“She was fascinated with words. To her, words were things of beauty, each like a magical powder or potion that could be combined with other words to create powerful spells.”
— Dean Koontz
The Origins of Dictionary Day
Language remains one of the simplest yet highly effective tools we have to become cogent individuals. The power of words to compel and create is amplified by an extensive vocabulary, coupled with the skill of eloquently weaving these words together.
It is no wonder then that we celebrate October 16 as Dictionary Day, in honor of Noah Webster’s birthday. Considered the father of the American dictionary, he was driven by his love for learning and the will to improve education for everyone. At 16, Noah was initially bound for Yale to become a lawyer, but finding that career path too costly, he chose to become a teacher instead.
As an educator, he became acutely aware of the expanding American language and academic system. He sought to reform it by writing the “Blue-Backed Speller” in 1783, a primer on the grammar of the English language. Then in 1801 he began defining and codifying the words that set American English apart from what was being used in England. He believed that some English words were needlessly complicated, so he modified their spelling. New words that were unique to the American language were also added. The next two decades of his life would be dedicated to compiling and defining a total of 65,000 words. During this time, he learned 26 different languages for this undertaking. He was 70 years old when he published his glossary.
In addition to his pioneer work as an American lexicographer, Noah Webster was also active in the social discussions of his time, supporting the abolition of slavery and promoting accessible education for all.
Upon his death more than 20 years later, G & C Merriam, Co. purchased the copyrights to his “American Dictionary of the English Language”. Brothers George and Charles Merriam continued to edit and improve on Webster’s legacy, giving us the Merriam-Webster Dictionary we all know and love today.
How to Celebrate Dictionary Day
Dictionary Day can easily be celebrated at home on your own, or with friends or family. Here are a few suggestions to commemorate this day:
#1 - Play some old-school word games like Scrabble with your family or friends, and see who has some high-scoring, unusual words up their sleeves.
#2 - Go back in time to the days before the internet and immerse yourself in the total experience of opening an actual dictionary, feeling and hearing the sound of pages turning, and smelling the nostalgic fragrance of lignin.
#3 - Subscribe to an online dictionary site’s word of the day to expand your vocabulary and help flex those neural pathways.
#4 - Spread the recognition of and appreciation for Noah Webster by hashtagging #NationalDictionaryDay in your social media.
#5 - Dedicate a part or a whole journal for learning and writing down new words. This multisensorial activity also enhances memory retention of new knowledge.
My Way of Celebrating
As for myself, I love learning about new words, particularly uncommon and obscure ones. Aside from noting down their definitions, I try to see if I can use them as prompts for sketching with my fountain pens and inks. Doing so makes the whole process a creative one, and further enhances the significance of that particular word. It also fires up the imagination when you seek to visualize the word’s meaning, whether it be through concrete or abstract images. Another way to embed words in your memory is to use them for penmanship practice using fountain pens. The pleasant physical sensation of writing in addition to repetitive hand movements both aid in strengthening the word’s hold on your mind.
If you are willing to try, here is my hand-picked list of words with their definitions. I hope you’ll enjoy playing around with these.
Light, delicate, translucent
Heavenly, otherworldly, intangible
Peaceful, calm, idyllic
Rhythmic swing, flow or cadence
A jingling or tinkling sound as if of bells
Discontinuance from use or exercise
An intricate or complicated situation
Having a changeable luster or color with an undulating band of white light
The action or process of developing and unfolding, as if coming into flower; fullness of manifestation
To permeate or influence as if by dyeing; endow
Happy Dictionary Day everyone!
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Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!