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American Dictionary of the English Language: Noah Webster 1828, original facsimile edition

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Publisher: Foundation for American Christian Education
Author: Noah Webster

List Price: Hardcover: $69.95

Ages: All Ages

Reviewed By: Jean Hall

 
I was holding a veritable treasure-house in my hands just a moment ago. This elegant tome, its cover a dignified shade of green reminiscent of the hunting prints on the walls of my grandfather's den, its name in gold letters, two solid inches of pages inside the sturdy covers... ah, this would be a fine addition to the decor of any schoolroom or home library.

What is that you say? You can't judge a book by its cover? Well, then, let us take a peek inside.

This is the "facsimile edition", so the publisher has added some material not found in the original. This includes a dedication, a two-page explanation of the need to restore Christian definitions to the American language, and a lengthy article about Noah Webster. The dedication reads, in part, "to the Christian students of America, who, under the guidance of their parents and teachers, are developing a character of obedience to God's Biblical principles of life and liberty."

To be truthful, I never paid attention to these introductory materials before, and you don't have to in order to use this resource. I'd encourage you to take a look at them, as I just did, if you are a student of language and American history.

The dictionary itself begins with a Preface in which Mr. Webster explains how the dictionary came about. Even the Preface is valuable reading, in that it reveals something of the character of the author and the years of perseverance and effort that went into this labor of love. I, as a reader of and delighter in words, sensed a fellowship as I read.

Next comes the Introduction, a rather lengthy discourse on language itself: definition, origin, affinity of languages (relations between languages such as Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Saxon, Gothic, Russian, Welsh, Spanish, French, Arabic, and more). You could build an introduction to linguistics course using this material.

An advertisement for Webster's Grammar follows. This makes interesting reading as it shows an honorable man's response to plagiarism of his work and goes on to discuss "the more prominent errors" of English Grammar books published at the time.

The "advertisement" serves to introduce pages of explanation of more grammar than I've ever seen in my life. Here's another rich lode to mine for lesson plans.

The helps are finished off with a couple of pages on "Directions for the Pronunciation of Words", "Abbreviations Explained", and a page of alphabets.

"But," you say plaintively, "I thought this was a dictionary." And so it is.

The definition of the word "A" takes up a page of its own. Imagine that! Of course, most of the definitions are more concise or this dictionary would take up multiple volumes.

What makes this dictionary different from the modern dictionary you may already have in your homeschool library? I'd hazard to say that the worldview is markedly different. You may well have already read reviews of "the 1828" that contrast its definition of "education" with modern definitions, so let us choose a different word for an example. How about "example"?

From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1973:

Example (I will not try to recreate the pronunciation symbols) n. Abbr. ex. 1. One that is representative of a group as a whole; a sample; specimen. 2. Someone or something worthy of imitation or duplication; a model; a pattern; exemplar. 3. A previous case or situation that is the same or similar to one at hand; precedent. 4. One that serves as a warning, as a punishment or a punished person. 5. An illustrative problem or exercise with its solution. --for example. Serving as an illustration, a model, or an instance. --set an example. To be or provide a model of behavior capable and worthy of imitation. [information on derivation and roots] Next follows a list of synonyms and usage.

>From the Webster's 1828:

EXAM'PLE, n. (pronunciation) [derivation]

1. A pattern; a copy; a model; that which is proposed to be imitated. This word, when applied to material things, is now generally written sample, as a sample of cloth; but example is sometimes used.

2. A pattern, in morals or manners; a copy, or model; that which is proposed or is proper to be imitated.

I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. John xiii.
Example is our preceptor before we can reason. Kollock.

3. Precedent; a former instance. Buonaparte furnished many examples of successful bravery.

4. Precedent or former instance, in a bad sense, intended for caution.
Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. Heb. Iv.
Sodom and Gomorrah-are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 7.

5. A person fit to be proposed for a pattern; one whose conduct is worthy of imitation.
Be thou an example of the believers. 1 Tim. iv.

There are three more definitions in this entry, but I hope I've made my point. Not only is the English language held to a high standard as it is set forth, but the entire mind-set of the author is grounded in the Word of Truth.

If you are reading vintage books, this is a good resource to look up unfamiliar words. The definitions are clear, and many contain examples of proper use of the word in context. This would also be an excellent choice when reading the King James Version of the Bible, since in many cases its definitions are much closer to the meaning King James' translators intended.

If your student seeks precision in writing, this is a good resource. If your student is writing historical fiction, this dictionary is an excellent resource, as I can personally attest.

My one regret is that there are no lists of synonyms and antonyms, as might be found in the modern dictionary, yet these can be deduced from the definitions, or else you might invest in a thesaurus. If you're a writer, or "growing" a writer, you'd need a thesaurus in any event.

If you merely find delight in words, this is a fascinating book, just to browse, containing a wealth of new (old) words to discover. Did I call this a treasure-house? I meant it. This book will enrich your vocabulary and usage.

Not to mention, it looks pretty distinguished on our library table.
More Information
Available From: Foundation for American Christian Education
Address: 4225 B Portsmouth Blvd. Chesapeake, VA 23321
Phone: 800.352.3223
Website: www.face.net
Email: info@face.net
Other Notes:
 

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Jean Hall
Jean Hall, a Christian home educator with three daughters, enjoys writing stories and music. Her family's interests include reading together, art, gardening, volkswalking and pets: two cats and a Giant Schnauzer.
Copyright © 2004 Eclectic Homeschool Association
 

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