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
The Dictionary Wars 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. Peter Martin tells of the intense rivalry between America's first lexicographers, Noah Webster and Joseph Emerson Worcester, and how their conflict continued beyond Webster's death, when the ambitious Merriam brothers acquired publishing rights to Webster's American Dictionary. 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 personal stories and national debates, The Dictionary Wars examines the linguistic struggles that underpinned the founding and growth of a nation.