Analytical Bibliography

Analytical Bibliography

Hannah McCann

The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language 

            The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Also known as, book number 0-8326-0001-6. This specific book was written by Mario Pei, and Professor Emeritus of Romance Philology at Columbia University. It was published in 1977 by The English Language Institute of America, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois. A large amount of glory given to Noah Webster is represented by a painting of him done by Samuel F.B. Morse before the cover page is reached. This gem was dug up from the archives of my high school English teachers’ bookshelf, who so graciously allowed me to borrow it for this project. A beautifully constructed book with much to discover.

            “When plans were formulated for the creation of this new dictionary, the publishers decided that its emphasis, unlike many other dictionaries of the English language, should be on the future.” (Preface). Dictionaries had been done before, numerous times, but this dictionary had many unique qualities that composed it into a dictionary of the English language that is geared toward the future. The publishers goal was to make this book be just as accessible in the 21stcentury as it would be at that present time. Looking back now, we can see how words have transformed into new meanings and how meanings have created new words that have now joined the latest publications of dictionaries. 

            A hardback book made of cardboard covered in strong, brown leather with silver words embedded on the front cover and down the spine. It’s a fairly heavy book that holds 1,350 pages and sits at 29cm in width. The information was printed on white, now slightly aged to yellow, paper that was glare free and meant for a long life. There are a few exceptions of a small amount of glossy paper inserted into the dictionary as well, this was used for when they desired to print color on pages, which emerges occasionally throughout the special sections of the book. To the touch, the pages are thick and crisp in order to withstand the ample amount of usage it was expected to receive. When needed, these pages were separated by a red, satin ribbon, which was strung from the binding of the book to act as a place holder if a word needed to be marked to come back to. The pages are gilded in bright gold, which shows the book is high quality and can be trusted. This was common with leather hard case books. There is minor damage to the physical book, a few scuffs on the cover, some cracking and ripping down the spin, a little tearing of the corners of the cover, and slight fading of the gilding on the pages. For the most part, the dictionary is in acceptable condition. You could definitely argue that it got its fair amount of usage in its days… and that it has probably seen better days, but it adds character. All of these pages were bound together with a quality stitch job that has kept the book tightly bound to this day.     

              These 1,350 pages contain 1,158 dictionary pages that convey 158,000 definitions and on top of that, there are 192 special sections that include flags of the world in color, major languages of the world, popular quotations, synonyms and antonyms, abbreviations, musical signs, multiple guides, perpetual calendar, conversion factors, dictionary of mythology, multiplication tables, salary tables, cooking tables with a calorie chart, man’s first steps, a gallery of presidents up until that point, and more interesting additions. These pages were added to provide extra academic information to the general educated population to increase their growth by making it efficiently exposed to their fingertips. Fun fact: The Contents of the Encyclopedic Supplements page is unconsciously inserted upside down. The question was, what didn’t this dictionary have?

               The content of the book was very new at the time and used the most modern format available, which is a common format used in dictionaries printed today. It was the format bibles frequently used in the 19thcentury as well, three vertically straight rows down the page which were equally separated by a blank space in between them. This made it attractive and easy to read. Words bolded and definitions not bolded added to the smooth access of finding your intended words briefly. The idea was that this strategy would stick and be of use to people intending to use this dictionary inevitably.    

            At the time, The Living Websterwas the latest contribution to English-language lexicography. Lexicography was the writing, editing, or compiling of dictionaries. This originated from a selection of people, Nathan Bailey (1721, 1730), Samuel Johnson (1755), Noah Webster (1783, 1806, and 1828), Joseph Emerson Worcester (1830), and Charles Richardson (1836-37). This distinct dictionary is named after Noah Webster, often referred to as the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”, who is one many people are aware of, in honor to recognize and show respect for him. Webster set the foundation of American usage and pronunciation for the people who would later intend to do the same.

            This dictionary was meant for general, everyday use. The publishers hoped for it to appear in homes, schools, offices, formal learning, and for self-instruction. The idea was that anyone with basic levels of speech would have a “modern” and “accurate” form of word that would bring people to be more in depth with the English language, especially within the constant change in the medium itself. Because the definitions were clear and understood by the common intellectual, this allowed for people of all stages of intelligence to access this book with ease. The intended readers were the actual readers and in addition, an even greater number of intelligent humans became the audience and users of this source.  

            Although this is a prime choice for a dictionary for most people, “it is not for such technicians of the English language as philologists, semanticists, and etymologist.” (Preface), it is not an “unabridged” dictionary, that would contain all vocabulary ever recorded, an unimaginable sized book. The editorial staff strained for three years to prepare this for public use, the work was then put through a panel of scholars, editors, authors, newspaper columnist, radio and television commenters, and librarians. They also had men and women who were of different cultures and backgrounds act as testers to advocate for the caliber of this book. Each of these people were ones who would employ the use of these words and definitions in their daily professions. These disciples were specifically chosen to confirm the accuracy and comprehension of the works.

            As of now, there are 174 libraries that have 15 different editions of this dictionary available for use according to World Cat. The next closest one noted, is 3miles away, after that, there isn’t another one for over 200 miles. According to amazon, it is priced anywhere from $2.99 to $75 depending on the edition and quality of the book itself.

            Evaluating this book in its current state, I can easily vouch for its validation in society at this point. The information is relevant to the academic world. Everything provided are tools in which should be utilized and learned. In a way, this book has become more than a dictionary, it has almost become a history book in the sense that it has recorded important events that occurred previous to its creation. The publishers goal of making it useful for future endeavors was achieved, although we have gadgets that make accessing these needs easier, people can still benefit from its use.   


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