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Dictionary Day honors patriot and language wrangler, Noah Webster

Dictionary Day is recognized annually on October 16 in honor of Noah Webster, the father of the American dictionary, who was born on this day in 1758. Besides his fame for compiling the dictionary that bears his name, Webster was an educator, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. Webster began compiling his dictionary at the age of 43, and it took him 27 years to finish it.

Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so in his dictionary he introduced American English spellings of words like color (as opposed to colour), wagon (replacing waggon), and center (instead of centre). He also added uniquely American words, like skunk and squash, which had not appeared in British dictionaries.

The point of setting aside today as Dictionary Day is to emphasize the importance of spelling and dictionary skills, and seeking to improve vocabulary. As important as they are, dictionary drills can be boring. For some entertaining ideas to improve your skills (or your child’s) at finding words, understanding meanings, and learning to spell, pull out that dictionary — an actual book, not dictionary.com — and try these exercises.

A dictionary offers much more than simple definitions, although it can be quite important to discover whether a word you always thought meant one thing really means what you think it means. You can use a dictionary to:

  • Learn the proper spelling of a word
  • Determine a word’s part of speech
  • Learn secondary or multiple meanings of a word
  • Find out how to pronounce a word
  • Find the origin of a word

For a clean, well-organized explanation of the parts of a dictionary, see this SlideShare presentation.

Want to learn a Word of the Day, or add that feature to your website? Check out these sites:


TODAY’s WORD: bumbershoot

\BUM-ber-shoot\ noun

DEFINITION: umbrella

EXAMPLES: Noticing that a light rain had just begun to fall, Grandpa turned to Susie and said, “Don’t forget to take your bumbershoot!”

“The Camas Days parade featured vintage cars; rodeo royalty mounted on horses; and the Lacamas Shores Rain or Shine Umbrella Drill Team, which wowed the crowd with their bright orange bumbershoots — not that anyone needed them.” — Kathie Durbin, The Columbian (Vancouver, WA), July 23, 2011


Umbrellas have plenty of nicknames. In Britain, “brolly” is a popular alternative to the more staid “umbrella.” Sarah Gamp, a fictional nurse who toted a particularly large umbrella in Charles Dickens’s novel Martin Chuzzlewit, has inspired some English speakers to dub oversize versions “gamps.” “Bumbershoot” is a predominantly American nickname, one that has been recorded as a whimsical, slightly irreverent handle for umbrellas since the late 1890s. As with most slang terms, the origins of “bumbershoot” are a bit foggy, but it appears that the “bumber” is a modification of the “umbr-” in “umbrella” and the “shoot” is an alteration of the “-chute” in “parachute” (since an open parachute looks a little like an umbrella).


TODAY’s WORD: vituperation

PRONUNCIATION: (vy-too-puh-RAY-shuhn, -tyoo-, vi-)

MEANING: (noun) Bitter and abusive language; condemnation.

ETYMOLOGY: From Latin vituperare (to blame), from vitium (fault) + parare (to make or prepare). Earliest documented use: 1481.

USAGE: “The judge I knew best was my grandfather. His unflappable nature helped him handle all the vituperation that comes to highly placed judges through the mails.” Amelia Newcomb; “Judges: Not All Black Robes and Gavels;” Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Feb 7, 2002.


TODAY’s WORD: lummox

\LUHM-uhks\ noun;

1. A clumsy, stupid person.

QUOTES: “Spence regarded the lummox. He was a good-size boy, give him that – six one, six one and a half maybe – with limp blond hair…” — Howard Frank Mosher, Waiting for Teddy Williams

“Today I told myself that in actual fact anyone who takes an innocuous and random delight in his life is an absolute lummox.” — Robert Walser, Selected Stories

ORIGIN: Lummox is of uncertain origin. It is perhaps from “dumb ox” or influenced by “lumbering.”

It’s Dictionary Day, so pick up your dictionary and look up a word!



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