This year Merriam-Webster celebrates the bicentennial anniversary of America's first dictionary, Noah Webster's A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1806. This important milestone in lexicography challenged other existing dictionaries on several counts: spelling (which Webster would reform), pronunciation, etymology (word histories), modernity, and definitions.
The volume included thousands of words which were in daily use in America and other English-speaking countries, but were not listed in any other lexicon. Noah Webster’s concise definitions brilliantly proved his special gifts for accuracy and precision.
Webster defined the word compendious as “brief, concise, summary,” and the book itself was indeed small compared to what Webster and his successors would publish in the decades to follow. But there was nothing small about its significance. While physically tiny (about six and a half inches tall by four inches wide), the Compendious marked the true beginning of American lexicography and set a direction for dictionary making that Merriam-Webster continues today.
Merriam-Webster will be acknowledging this distinctive anniversary throughout the year with a number of special programs, including:
- Dictionaries and Democracy: 200 Years of Dictionary Making in America
- a year-long and nation-wide press tour conducted by Merriam-Webster’s president and publisher, John M. Morse
- Merriam-Webster's Spell-a-Thon
- a spelling bee for teams or individuals encompassing three different skill levels (junior for ages 8–10, intermediate for ages 11–14, and adult for ages 15 and up)
- Defining Local Literacy
- a partnership with booksellers to promote local literacy
For more information on any of these special commemorative events, please contact your account representative or:Arthur Bicknell Senior Publicist (413) 734-3134 ext. 119