Dictionary Day Date in the current year: October 16, 2024

Dictionary Day Dictionary Day, celebrated annually on October 16, is the perfect day to open a dictionary and learn a couple of new words. Although the holiday isn’t nationally recognized, it is sometimes referred to as National Dictionary Day.

A dictionary is a listing of lexemes (units of lexical meaning), which may include information on their definitions, pronunciations, etymologies, translation, etc. Dictionaries can be monolingual and bilingual; the latter are also known as translation dictionaries. The first known bilingual dictionaries date back to Sumerian civilization (around 2300 BC), and the oldest known monolingual dictionaries date back to the Han dynasty of China (around 3rd century BC).

It is unclear who came up with the idea of celebrating Dictionary Day every year, but the choice of its date does have an explanation. Dictionary Day in the United States is observed on October 16 to commemorate the birthday of Noah Webster, an American author, editor, and lexicographer whose name has become synonymous with “dictionary” in the US.

Born on October 16, 1758, Webster graduated from Yale college at the age of 20, studied law and passed the bar. However, Webster couldn’t find work as a lawyer, so he decided to apply his talents elsewhere. He opened a private school and began to write educational books because Webster strongly believed that Americans should learn from American textbooks.

After decades of research, Webster published his first dictionary, titled A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, in 1806. It was a revolutionary work for a number of reasons. First, Webster did not confine his dictionary to literary words and included a variety of terms for the arts and sciences. Second, Webster supported the reform of English spelling, and many of the spellings he used in the dictionary would become standard in American English.

In 1828, at the age of 70, Webster published An American Dictionary of the English Language that contained 70,000 entries, of which 12,000 had never been included in any previous published dictionary. To evaluate the etymology of words he included in his dictionary, Webster had to learn 28 languages. One more edition of Webster’s dictionary was published during his lifetime.

Following Webster’s death, his estate sold publishing and revision rights to the 1840 edition of his dictionary to G & C Merriam Co. The lineage of all contemporary Merriam-Webster dictionaries can be traced back to that edition. In the United States, “Webster’s” has become a genericized trademark for English dictionaries; publishers other than Merriam-Webster have used it in dictionary titles.

Dictionary Day was created to highlight Webster’s contribution to lexicography and the development of American English. You can celebrate this unofficial but still amazing holiday by opening a dictionary and learning some new words, playing Scrabble or any other word-based game with your friends, signing up for a “word of the day” newsletter, and posting on social media with the hashtags #DictionaryDay and #NationalDictionaryDay to spread the word.

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