• San Francisco, California

Webster’s 1913

After reading James’ rant about dictionaries yesterday it was clear that Webster’s is the best of the lot; poetic, romantic, playful. It’s more than a dictionary, really. But after looking for an old copy I just couldn’t find a half decent one anywhere. That is, until Lucy found Webster’s 1913 and sent it my way because, quite frankly, it is the perfect website; great typesetting, fast, ad-free, no nonsense.

Why is Webster’s the best dictionary though? Well, as Somers wrote:

You can see why it became cliché to start a speech with “Webster’s defines X as…”: with his dictionary the definition that followed was actually likely to lend gravitas to your remarks, to sound so good, in fact, that it’d beat anything you could come up with on your own.

Just take this definition, from Webster’s, of the word “powerful”:

Full of power; capable of producing great effects of any kind; potent; mighty; efficacious; intense; as, a powerful man or beast; a powerful engine; a powerful argument; a powerful light; a powerful vessel.

Efficacious! It feels like this dang dictionary is trying to date me, to woo me off my chair. Like, check out “despair”, too:

Loss of hope; utter hopelessness; complete despondency.

We in dark dreams are tossing to and fro, Pine with regret, or sicken with despair. — Keble

What! That’s a heck of a quote. It feels like someone sat at their desk and really considered what “despair” means and then they poured over their books to find the perfect quote to match. So! This website is my new favorite writing tool. Whenever I get stuck or whenever I want to switch out a word for another, I’m going to use Webster’s 1913 and see where it leads me.

Compare Webster’s to the robotron-like entries of the New Oxford American Dictionary that comes bundled with macOS. Like this one, for “power”:

…having great power or strength: a fast, powerful car | computers are now more compact and powerful.

Well, okay! That’s certainly a less playful and less useful description though. It defines the word, sure, but it doesn’t encourage remixing or adding to the definition. And it certainly doesn’t push me to come up with something better. It sorta feels like a literary dead end.

Webster’s, on the other hand, feels like eleven doors open up when you look for the definition of a word you already know the meaning to, like “favor”:

To regard with kindness; to support; to aid, or to have the disposition to aid, or to wish success to; to be propitious to; to countenance; to treat with consideration or tenderness; to show partiality or unfair bias towards.

O happy youth! and favored of the skies. — Pope

Favored of the skies! Holy shit. What a way to “favor” a thing. Excellent favoring. Truly, my favorite website.