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Five Fascinating Facts about Noah Webster

Interesting facts about the life and work of the American lexicographer, Noah Webster

1. He was great-uncle to a very famous poet. Noah Webster was the great-uncle of none other than the poet T. S. Eliot. It may not be stretching things too much, in fact, to say that Eliot shared his great-uncle’s fondness for precision, especially when it came to defining words, and even more especially when it came to defining the names we give to important concepts. ‘Can “Education” Be Defined?’ was the title of one of Eliot’s lectures, in 1950. Fittingly, in the same lecture Eliot remarked, ‘people have been very far from agreeing upon a definition of the word “definition”.’ His great-uncle had made definitions his bread-and-butter. Read the rest of this entry


12 Interesting Facts about Dictionaries

Have you heard the one-line joke, usually attributed to Steven Wright, about the dictionary? ‘I finally got around to reading the dictionary’, it goes. ‘Turns out the zebra did it.’ It’s a good joke, but of course ‘zebra’ isn’t the last word in any English dictionary worth the name (what about ‘zoo’, for starters?), and besides, Steven Wright probably never said it. Still, we’ll overlook that and get on with this post comprising a dozen of the choicest and most fascinating facts about dictionaries down the ages.

The first English dictionary, A Table Alphabeticall, published in 1604, described itself as being ‘for the benefit of Ladies … or other unskilfull persons’.

Chambers Dictionary defines a kazoo as ‘a would-be musical instrument’ and an éclair as ‘a cake, long in shape but short in duration’. Read the rest of this entry

27 Interesting Facts about Words

Fun facts about words and the English language

The stuff of literature is, of course, words. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge observed, ‘Prose = words in their best order; – poetry = the best words in the best order.’ In this post, we’ve gathered up 27 of the best facts about words that we’ve unearthed since beginning this blog a couple of years ago. Where necessary, we’ve provided a link to further information.

If you enjoy these weird and wonderful word facts, you might also like our 10 rare but useful words everyone should know.

The word ‘onomatomania’ means ‘intense mental anguish at the inability to recall some word or to name a thing’.

A ‘dysphemism’ is an unpleasant or derogatory word or expression substituted for a pleasant or inoffensive one; the opposite of a euphemism.

Though of uncertain origin, the word ‘bad’ may stem from the Old English ‘bæddel’ meaning ‘hermaphrodite’ or ‘effeminate or homosexual man’.

The first recorded use of ‘bad’ to mean ‘good’ is from an 1897 book, Pink Marsh, by American writer George Ade. Read the rest of this entry