Arthur Schulman joined us today on the show to talk about he and Jill Lepor's new book, Websterisms. Out just in time for the 250th annivesary of Noah Webster's birthday, Websterisms introduces us to the man who spent 28 years of his life creating the first American Dictionary of the English Language. Schulman is a retired psychologist and veteran crossword-puzzle constructor whose puzzles have appeared in the New York Times for years. He's complied 1,500 of the most revealing of Webster's original 70,000 entries---definitions that tell us as much about the man who wrote them and the world he inhabited as the word itself.
Some of my favorites, because they're just so judgmental:
CRUSTY, a.2. Peevish; snappish; morose; surly; a word used in familiar discourse, but not deemed elegant.
PEST, n. 2. Any thing very noxious, mischievous or destructive. The talebearer, the gambler, the libertine, the drunkard are pests to society.
BIRD, n. [Sax.bird, or bridd, a chicken; from the root of bear, or W. bridaw, to break forth.] 1. Properly, a checken, the young of fowls, and hence a small fowl. 2. In modern use, any fowl or flying animal. It is remarkable that a nation should lay aside the use of the proper generic name of flying animals, fowl, Sax. fugel, D. vogel, the flyer and substitute the name of the young of those animals, as the generic term. The fact is precisely what it would be to make lamb, the generic name of sheep, or colt, that of the equine genus.
Yale celebrated our man Webster with cupcakes and talks and a graveyard tour last week. (Webster died in New Haven in 1843.)