Cover image for Noah Webster and the American dictionary
Noah Webster and the American dictionary
Micklethwait, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, [2000]

Physical Description:
vii, 350 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE65.W5 M53 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The book covers Webster's major publications and the influences and methods that shaped them; recounts his life as schoolteacher, copyright law champion, and itinerant lecturer; and examines the Webster legacy.

Author Notes

David Micklethwait is a London attorney specializing in intellectual property law

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Micklethwait uses a conversational tone in recalling the idiosyncracies of Webster and his contemporaries in the development of American English. Born in modest circumstances, Webster (1758^-1843) longed for elite social status. Webster was teacher, lecturer, pamphleteer, and newspaperman as he became "an insatiable collector of information" and a lover of words who developed spelling books and dictionaries that shaped American English usage. Micklethwait observes that Webster, a vain and meticulous man, was characterized by "careful Truthfulness." He also recounts the rivalries between compilers of dictionaries in the U.S. and those in England. Webster relied heavily on dictionaries that had come before, most notably Samuel Johnson's, but he was hypersensitive about others borrowing from his work. Micklethwait relied on original documents in Webster's papers at the New York Public Library to produce this lexicographer's joy that explores in detail the processes of deciding spelling, pronunciation, and the meanings of words as well as providing a fascinating look at one of the most influential Americans of his time. --Vanessa Bush

Choice Review

Micklethwait's careful study of the man who compiled the US's foremost early reference book, The American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), reverses standard biographical practice, illuminating Webster's character through his work, primarily his dictionary, but also the famous blue-backed speller. He reveals Webster as a striving, straight-laced, and moralistic lexicographer, and a remarkable entrepreneur and self-created persona who turned his work into a cottage industry. Another recent work, Harlow Unger's Noah Webster: The Life and Times of an American Patriot (CH, Mar'99), sought to place Webster in the political and cultural flow of the early republic. Unlike Unger, Micklethwait focuses on Webster's motivations and methods, quoting liberally from letters, manuscripts, and published writings. He shows Webster in not always complimentary ways, laying out, for example, an extensively researched analysis of Webster's similarities to and departures from Samuel Johnson's English dictionary, the foremost previous lexicographical achievement. Dictionary making is characterized by appropriations from earlier versions. Webster was no exception, liberally borrowing from Johnson and other reference works, extracting information in concise form. That was his genius. Micklethwait follows Webster's works as they evolved into the various Webster's dictionaries we know today. A fascinating trip, recommended for all academic collections. K. Potts; California State University--Stanislaus