing a Plain and Comprehensive Grammar, Grounded on the true Principles and Idioms of the Language. By Noah Webster, Jun. Esquire . . . Albany: Printed by Charles R. & George Webster, and sold at their Bookstore, in the Whites House, corner of State and Pearl-Streets, 1796.



We say, what ails him? but seldom he ails a fever, or other disease.

Owing and wanting are used in a passive sense. What is wanting? A debt is owing to me, are established phrases.

We say a man is well read in law, he was offered so much for a thing, where the subject and object seem to have changed places; for the meaning is, law is well read, so much was offered, &c. This inversion may be allowed, where it is not attended with obscurity.

On the use of auxiliary verbs, Dr. Priestly, has this criticism. “By studying conciseness, we are apt to drop the auxiliary, to have, though the sense relate to past time. I found him better than I expected to find him. In this case analogy seems to require that we say, I expected to have found him: that is, to have found him there.” This is a great error, and for the reason which he immediately assigns, that is, “the time past is sufficiently indicated by the former part of the sentence.” The truth is, the time is ascertained by the first verb, I expected, which carries the mind back to the time; then to use another verb in the past, is to carry the mind back to a time preceding the existence of my expectations. He gives an example from Hume, which he says is certainly faulty. “These prosecutions of William seem to be the most iniquitous,” &c. It is faulty, not because both verbs are not in time past, but because neither of them is past time; seem to have been, or seemed to be, would not have been correct; but seemed to have been, would not have been grammatical. His remarks on this point seem to have been made with less accuracy of judgment, than we observe in most of his writing. . . .

The use of mistaken is equally singular. When applied to persons it is synonimous [sic] with wrong or erroneous. This is almost, or quite universally understood to be its meaning; and this common understanding constitutes its true signification, which no man has a right to dispute or attempt to change. But when applied to things, it is always used in a passive sense, equivalent to misunderstood. I am mistaken, you are mistaken, mean, I am wrong, you are wrong; but the nature of a thing is mistaken, means its nature is misunderstood. . . .





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Filed under 1790's, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States, Vocabulary

Item of the Day: Dissertations on the English Language (1789)

Full Title: Dissertations on the English Language: with Notes, Historical and Critical. To which is added, by way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on that Subject. By Noah Webster, Jun. Esquire. Boston: Printed for the author, by Isaiah Thomas and Company, MDCCLXXXIX.










IT has been observed by all writers on the English language, that the orthography or spelling of words is very irregular; the same letters often representing different sounds, and the same sounds often expressed by different letters. For this irregularity, two principal causes may be assigned:

1. THE changes to which the pronunciation of a language is liable, from the progress of science and civilization.

2. THE mixture of different languages, occasioned by revolutions in England, or by a predilection of the learned, for words of foreign growth and ancient origin. To the first cause, may be ascribed the difference between the spelling and pronunciation of Saxon words. The northern nations of Europe originally spoke much in gutturals. This is evident from the number of aspirates and guttural letters, which still remain in the orthography of words derived from those nations; and from the modern pronunciation of the collateral branches of the Teutonic, the Dutch, Scotch and German. Thus k before n was once pronounced; as in knave, know; the gh in might, though, daughter, and other similar words; the g in reign, feign, &c.

BUT as savages proceed in forming languages, they lose the guttural sounds, in some measure, and adopt the use of labials, and the more open vowels. The ease of speaking facilitates this progress, and the pronunciation of words is softened, in proportion to a national refinement of manners. This will account for the difference between the ancient and modern languages of France, Spain and Italy; and for the difference between the soft pronunciation of the present languages of those countries, and the more harsh and guttural pronunciation of the northern inhabitants of Europe.

IN this progress, the English have lost the sounds of most of the guttural letters. The k before k in know, the g in reign, and in many other words, are become mute in practice; and the gh is softened into the sound of f, as in laugh, or is silent, as in brought. . . .

BUT such is the state of our language. The pronunciation of the words which are strictly English, has been gradually changing for ages, and since the revival of science in Europe, the langage has received a vast accession of words from other languages, many of which retain an orthography very ill suited to exhibit the true pronunciation.

THE question now occurs; ought the Americans to retain these faults which produce innumerable inconveniencies [sic] in the acquisition and use of the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN TONGUE?

Let us consider this subject with some attention.

SEVERAL attempts were formerly made in England to rectify the orthography of the language. But I apprehend their schemes failed of success, rather on account of their intrinsic difficulties, than on account of any necessary impracticability [sic] of a reform. It was proposed, in most of these schemes, not merely to throw out superfluous and silent letters, but to introduce a number of new characters. Any attempt on such a plan must undoubtedly prove unsuccessful. It is not to be expected that an orthography, perfectly regular and simple, such as would be formed by a “Synod of Grammarians on principles of science,” will ever be substituted for that confused mode of spelling which is now established. But is is apprehended that great improvements may be made, and an orthography almost regular, or such as shall obviate most of the present difficulties which occur in learning our language, may be introduced and established with little trouble and opposition.

The principal alterations, necessary to render our orthography sufficiently regular and easy, are these:

1. THE omission of all superfluous or silent letters; as a in bread. Thus bread, head, give, breast, built, meant, realm, friend, would be spelt, bred, hed, giv, brest, bilt, ment, relm, frend. Would this alteration produce any inconvenience, any embarrassment or expense? By no means. On the other hand, it would lessent he trouble of writing, and much more, of learning the language; it would reduce the true pronunciation to a certainty; and while it would assist foreigners and our own children in acquiring the language, it would render the pronunciation uniform, in different parts of the country, and almost prevent the possibility of change.

2. A SUBSTITUTE of a character that has a certain definite sound, for one that is more vague and indeterminate. Thus putting ee instead of ea or ie, the words mean, near, speak, grieve, zeal, would become meen, neer, speek, greev, zeel. This alteration could not occasion a moments trouble; at the same time it would prevent a doubt respecting the pronunciation; whereas the ea and the ie having different sounds, may give a learner much difficulty. Thus greef should be substituted for grief; kee for key; beleev for believe; laf for laugh; dawter for daughter; plow for plough; tuf for tough; proov for prove; blud for blood; and draft for draught. In this manner ch in Greek derivatives, should be changed to k; for the English ch has a soft sound, as in cherish; but k always a hard sound. Therefore character, chorus, cholic, architecture, should be written karacter, kours, kolic, arkitecture; and were they thus written, no person could mistake their true pronunciation. . . .

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Filed under 1780's, Education, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States

Word of the Week: Critick


A CRI’TICK [critique, F. critice, It. and Sp. criticus, L. of χριτιχος, Gr.] one skilled in criticism, a profound scholar, a nice censurer.


CRI’TICK. n. s. [χριτιχος]

1. A man skilled in the art of judging of literature; a man able to distinguish the faults and beauties of writing.

This settles truer ideas in men’s minds of several things, wherof we read the names in ancient authors, than all the large and laborious arguments of criticks.             Locke.

Now learn what morals ciriticks ought to show,/ For ’tis but half a judge’s talk to show.            Pope. 

2. An examiner; a judge.

But you with pleasure own your errours past,/ and make each day a critick on the last.            Pope.

3. A snarler; a carper; a caviller.

Criticks I saw, that other names deface,/ And fix their own with labour in their place.                 Pope.

Where an author has many beauties consistent with virtue, piety, and truth, let not little criticks exalt themselves, and shower down their ill nature.                   Watts.   

4. A censurer; a man apt to find fault.

My chief design, next to seeing you is to be a severe critick on you and your neighbor.              Swift.


CRIT’IC, n. [Gr. χριτιχος, from χριτης, a judge or discerner, from the root of χρινω, to judge, to separate, to distinguish.  See Crime.]

1. A person skilled in judging of the merit of literary works; one who is able to discern and distinguish the beauties and faults of writing.  In a more general sense, a person skilled in judging with propriety any combination of objects, or of any work of art; and particularly of what are denominated the Fine Arts.  A critic is one who, from experience, knowledge, habit or taste, can perceive the difference between propriety and impropriety, in objects or works presented to his view; between the natural and the unnatural; the high and the low, or lofty and mean; the congrous and incongruous; the correct and incorrect, according to the established rules of the art. 

2. An examiner; a judge.

And make each day a critic on the last.          Pope.

3. One who judges with severity; one who censures or finds fault.

                                                         Pope.    Watts.    Swift.

Full Titles: 

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

A Dictionary of the English Language:  In Which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers.  To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar.  By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  In Two Volumes.–Vol. I.  The Sixth Edition.  London:  Printed for J. F. and C. Rivinton, L. David, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newberry.  1785.

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained.  II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy.  III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations,  To which are prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation of the Origin, History and Conection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Language.  By Noah Webster, LL. D.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. I.  New York:  Published by S. Converse.  Printed by Hezekiah Howe-New Haven.  1828. 

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Filed under Criticism, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Vocabulary

Word of the Week: “To Become”


To BECOME [of be and cpeman, Sax. to please, of bequemen, G. to adapt or make fit, or bequem, G. fit, or of bekommen, G. to thrive or agree with] to befit, to adorn; also to be made or done. 


To BECO’ ME. v. n. pret. I became; comp. pret. I have become. [from by and come.] 

1. To enter into some state or condition, by a change form some other.

The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.     Genesis, ii. 7.

And unto the Jews I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.       I Corin. ix. 20.

A smaller pear, grafted upon a stock that beareth a greater pear, will become great.       Bacon.

My voice thou oft hath heard, and hath not feared,/But still rejoiced; how is it now become/ So dreadful to thee?        Milton.

So the least faults, if mix’d with fairest deed,/Of future ill become the fatal deed.        Prior.


2. To become of.  To be the fate of; to be the end of; to be the subsequent or final condition of.  It is observable, that this word is never, or very seldom, used but with what, either indefinite or interrogative.

What is then become of so huge a multitude, as would have overspread a great part of the continent.        Raleigh.

Perplex’d with thoughts, what would become of me, and all mankind.   Milton.

The first hints of circulation of the blood were taken from a common person’s wondering what became of all the blood that issued out of the heart.       Graunt

What will become of me then?  for when he is free, he will infallibly accuse me.         Dryden 

What became of this thoughtful busy creature, when removed from this world, has amazed the vulgar, and puzzled the wife.          Rogers.

3.  In the following passage, the phrase, where is he become? is used for, what is become of him?

I cannot joy, until I be resolv’d
Where our right valiant father is become.      Shakesp.



BECOME, v. i. becum. pret. became. pp. become.  [Sax.  becumen, to fall out or happen; D. bekoomen; G. bekommen, to get or obtain; Sw. bekomma; Dan. bekommer, to obtain; be and come.  These significations differ from the sense in English. But the sense is, to come to , to arrive, to reach, to fall or pass to.  [See COME.]  Hence the sense of suiting, agreeing with.  In Sax. cuman, Goth. kwiman, is to come, and Sax. cweman, is to please, that is, to suit or be agreeable.]

1. To pass from one state to another; to enter into some state or condition, by a change from another state or condition, or by assuming or receiving new properties or qualities, additional matter, or a new character; as a cion becomes a tree.

The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

To the Jew, I became a Jew.

2. To become of, usually with what preceeding; to be the fate of; to be the end of; to be the final or subsequent condition; as, what will become of our commerce?  what will become of us?

In the present tense, it applies to place as well as condition.  What has become of my friend? that is, where is he? as well as, what is his condition?  Where is he become?  used by Shakespeare and Spenser, is obsolete; but this is the sense in Saxon, where has he fallen? 


Full Titles: 

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

A Dictionary of the English Language:  In Which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers.  To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar.  By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  In Two Volumes.–Vol. I.  The Sixth Edition.  London:  Printed for J. F. and C. Rivinton, L. David, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newberry.  1785.

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained.  II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy.  III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations,  To which are prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation of the Origin, History and Conection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Language.  By Noah Webster, LL. D.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. I.  New York:  Published by S. Converse.  Printed by Hezekiah Howe-New Haven.  1828. 

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Filed under Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Uncategorized

Item of the Day: The New World of Words (1706)

Full Title: The New World of Words: or, Universal English Dictionary. Containing An Account of the Original or Proper Sense, and Various Significations of all Hard Words derived from other Languages, viz. Hebrew, Arabick, Syriack, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, British, Saxon, Danish, Dutch, &c. as now made use of in our English Tongue. Together with A Brief and Plain Explication of all Terms relating to any of the Arts and Sciences, either Liberal or Mechanical, viz. Grammar, Rhetorick, Logick, Theology, Law, Metaphysicks, Ethicks, Natural Philosophy, Physick, Surgery, Anatomy, Chymistry, Pharmacy, Botanicks, Arithmetick, Geometry, Astronomy, Astrology, Cosmography, Geography, Hydrography, Navigation, Architecture, Fortification, Dialling, Surveying, Gauging, Opticks, Catoptricks, Dioptricks, Perspective, Musick, Mechanicks, Staticks, Chiromancy, Phsiognomy, Heraldry, Merchandize, Maritime and Military Affairs,  Agriculture, Gardening, Handicrafts, Jewelling, Painting, Carving, Engraving, Confectionery, cookery, Horsemanship, Hawking, Hunting, Fowling, Fishing, &c. To which is Added, The Interpretation of Proper Names of Men and Women, that derive their Original from the above-mention’d Ancient and Modern Tongues, with those of Writs and Processes at Law: Also the Greek and Latin Names of divers sorts of Animals, Plants, Metals, Minerals, &c. and several other remarkable Matters more particularly express’d in the Prefece. Compikled by Edward Phillips, Gent. The Sixth Edition, Revised, Corrected, and Improved; with the Addition of near Twenty Thousand Words, from the Best Authors, Domestick and Foreign, by J. K., Philobibl.  . . . London: Printed for J. Phillips, at the King’s-Arms in S. Paul’s Churc-Yard; H. Rhodes, at the Star, the Corner of Bride-Lane, in Fleet-street; and J. Taylor, at the Ship in S. Paul’s Church-yard. MDCCVI.




The Publick being very sensible of the great Advantage and Usefulness of DICTIONARIES, as is evident from the general Acceptation that many New Ones, in most Faculties, have lately met with, it were altogether needless to insist on that Topick, but it is requisite to give some Account of the present Undertaking, and to shew what Improvements are here made to the Elaborate Work of our Ingenious Country-man Mr. Edward Phillips, the Merit of which has been already sufficiently made known to the World by the Sale of Five Several Impressions.

THE Whole has been carefully Revis’d, in order to correct Faults, supply Defects, and retrench Superfluities; and it was judg’d expedient to leave out all Abstracts of the Lives of Eminent Person, Poetical Fictions, Geographical Descriptions of Places, &c. (except a few that serve to illustrate or explain other Terms, which have their Derivation from, or some Dependance on them) in regard that they are already treated of at large, in several particular Dictionaries. In the room of these, are inserted near Twenty thousand hard Words and Terms in all Arts and Sciences, which are not be be found in the former Editions of this Work, nor in any other General Dictionary whatsoever; that is to say, such Terms as relate to Divinity, the Civil and Canon Law, the Common and Stature Laws of this Realm, Moral and Natual Philosophy, Metaphysicks, Mathemeticks, Botanicks, Musick, Physick, Surgery, Anatomy, Chymistry, Pharmacy, Confectionery, Cookery, Maritime and Military Affairs, Merchandixe, Husbandry, Horsemanship, Handicrafts, and Manufactures: . . .

This Collection is made out of the most Approved Authors, and the best Originals the present Age affords; and ’tis far the largest of any hitherto extant, (as it has been already hinted) in regard that it contains all manner of difficult Words and Terms of Art, which are to be found in any Writers of Note: So that now, more than ever, it may be justly said to Answer the title of The New World of Words, Universal Dictionary, or Compleat Glossography. As for the individual Terms, care has been taken every where to set down their Original and Proper Signification, which tends very much to clear up the several Senses wherein they are now generally receiv’d: And they are also explain’d with all possible Perspicuity and Brevity. so as not to interpret any hard Word by others that are as little intelligible, at least not so obvious to Persons who are not well vers’d in Polite Literature; a Fault too frequent in Performances of this Nature.

And farther, although it be no Part of our Design, to teach the Liberal or Mechanical Arts and Sciences, as a late Learned Author has attempted to do; nevertheless, it may be fairly affirm’d, there are many Principles and Rules laid down, with apposite Hints, and Remarks throughout the whole Work, which may give Light even to the Knowledge of those Arts: So as to be of very good Use to young Students and Practitioners of every Profession; as also to Foreigners, who are desirous to be acquainted with the Terms and peculiar Idioms of our English Tongue; which is now so far improv’d, that for Copiousness, variety of Style, clearness and elegancy of Expression, and other Advantages, it may be said to equal, if not surpass, all other Modern Languages.

To conclude, if this Undertaking meet with a favourable Reception among the Judicious, it will be an ample Recompence for the great Pains taken by the Publisher, who is ever ambitious to approve himself,

Their very humble servant,

John Kersey.


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Filed under 1700's, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Noah Webster’s Letter to John Pickering (1817)

Full Title:  A Letter to the Honorable John Pickering, on the Subject of his Vocabulary; or, Collection of Words and Phrases, Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America.  By Noah Webster.  Boston:  Published by West and Richardson, 1817.

To The


John Pickering. 


When I first read your Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases, supposed to be peculiar to the United States, I found in it many things which appeared to deserve animadversion, and thought it incumbent on me, whose Dictionary you have often cited, to publish some remarks upon particular parts of it, and to correct what I apprehend to be erroneous opinions on the subject.  On more mature reflection however, I hesitated whether it would be expedient to trouble you or the public with my explanations and strictures.  the unfriendly dispositions manifested toward me by men of high standing in the republic of letters, and particularly in this Commonwealth, and the virulence with which every effort to detect errors in long received opinions has hitherto been assailed; a virulence by no means compatible with a candid desire of improvement, and probably not warranted by the low estimate which even my opposers have formed of my talents, labors and public services; these dispositions, affording little ground to expect that any remarks of mine would have a salutary influence upon public opinion, have, at times, disposed me to withhold all strictures upon philological subjects, till I can prepare a more critical and extended treatise, than has yet been exhibited to the public.  To a man who seeks his own tranquillity, and whose sole object is to enlighten and benefit his fellow-citizens, controversy, even when conducted with liberality, is extremely irksome; and, rather than be engaged in it, I would spend the small portion of life that remains to me, in the humble walks of obscurity.  In controversy with my fellow citizens, on any subject, I will not be engaged.   The following remarks, drawn from me as much by the solicitations of friends, as by my own love of truth, are not intended to provoke one; and it is my sincere desire that my observations and statements may be marked by that candor and moderation which so honorably distinguish yours. . . .

With regard to the general principle, that we must use only such words as the English use, let me repeat, that the restriction is, in the nature of the thing, impracticable, and the demand that we should observe it, is as improper as it is arrogant.  Equally impertinent is it to ridicule us for retaining the use of genuine English words, because they happen to be obsolete in London, or in the higher circles of life.  There are many instances in which we retain the genuine use of words, and the genuine English pronunciation, which they have corrupted; in pronunciation they have introduced more corruptions, within half a century, than were evwer before introduced in five centuries, not even excepting the periods of conquest.  Many of these changes in England are attributable to fals principles, introduced into popular elementary books written by mere sciolists in language, and diffused by the instrumentality of the stage — that prolific parent of corruption.  Let the English remove the beam from their own eye, before they attempt to pull the mote from ours; and before they laugh at our vulgar keow, geown, neow, let them discard their polite keind, and geuide; a fault precisely similar in origin, and equally a perversion of genuine English pronunciation.

I left college with the same veneration for English writers and the same confidence in their opinions, which most of my countrymen now possess, and I adopted their errors without examination.  After many years of research, I am compelled to withdraw much of that confidence, and to look with astonishment upon the errors and false principles which they have propagated; some of them of far more consequence than any which have been mentioned in the preceding remarks.  I wish to be on good terms with the English — it is my interest and the interest of my fellow-citizens to treat them as friends and brethren.  But I will be neither frowned nor ridiculed into error, and a servile imitation of practices which I know or believe to be corrupt.  I will examine subjects for myself, and endeavor to find the truth, and to defend it, whether it accords with English opinions or not.  If I must measure swords with their travellers and their reviewers, on the subject under consideration, I shall not decline the combat.   There is nothing which, in my opinion, so debases the genius and character of my countrymen as the implicit confidence they place in English authors, and their unhesitating submission to their opinion, their derision, and their frowns.  But I trust the time will come, when the English will be convinced that the intellectual faculties of their descendants have not degenerated in America; and that we can contend with them in LETTERS, with as much success, as upon the OCEAN.

I am not ignorant, Sir, of the narrowness of the sphere which I now occupy.  Secluded, in a great measure, from the world, with small means, and no adventitious aids from men of science; with little patronage to extend my influence, and powerful enmities to circumscribe it; what can my efforts avail in attempting to counteract a current of opinion?  Yet I am not accustomed to despondence.  I have contributed, in a small degree, to the instruction of at least four millions of the rising generation; and it is not unreasonable to expect, that a few seeds of improvement, planted by my hand, may germinate, and grow and ripen into valuable fruit, when my remains shall be mingled with the dust.


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Filed under 1810's, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: A Vocabulary (1816)

Full Title: A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States of America. To which is prefixed An Essay on the Present State of the English Language in the United States. By John Pickering. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Williard and Metcalf, 1816.


The preservation of the English language in its purity throughout the United States is an object deserving the attention of every American, who is a friend of the literature and science of his country. It is in a particular manner entitled to the consideration of the Academy; for, though subjects, which are usually ranked under the head of Physical Science, were doubtless chiefly in view with the founders of the Academy, yet, our language also, which is to be the instrument of communicating to the public the speculations and discoveries of our countrymen, seems necessarily “to fall within the design of the insitution;” because, unless the language is well settled, and can be read with ease by all to whom it is addresssed, our authors will write and publish, certainly under many disadvantages, though perhaps not altogether in vain.

It is true, indeed, that our countrymen may speak and write in a dialect of English, which will be understood in the United States; but if they are ambitious of having their words read by Englishmen as well as by Americans, they must write the language that Englishmen can read with pleasure. And if for some time to come it should not be the lot of many Americans to publish works, which will be read out of their own country, yet all, who have the least tincture of learning, will continue to feel an ardent desire to acquaint themselves with English authors. Let us then for a moment imagine the time to have arrived, when Americans shall no longer be able to understand the works of Milton, Pope, Swift, Addison, and other English authors, justly styled classic, without the aid of a translation into a language, that is to be called at some future day the American tongue! By such a change, it is true, our loss would not be so great in works purely scientific, as in those which are usually termed works of taste; for the obvious reason, that the design of the former is merely to communicate information, without regard to elegance of language or the force and beauty of the sentiments. But the excellencies of works of taste cannot be felt even in the best translations;–a truth, which, without resorting to the example of the matchless ancients, will be acknowledged by every man, who is acquainted with the admirable works extant in various living languages. Nor is this the only view in which a radical change of language would be an evil. To say nothing of the facilities afforded by a common language in the ordinary intercourse of business, it should not be forgotten, that our religion and our laws are studied in the language of the nation, from which we are descended; and, with the loss of the language, we should finally suffer the loss of those peculiar advantages, which we now derive from the investigations of the jurists and divines of that country.

But, it is often asked among us, do not the people of this country now speak and write the English language with purity? A brief consideration of the subject will furnish a satisfactory answer to this question; it will also enable us to correct the erroneous opinions entertained by some Americans on this point, and at the same time to defend our countrymen against the charge made by some English writers, of a design to effect an entire change in the language.

As the inquiry before us is a simple question of fact, it is to be determined, like every other quiestion of this nature, by proper evidence. What evidence then have we, that the English language is not spoken and written in America, with the same degree of purity that is to be found in the writers and orators of England?

 In the first place, although it is agreed, that there is greater uniformity of the dialect throughout the United States (in consequence of the frequent removals of people from one part of the country to another) than is to be found throughout England; yet none of our countrymen, not even those who are the most zealous in supporting what they imagine to be the honour of the American character, will contend, that we have not in some instances departed from the standard of the language. We have formed some new words; and to some old ones, that are still used in England, we have affixed with new significations: while others, which have long been obsolete in England, are still retained in common use with us. If then, in addition to these acknowledgments of our own countrymen, we allow any weight of the opinions of the Englishmen, (who must be content judges in this case,) it cannot be denied, that we  have in several instances deviated from the standard of the language, as spoken and written in England at the present day. By this, however, I do not mean, that so great a deviation has taken place, as to have rendered any considerable part of our language unintelligible to Englishmen; but merely, that so many corruptions have crept into our Enlgish, as to have become the subject of much animadversion and regret with the learned of Great Britain. And as we are hardly aware of the opinion entertained by them of the extent of these corruptions, it may be useful, if it should not be very flattering to our pride, to hear their remarks on this subject in their own words. We shall find that these corruptions censured, not be mere pretenders to learning, but (so far as the fact is to be ascertained from English publications,) by all the scholars of that country, who take an interest in American literature. In proof of this, I request the attention of the Academy to the follwoing extracts from several of the British Reviews; some of which are the most distinguished of the present day, and all of which together may be considered as expressing the general opinion of the literary men of Great Britain, who have attended to this subject. That all the remarks are just, to the extent in which they will naturally be understood, few of our countrymen will be willing to admit. . . .



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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Vocabulary