Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Happy Birthday, Noah Webster!

Cacography as documented in its first use in Thomas Blount's Glossographia (1656) refers to bad spelling or ill writing. This is something that lexicographers for eons before and eons after tried to correct in the unwashed masses.

Noah WebsterOne such living in the American counterpart of the Georgian-Regency period was Noah Webster (1758–1843). Another admonisher was wordsmith Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790).

When Webster was ten years old, Franklin published his unpopular Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling, which recommended that the alphabet be remodeed. Under Franklin's plan, six new letters would be added, and all thirty-two would function phonetically. Franklin argued, "As our alphabet now stands, the bad spelling, or what is called so, is generally the best."

Noah WebsterYears later, Webster offered a simplified solution but, like Franklin's proposal, it was roundly ridiculed and rejected.

Webster did, however, pioneer the deletion of unnecessary letters from certain words, such as the 'U' from neighbour, colour, and honour and the 'K' from musick, publick, and mechanick, thereby setting American English irrevocably on a path divergent from its parent language.

"England and America are two nations separated by a common language." —George Bernard Shaw

RomanistasSo, Romanistas...
Which other words did Webster set out to "improve"? Which ones are you favs?


Anna Campbell said...

Hey, interesting post, Miss Keira! I've become completely loony about spelling - half the time, I'm using US spellings and the other half, I'm using British spellings which are standard in Australia apart from for our Labor Party which was named in accordance with the Webster 'sensible' system. The problem is I can never remember which version I'm meant to be using! Must say, perhaps because I'm used to it, the British spellings always look more elegant to me. One that always looks really odd to me in the US is plough/plow!

Keira Soleore said...

Interestingly enough, Fo, Hawaii sells a ploughman's lunch. Then there's theater/theatre. Public radio lovers spell it the other way. :) A lot of American folks who write for Mills & Boon say that they have the same spelling confusion, because when the copyedits come in, they can't figure out which way things should go; forget about catching copyedit errors.