After Hours

Geek Trivia: The Quibble of the Week for July 1, 2008

This week's quibble comes from the June 24, 2008 edition of Geek Trivia, "Tools of the trade(mark)." TechRepublic member nathan.scott (among several others) took issue with my reading of a certain lexicographer's accomplishments.

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the June 24, 2008 edition of Geek Trivia, "Tools of the trade(mark)." TechRepublic member nathan.scott (among several others) took issue with my reading of a certain lexicographer's accomplishments:

"You state 'While in some measure, all modern dictionaries are derived from the works of lexicographer Noah Webster...' This is at best uninformed, and at worst offensive. See [here:] 'The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium.' Noah Webster did not even publish his first dictionary until 1806. Interestingly, he spent some time studying at the University of Cambridge in England. [The OED] is still the benchmark and used throughout the world."

I'll agree that the Oxford English Dictionary is perhaps the most widely recognized authority on the English language on the planet — thanks in part to the efforts of Noah Webster.

At no point did I claim Webster invented dictionaries; I said all dictionaries are in some measure derived from his work. That's because Webster documented uniquely American words — about 12,000 of them — that never appeared in any dictionary until he put them in the one that bore his name. And we're not talking bizarre or obscure Americanisms, but commonplace words, like squash, that didn't make an appearance in the OED until after Webster proved a case for them.

Webster was also among the first to champion the notion of language as an evolving medium rather than a static object. His belief was that the language usage should be reflected in language rules. You can see this philosophy at work in no less an institution than the Oxford English Dictionary, which adds new, adapted, and popular terms — like, say, Homer Simpson's catchphrase d'oh — to its annals every year.

I'll cop to poorly articulating Webster's accomplishments and influence. But stating that he didn't leave an indelible mark on every dictionary printed after his own? That's a notion with which I can't help but quibble. Thanks for the feedback though, and keep those quibbles coming.

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About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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