Joseph Emerson Worcester


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New England lexicographer, graduated from Yale (1811) and for five years taught at Salem, Mass., where, while writing his early textbooks, he had Hawthorne as one of his students. After moving to Cambridge (1819) he began his long series of dictionaries, first editing Dr. Johnson's, then Webster's, and finally compiling his own Comprehensive Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language (1830). This led Webster to charge his rival with plagiarism, and precipitated the long “War of Dictionaries,” intermittently intensified when each philologist followed the other in publishing new editions, and causing such by-products as Worcester's pamphlet A Gross Literary Fraud Exposed (1835), an invidious denial of his dependence upon Webster. Worcester was an uncompromising advocate of philological orthodoxy and English examples, zealously and consistently combating Webster's attempts at national independence. His conservatism in pronunciation and purism in spelling were accepted at Harvard and the University of Virginia, but elsewhere Webster prevailed, although Holmes was speaking for the best New England writers when he declared in favor of “Mr. Worcester's Dictionary, on which as is well known, the literary men of this metropolis are by special statutes allowed to be sworn in place of the Bible.” Worcester's last great revision appeared as A Dictionary of the English Language (1860), but, with the 1864 revision of Webster by a company of scholars, the Webster supremacy was definitely established.

Subjects: Literature.

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