Noah Webster 1828 vs. The World

Many years ago when my kids still submitted to public school, and still attended elementary school, my oldest broke my heart into little pieces of fierce bookish momma love when she hauled home a bunch of books the school librarian had given away. The librarian admitted some would be thrown away, which had startled the little bookish girl into saving what she could. She sniffed about the ones she had let go, saying they weren’t ‘very good anyway’. Which is quite possible. The ones she brought home caused some interesting changes in our lives.

One in particular was The New World Dictionary of American English, third college edition, apparently the 1991 publication. It is also the “Deluxe Color Edition”. Yes, with her school books, and with her other rescued books, my sweet, sweet apparently strong elementary-aged daughter brought home…a massive dictionary. It has its cool thangs going on. It’s hefty, fat, big, and a dignified dark blue. It has these incredibly cool inserts with pictures: weather patterns, anatomy, aircraft of the world, flowers…there are also some of those little sketches that add their subtle vibe to random pages. It’s kind of a cool dictionary, like I said, in some ways. But we don’t use it as a dictionary. We have flowers pressed in there, postcards, and a graduation announcement, among other things. We keep it as a contrast to The Other Dictionary, which I will get to in a moment. But as I paged through this dictionary, I became vaguely concerned at something I knew I was witnessing even if I couldn’t determine what exactly I was witnessing. I simply found the definitions unsatisfactory. I flipped here and there, reading bits and enjoying it too, but feeling that something was not quite right. I put it aside and avoided using it as a dictionary without really knowing why.

Of course, our technological access to internet dictionaries made the unwieldy book less likely to be used, as well. But the same problem can be found there. The definitions were somehow often lacking…they felt downright untrustworthy. I started to see what some of the issues were, but I hadn’t found the way to put it in words, as yet. And with a dictionary in front of me, no less!

A few years later, a home schooling friend put me onto Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. She had bought a paper facsimile, or a reprint if you will. We found it fully accessible, and free online as well, here:

A bit harder to randomly shift through delicate pages of knowledge, but the search bar is quick. You can see there what my copy looks like, too. It’s big and fat and hefty and a dignified green. Plus the golden eagle on the cover is a neat detail. That newer Webster’s has a tree on it, which is nice and symbolic, but also it was kind of simplified to the point of looking like a government agency logo.

So I got the 1828 edition for my birthday and sat down with both books in my lap…no, that would have been tricky. On a table, let’s say. And my eyes started to be opened. Let’s compare the 1991 edition with the 1828 edition. Let’s pick some words that carry a lot of weight in our lives, or they should. Words such as these shape thoughts, actions, and potentials.

The word ‘meek‘ (skipping the pronunciation, word origins, and word type):

1991 edition:

“1 patient and mild; not inclined to anger or resentment.

2. too submissive; easily imposed on; spineless; spiritless

3. gentle and kind”

And now the 1828 edition:

“1. Mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries.¬†‘Now the man Moses was very meek, above all men.’

2. Humble, in an evangelical sense; submissive to the divine will; not proud, self sufficient or refractory; not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations. Christ says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls.” ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ “

See a difference? Feel the difference?

What have we lost in our language usage from 1828 to 1991? Maybe some depth of thought, richness of feeling, and strength of character? Maybe in the push to use language as a transmission of information (after all, that’s what computers do, so it must be scientifically clean, technologically right, and the best form of modern living possible, a somehow moral value call) we have lost ready access to some valuable traits of our humanity. I think we have.

Here’s another one, the word ‘humble‘:

1991 edition:

“1. having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects or shortcomings; not proud; not self-assertive; modest.

2. low in condition, rank, or position; lowly; unpretentious /a humble home/.”

1828 edition:

” 1. To abase; to reduce to a low state. ‘This victory humbled the pride of Rome. The power of Rome was humbled, but not subdued’.

2. To crush; to break; to subdue. ‘The battle of Waterloo humbled the power of Buonaparte’.

3. To mortify.

4. To make humble or lowly in mind; to abase the pride of; to reduce arrogance and self-dependence; to give a low opinion of one’s moral worth; to make meek and submissive to the divine will; the evangelical sense. ‘Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you’. ‘Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart’.

5. To make to condescend. ‘He humbles himself to speak to them’.

6. To bring down; to lower; to reduce. ‘The highest mountains may be humbled into valleys’.¬†

7. To deprive of chastity. To humble one’s self, to repent; to afflict one’s self for sin; to make contrite.”

I looked up faith, hope, and charity. The same pattern showed: a rich and Christian series of definitions were stripped down to secular understandings of words. The loss of layers was obvious. There was a strong sense of morality being removed from words that we use to express moral thought. The loss of meanings caused a shift, or reflected it, and along the way a meek person became a weak person.

Given, the newer dictionary has many words that did not exist in 1828. The latest ones have even more, while other words have dropped out of usage. That alone would make a fascinating blog post as far as I’m concerned. What I want to focus on here is true loss, or the attempted loss of real meaning and usage of words we need today. The dictionaries reflect their times, this is true. They also shape them.

I believe that the purposeful shaping of our language has become more pervasive, and more blatant. Make a list of all the words you can think of that used to have multiple meanings. How many have been dropped from usage because they became burdened with sexual innuendo that made it difficult to even use them in regular conversation?

Homeschoolers may want to take note of this, if they haven’t already caught on. Enthusiasts of older reading materials may do the same. Everyone else should probably know that dictionaries are not quite the authority they used to be. This is similar to acknowledging that not all judges are dispensing true justice, and that not all schools teach to the child.

I took time out of my Sunday School class to teach the adults about this principle. We had been discussing translation, or how a specific word in some scripture had changed for us, or some such thing. Several parents took note and went home to think about this regarding their children’s education, at the very least. I am sharing the idea here. Noah Webster knew what he was doing. He should have his own holiday!

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Great Sayings From My Fridge #1

I’m introducing a new segment to my erstwhile blog. Some days I can write gloriously, and some days I can only quote somebody else. But those quotes are ones that have infused my being and linger on, unnoticed, sometimes unfelt. Their influence lives on even if their little paper copies in the kitchen have faded. So, today’s Great Sayings From My Fridge:

Robert Louis Stevenson

“A faculty for idleness implies…a strong sense of personal identity.”

I have often reflected on what this could possibly mean. The socially guilty part of me automatically wants to reject a quote that appears to endorse laziness, for isn’t that what this is about? NO! IT’S NOT! First, it helps to know that Stevenson was sick a lot of the time. He had to find ways to engage himself in solitude. He had to face both his boredom and his creative drive. Secondly, It is the strong sense of personal (shall we say divine?) identity that helps us throw off the shackles of social expectation and useless shaming. It’s nobody’s social business if I sit on my porch for two hours watching the trees. Or write. Or write on my blog while watching the trees. It’s just me, being me.

When I can toss aside the false notions and crazy-making shame that somehow washing dirty things is more important than writing creative things, I can use those behaviors considered ‘idle’ by society (writing, being in nature, sitting still and just being in the moment, not counting every minute by dollar signs) to be the greatest sum of my parts possible. The big trick here is being of a strong enough personality to disregard social norms and expectations. The bigger trick is weeding them out of ourselves, where so much of the damage to creativity is done by ourselves, to ourselves.

So naturally, when I came across this quote years ago, it resonated with me when I wasn’t sure I understood it very well. I trusted that resonance and posted the saying on my wall. I might even one day research it more fully for greater understanding, particularly where those three dots are, hinting at something more…

Disclaimer: I lied. These many quotes I have, including this one, are no longer on my fridge. But Great Sayings From My Dusty Bulletin Board just didn’t flow for me, ya know? This and all the other sayings used to be on my fridge. My fridge died. I moved all the sayings to the bulletin board so that the old dead fridge could be removed and the new shiny (smaller, more affordable) one could be brought in. And somehow the quotes stayed on the corkboard where I can’t quite see them as well, especially since many are twenty years old, which means, ahem, that I am twenty years old-er. I plan on rewriting them in larger print so I can see them away there on the wall over the flour bins and the crockpot.

My challenge to you: find the sayings that speak to you. Post them on your platform of memory and inspiration. The fridge, the bathroom mirror, social media, write them on your wrist, get them in front of you. Absorb them the way you do your vegetables, so they can heal your center, build new growth, energize your thoughts, actions, and personality, and so that even when you have no idea they are even there, they can do their work in deep and meaningful ways. Choose wisely! Your being is in question, here. What will you be? What will being do for you? What will doing be for you?

 

 

Embracing Addiction

What an odd title, don’t you think? Why would a person even consider embracing addiction? Aren’t we supposed to be shunning addictions in all their tangible and intangible forms?

Well, according to much of our language and social cues, why yes, we are accepting and embracing not only our addictions, but everyone else’s. Yours. Mine. That guy’s over there…eyew.

See what I mean? How do I get there in my convoluted reasoning? Well, have you ever read an ad that stated that “this product is so good, it’s addictive”? Did you think “Oh, gross!” or did you think “Really? Sounds great!” I know I’ve fallen into the second trap. Addictive sounds like the ultimate in goodness, according to a warped society that feeds upon itself. Really. Since when in what world has any addiction been a good or healthy thing? It doesn’t matter if we call it a hobby or just declare with zeal that a food brand has our undying loyalty as if it were a football team or-gasp- a God.

The basest behaviors that grime up our humanity are addictive, and that includes p*rn. Celebrating addiction (and exploitative media) blurs our access to healthful living. It supports the predatory advertising methods we’ve all become so used to, even enamored with. It stunts people trying to overcome their addiction or even recognize they have one. Addiction uses people up as if they were the ultimate in addictive materials, objects to be used, bruised, and tossed aside when they’re all used up.

So when I go cruising the internet and I look up images of libraries because hey, books are a deeply held interest of mine, I come across words like bookp*rn. The first couple times I saw that, I immediately thought, “Yes!” and I clicked in excited to find a hub of library pictures, book pictures, and wise memes about the joy of reading. This doesn’t mean I was a consumer of real p*rn and had become excited about that. It meant that I recognized the intended meaning that here be pages of pictures of books for your eyes to consume. Which is good in that yeah, books, and it was also bad because I accept p*rn as a defining institution within my life. It defines my perspective, my interests, and my language. Heck, even the consumption part sounds less than healthy under poor circumstances.

Think about it: not being one who looks at p*rn, I accept its words and phrases in my life as part of my language and thinking patterns. Do I really want that? How does that help anybody that this has become an acceptable way of measuring the worth of a thing or of enjoying life? Do I really want any aspect of consumptive, exploitative, cannibalistic business practices that ruin lives and destroy families to have any influence over me?

The answer is NO. I aim to not engage in normalizing criminal, immoral, horrendous behavior and business practices. Not p*rnography, and not addictions.

Clean language: a healthy choice for spirit, mind, and body. Maybe we can take back the word ‘adult’. That would be a good start.