Noah Webster’s work was showing its age and its shortcomings by the mid-nineteenth century, when competition from the excellent dictionary of Joseph Worcester drove the publishers to a moment of truth—and of disruption. The decisions they subsequently made set the course for the company’s editorial and business policies to this day. This change from the idiosyncratic work of an individual to the organized effort of a team was an important and influential moment in the development of modern lexicography, and it is best understood alongside the business strategies that were its motivation. Webster’s work, the details of the “War of the Dictionaries,” and the teamwork resulting in the landmark edition of 1864 will all be discussed.
Peter Sokolowski is Editor at Large at Merriam-Webster. He has written definitions for many of Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries, is active as a blogger, podcaster, and speaker on language, and has served as pronouncer for spelling bees worldwide. He was named among TIME’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013. Peter attended the University of Paris and earned his M.A. in French Literature from the University of Massachusetts. He is also a music host for New England Public Radio.
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