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The Dictionary Wars Peter Martin

The Dictionary Wars By Peter Martin

The Dictionary Wars by Peter Martin

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The Dictionary Wars Summary

The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight over the English Language by Peter Martin

A compelling history of the national conflicts that resulted from efforts to produce the first definitive American dictionary of English

In The Dictionary Wars, Peter Martin recounts the patriotic fervor in the early American republic to produce a definitive national dictionary that would rival Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. But what began as a cultural war of independence from Britain devolved into a battle among lexicographers, authors, scholars, and publishers, all vying for dictionary supremacy and shattering forever the dream of a unified American language.

The overwhelming questions in the dictionary wars involved which and whose English was truly American and whether a dictionary of English should attempt to be American at all, independent from Britain. Martin tells the human story of the intense rivalry between America's first lexicographers, Noah Webster and Joseph Emerson Worcester, who fought over who could best represent the soul and identity of American culture. Webster believed an American dictionary, like the American language, ought to be informed by the nation's republican principles, but Worcester thought that such language reforms were reckless and went too far. Their conflict continued beyond Webster's death, when the ambitious Merriam brothers acquired publishing rights to Webster's American Dictionary and launched their own language wars. From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of the Civil War, the dictionary wars also engaged America's colleges, libraries, newspapers, religious groups, and state legislatures at a pivotal historical moment that coincided with rising literacy and the print revolution.

Delving into the personal stories and national debates that arose from the conflicts surrounding America's first dictionaries, The Dictionary Wars examines the linguistic struggles that underpinned the founding and growth of a nation.

The Dictionary Wars Reviews

"[The Dictionary Wars] celebrate[s] the development of literature and language that would give the United States of America its own cultural identity. [It] provide[s] a foundational context for the study of our literature and communication and help[s] us celebrate American culture."---Michel L. Ramsey, Roanoke Times
"Wonderfully told. . . . For a tale of lexicographic intrigue, Mr. Martin's book is unexcelled."---Bryan A. Garner, Wall Street Journal
"Martin gives a textured account of the personal, scholarly, and business conflicts that erupted with Webster's first dictionary. . . . Folded into this tale are aspects of print capitalism, material culture, and business history."---Matthew Garrett, ALH Online Review
"[A] riveting history. . . . The author navigates a complex story, bringing to life the passions and ideologies that shaped the early American lexicon." * New Yorker *
"A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year"
"Reanimates a 19th-century 'civil war over words' that shaped how Americans speak and write. . . . Anyone who loves words for their own sake will be entertained." * Publishers Weekly *
"Engaging and informative. . . . The Dictionary Wars . . . forays into copyright law, educational policy, religious revivalism, and other pressures on the verbal life of the nation."---Christopher Benfey, New York Review of Books
"With an impressive breadth of research, The Dictionary Wars invites contemplation of the ways in which language itself can affect the soul of a nation."---Meagan Logsdon, Foreword Reviews
"Peter Martin's The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language shows Noah Webster as every bit the sort of ideologue who is convinced he has a historical mission and carries himself accordingly."---Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
"Martin's account of the dictionary feuds of the 19th century is as lively and entertaining as the battle itself."---Patricia T. O'Conner, New York Times
"Martin is a steady and thorough guide to what he calls the 'endless labyrinths of lexicography', and in Dictionary Wars he succeeds in dramatising what could have been mere bibliography."---Max Norman, Literary Review
"The Dictionary Wars is a fascinating unveiling of how American English became what it is today." * Desi News *
"An informative and often pleasantly surprising cultural history." * Kirkus *
"Martin's book includes a substantial amount of archival research which will undoubtedly be a boon to scholars of the dictionary wars."---Kory Stamper, Times Literary Supplement
"What [The Dictionary Wars] does best is to demonstrate that while characters win or lose, the very viciousness of the fight ended up benefiting the whole language and all of us who use it. For those of us nerdy and wordy enough to love the language as well as use it, this is profound."---Nicholas Clairmont, Washington Examiner

About Peter Martin

Peter Martin is the author of numerous books, including the acclaimed biographies Samuel Johnson and A Life of James Boswell. He has taught English literature in the United States and England and divides his time between West Sussex, England, and Spain.

Additional information

The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight over the English Language by Peter Martin
Used - Very Good
Princeton University Press
Book picture is for illustrative purposes only, actual binding, cover or edition may vary.
This is a used book - there is no escaping the fact it has been read by someone else and it will show signs of wear and previous use. Overall we expect it to be in very good condition, but if you are not entirely satisfied please get in touch with us

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