word up

A brief happy 250th birthday to Mr. Noah Webster, the “Father of American Scholarship and Education” and famous word-definer.

Webster is synonymous with the dictionary, in large part due to his devotion to writing spelling, reading and grammar textbooks for American school children in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We actually have him to blame for the American spellings of great British words like programme, honour, centre, and colour. Depending on your outlook, Webster is either really bad-ass (for putting the words “squash” and “skunk” in the dictionary) or somebody to blame for not giving us sophisticated spelling rules. The choice is yours.

Almost certainly, Noah would have rocked out to The Decemberists, whose verbose lyrics basically require a dictionary to decipher. It’s pretty tough to believe that lead singer/songwriter Colin Meloy speaks or thinks in the way that he writes songs, but I suppose we’ll have to extend him the benefit of the doubt for now. Here’s a good example from 2003’s Her Majesty:

Los Angeles, I’m Yours
Oh what a rush of ripe elan
Languor on divans
Dalliant and dainty
But oh, the smell of burnt cocaine
The dolor and decay
It only makes me cranky
Oh great calamity,
Ditch of iniquity and tears
How I abhor this place
Its sweet and bitter taste
Has left me wretched, retching on all fours
Los Angeles, I’m yours.

On second thought, maybe Meloy owes some royalties to Peter Mark Roget, but his birthday isn’t for a few more months. Besides, who wrote the all-important rhyming dictionary?


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