Word Ways


Trip Payne


Since 1909, the three editions of Webster's New International Dictionary (henceforth to be referred to as N11, N12, and N13) have been the most widely accepted references for the coverage of American English. Their reputation is deserved; not only are they through in their coverage of modern words, they are scholarly in their treatment of obsolete terms,important to readers of older literature. (The coverage of obsolete terms in N13 is not as full as in N11 or N12, however.) Their appeal is to both the scholar and the layman. Unlike earlier dictionaries in both England and America, the N1s have done little to actually shape modern American English: lexicographers have grown to understand, however, that no modern dictionary does have a significant effect on the language. This realization has signaled a trend from prescriptive dictionaries (such as early Websterian ones) to descriptive ones (most notably N13). Although the N1s do not significantly affect the language, they provide an excellent mirror by which to examine the changes and progress of American English in the twentieth century.