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Tom’s words

Escapades in etymology

By Tom Chatfield   July 2008

Noah Webster has a lot to answer for. Born in Connecticut in 1758, he is most renowned for the dictionary, first published in 1806, that still bears his name. Yet his greatest influence on the world began earlier, as the man who taught America to spell. It’s often assumed that the gulf between American and British spellings evolved like the traits of a single species distributed across two drifting continental plates: incrementally, ineffably, and in response to local conditions. In fact, a large part of it is attributable to the ideas of this evangelical Christian schoolmaster-turned-lexicographer, who believed that education…

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