|Parent company||Encyclopædia Britannica|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Publication types||Reference book and online dictionaries|
Merriam-Webster, Inc., which was originally the G & C Merriam Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, is an American company that publishes reference books, especially dictionaries that are descendants of Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).
In 1806, Noah Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. In 1807 Webster started two decades of intensive work to expand his publication into a fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language. In order to evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned 26 languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit. Webster hoped to standardize American speech, since Americans in different parts of the country used somewhat different vocabularies and spelled, pronounced, and used words differently.
Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, and at the University of Cambridge. His 1820s book contained 70,000 words, of which about 12,000 had never appeared in a dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing "colour" with "color", "waggon" with "wagon", and "centre" with "center". He also added American words, including "skunk" and "squash", that did not appear in British dictionaries. At the age of 70 in 1828, Webster published his dictionary; it sold well with 2,500 copies. In 1840, the second edition was published in two volumes.
Austin (2005) explores the intersection of lexicographical and poetic practices in American literature, and attempts to map out a "lexical poetics" using Webster's dictionaries as a base. He shows the ways in which American poetry has inherited Webster ideas and has drawn upon his lexicography in order to develop the language. Austin explicates key definitions from both the Compendious (1806) and American (1828) dictionaries, and brings into its discourse a range of concerns, including the politics of American English, the question of national identity and culture in the early moments of American independence, and the poetics of citation and of definition. Webster's dictionaries were a redefinition of Americanism within the context of an emergent and unstable American sociopolitical and cultural identity. Webster's identification of his project as a "federal language" shows his competing impulses towards regularity and innovation in historical terms. Perhaps the contradictions of Webster's project comprised part of a larger dialectical play between liberty and order within Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary political debates.
Merriam as publisher
In 1843, after Noah Webster's death, George and Charles Merriam secured publishing and revision rights to the 1840 edition of the dictionary. They published a revision in 1847, which did not change any of the main text but merely added new sections, and a second update with illustrations in 1859. In 1864, Merriam published a greatly expanded edition, which was the first version to change Webster's text, largely overhauling his work yet retaining many of his definitions and the title "An American Dictionary". This began a series of revisions that were described as being "unabridged" in content. In 1884 it contained 118,000 words, "3000 more than any other English dictionary".
With the edition of 1890, the dictionary was retitled Webster's International. The vocabulary was vastly expanded in Webster's New International editions of 1909 and 1934, totaling over half a million words, with the 1934 edition retrospectively called Webster's Second International or simply "The Second Edition" of the New International. Merriam overhauled the dictionary again with the 1961 Webster's Third New International under the direction of Philip B. Gove, making changes which sparked public controversy. (For more details on these dictionaries, see: Webster's Dictionary.)
The Collegiate Dictionary series was initiated in 1898. Since the 1940s, the company has added many specialized dictionaries, language aides, and other references to its repertoire.
The G. & C. Merriam Company lost its right to exclusive use of the name "Webster" after a series of lawsuits placed that name in public domain. Its name was changed to "Merriam-Webster, Incorporated" with the publication of Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary in 1983. The company has been a subsidiary of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. since 1964.
As of 2003, the company's two best known dictionaries were:
- Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, the most complete current non-specialist American dictionary of English. It is also an application for the iPhone and iPod touch, and Android.
- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, the largest and most popular college dictionary, which is available in CD-ROM format for use on personal computers. The company's online dictionary is based on the Collegiate Dictionary. It is also an application for the iPhone and iPod touch, Android and BlackBerry.
Merriam-Webster has also published dictionaries of synonyms, English usage, geography (Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary), biography, proper names, medical terms, sports terms, slang, Spanish/English, and numerous others. Non-dictionary publications include Collegiate Thesaurus, Secretarial Handbook, Manual for Writers and Editors, Collegiate Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Literature, and Encyclopedia of World Religions.
On February 14, 2007, Merriam-Webster announced it was working with mobile search-and-information provider AskMeNow to launch a mobile dictionary and thesaurus service enabling consumers to access definitions, spelling and synonyms via text message. Services also include Merriam-Webster's "Word of the Day" and "Open Dictionary", a wiki service promising subscribers the opportunity to create and submit their own new words and definitions.
The Merriam-Webster company once used a unique set of phonetic symbols in their dictionaries which permitted people from various parts of the United States to learn how to pronounce new words as others who spoke with the same accent or dialect did. But Unicode did not specify room for these characters in their list. To enable a variety of computer systems to access the pronunciation, the online services of Merriam-Webster specify a less-specific use of ASCII characters, which should not be confused with the former print fonts.
|has related news: New words added to Webster's dictionary|
- Bilingual dictionary
- Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year
- Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, includes Merriam Webster
- Merriam-Webster Online
- G. & C. Merriam Company Collection, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections