He believed that increasing immigration, the multiplication of unique American words, the new meanings attaching to English words and the proliferation of slang — or, as the English saw it, vulgar and undisciplined language — made an American dictionary essential to American life. N ew words came from several sources.
Native Americans contributed wampum , moccasin, canoe, moose, toboggan and maize ; from Mexico came hoosegow, stampede and cafeteria ; from French, prairie and dime ; meanwhile, cookie and landscape came from the Dutch. Existing words were combined to make new ones, for example rattlesnake, eggplant and bullfrog. There were also entirely new words: gimmick , fudge , notify , currency , hindsight , graveyard , roundabout.
Shakespearean and other Old World words returned: gotten got , platter plate , mad angry.
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Not surprisingly, the British worried that, one day, if this mushrooming of Americanisms continued, they would scarcely be able to understand Americans. Because of high mobility and the blending of different cultures and backgrounds in the US, there were far fewer dialects or dramatically different pronunciations than in England, where isolation was more common in spite of the smallness of the country.
Many Americans agreed, but many more wanted their own national dictionary to lend them a type of secular authority that was analogous to the spiritual authority of the Bible. What emerged in the country was an adversarial culture concerning language in which Americans fought each other in a civil war of words. It was also partly an ideological war, pitting various sectors of society — political, social, educational, religious — against each other over the direction that American English should take.
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Webster died before these wars were resolved, feeling that he had failed as a lexicographer and a visionary , and disheartened by poor sales of his dictionaries. The Merriams knew that Worcester was the superior lexicographer, but they recognised that Webster was more marketable because of his patriot credentials, so they dedicated themselves to cleaning up his dictionary and defeating Worcester in the marketplace.
Had Webster returned to see what had happened to his dictionary, he probably would have thought of himself as one of the big losers. Meanwhile, American English would pursue its own inevitable national development, with little help from him. Massimo Pigliucci.
War - Six-Word Memoirs
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In , Gallagher was featured in Vanity Fair as one of the voices of a new generation of American war literature. Senate Floor.
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