About Us

Merriam-Webster's Ongoing Commitment

Merriam-Webster's commitment to innovation and scholarship began with the publication of its first dictionary in 1847 and continued with the 1859 publication of a revised and enlarged edition. The 1859 edition was the first American dictionary to include pictorial illustrations; it also featured a supplement of new words and explanations of the distinctions among synonyms, all improvements that made the dictionary more useful than ever before.

Dictionary making at Merriam-Webster has always been an ongoing process. Even as the 1859 edition was being published, editorial work on a completely new edition was under way.

In 1864, under the editorship of Noah Porter, An American Dictionary of the English Language, Royal Quarto Edition, Unabridged, appeared, featuring a vocabulary three times that of Noah Webster's original 1828 edition. Webster's Unabridged, as the 1864 edition was called informally, soon increased the company's prestige even further. Governments, publishers, schools, and even the Supreme Court of the United States followed Webster's.

A revision of Webster's Unabridged containing a biographical dictionary was published in 1878, and another edition, this one with a dictionary of place names, appeared in 1884.

Editorial work for Merriam-Webster had always been performed by distinguished scholars, and by the 1870s a small, permanent staff had been established. The Merriam brothers believed that retaining such a staff would ensure that the voice and style of Merriam-Webster dictionaries would have continuity and consistency. That belief still drives the company, which boasts the largest group of working lexicographers in North America.

The 1890s saw the introduction of two classic trademarked Merriam-Webster dictionary series, works that still form the foundation of the company's product line: the International and the Collegiate.

The Merriams recognized that English was used worldwide and that Merriam-Webster references could serve people all over the globe. To reflect this global outlook, Webster's Unabridged was officially renamed Webster's International Dictionary, Unabridged, with the publication of the 1890 edition. That impressive new volume contained 175,000 entries—56,000 more than the 1864 edition—and covered a vocabulary that reflected the accelerating pace of change in society at the end of the nineteenth century.

Webster's International Dictionary was an enormous achievement—and a big, heavy book. The company recognized that there were times when such a large volume was impractical, so in 1898 it introduced Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as a compact and convenient reference intended to meet the needs of the general reader and especially the college student.

Since they were first released, Webster's International Dictionary and Webster's Collegiate Dictionary have been updated and revised many times. New editions of the unabridged appeared in 1909 (Webster's New International Dictionary), 1934 (Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition), and 1961 (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged). Addenda sections, featuring words that came into use after publication of the 1961 edition, have been added regularly, most recently in 2002.

Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary is updated annually and has been completely re-edited and revised every 10 to 12 years. In 1993, the company officially renamed the work Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary to help distinguish it from the many other Webster's dictionaries—of varying quality—produced by other publishers.

Throughout the 20th century, Merriam-Webster has continued to develop innovative language reference products. In addition to dictionaries and thesauruses in a wide assortment of sizes and formats, its publishing program now includes such highly acclaimed titles as:

  • Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage,
  • Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary,
  • Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors.

Because people find language and word lore enjoyable, Merriam-Webster launched a series in 1996 entitled "The Lighter Side of Language." It delivers fresh, entertaining insights into the world of words through fun and fascinating stories about our language and culture. Titles in the series include Coined By Shakespeare and The Word Circus.

The company entered electronic publishing in the early 1960s, and initially, licensed electronic versions of its products to government, academic, and commercial institutions. In the 1970s, Merriam-Webster began providing word lists for computer spell-checking software. Since that time, the company has participated in numerous partnerships to produce electronic products.

In 1995, Merriam-Webster developed and published its first independent computer product, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Deluxe Electronic Edition for CD-ROM (which later developed into Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus, Electronic Edition and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Deluxe Audio Edition). The same year, the company launched an area on America Online at keyword MERRIAM.

Merriam-Webster OnLine was launched in 1996 at www.merriam-webster.com, and has quickly become the language center on the World Wide Web. Visitors gain access to the full-text of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus as well as a wealth of language related information including The Word of the Day, a daily word game, and an online bookstore.

During the past 150 years, Merriam-Webster has developed and refined an editorial process that relies on objective evidence about language use, and it applies this process to create reference products that meet rigorous standards of quality and reliability for both print and electronic formats. Today, Merriam-Webster is America's most trusted authority on the English language.