Why is Noah Webster a mentor for me?

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It was on this day in 1828 that Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language was published . Webster put together the dictionary because he wanted Americans to have a national identity that wasn’t based on the language and ideas of England. The problem wasn’t just that Americans were looking to England for their language; it was that they could barely communicate with each other because regional dialects differed so drastically.Noah Webster was a schoolteacher in Connecticut. He was dismayed at the state of education in the years just after the Revolution. There wasn’t much money for supplies and students were crowded into small one-room schoolhouses using textbooks from England that talked about the great King George. His students’ spelling was atrocious, as was that of the general public; it was assumed that there were several spellings for any word.So in 1783 he published the first part of his three-part A Grammatical Institute, of the English Language; the first section was eventually retitled The American Spelling Book, but usually called by the nickname “Blue-Backed Speller.” The Blue-Backed Speller taught American children the rules of spelling, and it simplified words — it was Webster who took the letter “u” out of English words like colour and honour; he took a “g” out of waggon, a “k” off the end of musick, and switched the order of the “r” and “e” in theatre and centre.In 1801 he started compiling his dictionary. Part of what he accomplished, much like his textbook, was standardizing spelling. He introduced American words, some of them derived from Native American languages: skunk, squash, wigwam, hickory, opossum, lengthy, and presidential, Congress, and caucus, which were not relevant in England’s monarchy.Webster spent almost 30 years on his project, and finally, on this day in 1828 it was published. Unfortunately, it cost 15 or 20 dollars, which was a huge amount in 1828, and Webster died in 1843 without having sold many copies.The book did help launch Webster as a writer and a proponent of an American national identity. Webster had a canny knack for marketing, traveling around to meet with new publishers and booksellers, publishing ads in the local newspapers for his book wherever he went. He also lobbied for copyright law, served for a time as an adviser to George Washington and wrote his own edition of the Bible, and his tallies of houses in all major cities led to the first American census.In his book The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture (2011) Joshua Kendall argued that Noah Webster would today be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

from the Poetry Almanac April 14, 2022

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