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    Samuel Johnson vs Noah Webster

    I remember reading somewhere that Johnson chose to spell certain words with an 'or' suffix and others with an 'our' suffix as a result of the etymology of the words; those of direct Latinate of Greek derivation present an 'or' suffix whilst those of direct French derivation present an 'our' suffix. Could any body confirm whether this is true or not because I have no idea where I read it! If it is true, then I find it rather surprising that there were no objections to webster's decision to overwrite the system when choosing to spell all 'our' words with an 'or' suffix. Thanks

  1. BobK's Avatar
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    re: Samuel Johnson vs Noah Webster

    Well I hadn't heard this one. The Latin words for 'colour' and 'honour' are color and honor. I suppose it's conceivable that he adopted some arbitrary rule such as
    "Latin -or → English '-our'; Greek -ωρ → '-or'
    but I can't think of a Greek example (ύδωρ gives us lots of 'hyd-' words but not - as far as I know - *"hydor").

    What I do know is that when Johnson jokingly defined 'lexicographer' as 'a harmless drudge' he was seriously (disingenuously?) underestimating the harm that a lexicographer can do; and that Noah Webster's keeping the endings for 'color' and 'honor' was etymologically justified.


    PS I'm as British as the next man (as long as the next man is British ), but I rate Webster way above Johnson in the 'services to English' stakes, important though Johnson was in many fields.
    Last edited by BobK; 21-Jun-2008 at 17:40. Reason: Added PS

  2. Soup's Avatar
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    re: Samuel Johnson vs Noah Webster

    Webster's 1828 dictionary featured only -or and is generally given much of the credit for the adoption of this form in the US. By contrast, Dr Johnson's 1755 dictionary used the -our spelling for all words still so spelled in Britain, as well as for emperour, errour, governour, horrour, tenour, terrour, and tremour, where the u has since been dropped. Johnson, unlike Webster, was not an advocate of spelling reform, but selected the version best-derived, as he saw it, from among the variations in his sources: he favoured French over Latin spellings because, as he put it, "the French generally supplied us."[24]

    Read more here American and British English spelling differences - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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