Happy Dictionary Day! Time to Show the Dictionary Love

Title page of Noah Webster’s 1828 edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language. Book owned by the California State Library. Photo by Jim Heaphy.

Every October 16 celebrates the birthday of Noah Webster, often called the Father of American Scholarship and Education. As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary (his namesake), he believed the U.S. should have a distinctive language “with its own idiom, pronunciation, and style.” His 1806 publication, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, is considered “the first truly American dictionary.”

You can celebrate Dictionary Day in all sorts of ways. You can visit the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, CT; play Scrabble all day with the game’s recently updated dictionary; or get your dictionary costume ready for Halloween. You can also help Wordnik.

Wordnik, A Brief History

Longtime Wordniks know it all started with a TED talk. In 2017, our fearless founder, Erin McKean, discussed redefining the traditional, paper dictionary. Flash-forward to Leap Day 2008 and Wordnik’s incorporation (and “un-birthday”), and its official launch a little more than a year later.

After amassing thousands of users, tens of thousands of word lists, and millions of words, Wordnik found its true calling by deciding in 2014 to become a not-for-profit. Less than a year later, it launched its Kickstarter campaign with the goal of giving a million missing words their rightful place in the dictionary. Finally, in April of this year, Wordnik officially became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit.

Gearing up for Giving Tuesday

The holidays are right around the corner, which means Giving Tuesday is less than two months away. Falling on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it’s the beginning of the charitable season and a time to give back, whether to your family, community, or favorite charity. We hope you consider giving to Wordnik.

Like the TARDIS, Wordnik is a lot bigger on the inside. From the outside, it might look like a simple website, but on the inside are words — lots and lots of words. In fact, more than any other dictionary. And maintaining those words and the data around them (including not just definitions and sample sentences but also related words, images, tweets, and Scrabble score) runs up a lot of server and storage costs. That’s why we’re asking you to help meet our goal of raising $25,000 by the end of 2018.

How You Can Help

While $25,000 might sound like a lot, there are lots of small ways you can help.

Adopt a word. We launched our adopt-a-word program back in 2014, and since then hundreds of words have been welcomed into loving homes.

How does it work? Donate just $25 (that’s less than 50 cents a week) and you can own a word for a whole year. Not only that, you get:

  • Your Twitter handle or website URL linked on the word page
  • A downloadable, printable certificate commemorating your adoption
  • Stickers
  • Your word sent to the front of the line for updated data
  • An “adopter” badge on your Wordnik user page

Plus! From now through the end of the year, you’ll also get two supercute Wordnik notebooks!


And remember:

  • Your donation is tax-deductible (where allowed by law)
  • You can adopt a word in someone’s name, which makes a great gift (one size fits all!)

There are even a few lifetime word adoptions still available. Join designer and technologist John Maeda (who adopted design), venture capitalist and musician Roger McNamee (who adopted wombat), and philanthropist and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (who adopted nerd) in adopting your favorite word forever! Email us for details.

Special sponsorships. We also have special sponsorships available—you can sponsor an entire letter of the alphabet, our Word of the Day email (which reaches more than 6,000 word enthusiasts), or Logodaedaly, our word games newsletter (which reaches more than 500 games aficionados). For information about sponsoring any of these, please email us!

Donate any amount. When we announced our official not-for-profit status, we also launched our Donately page. You can make a one-time or recurring donation of any amount. In addition:

  • If you give at least $15, you’ll get fun word-nerdy stickers
  • Now through the end of 2018, if you donate $100 or more, you’ll also get:
    • A word of your very own for FIVE YEARS
    • The Wordnik T-shirt of your choosing!

Chip in five bucks when you get your Wordnik API key. Of course you can get it for free, but if you give $5, you’ll not only help keep Wordnik running, you’ll get your key in 24 hours. (Normally it may take up to seven days.)

Most of All, Thank You!

Last but certainly not least, we wanted to give a big thank you to all those who have already given, whether by adopting (and re-adopting) a word, backing our Kickstarter, donating, or buying our merch. Every penny goes to keeping the lights on at Wordnik, bringing you interesting words, and giving a place for word lovers to share, comment, or make lists to their heart’s content.

What’s Next?

Keep your eyes peeled right here for more updates as we strive toward our goal!

Welcome to the Internet, Green’s Dictionary of Slang!


We’re very happy to present this guest post by Jonathan Green, the Green behind Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which launches today online!

The road to Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online

‘We do not,’ announced my new publisher at our first meeting, ‘want to do this book.’ This is not, as one nears the end of seventeen years of research on a project that has not simply taken over one’s life but pretty much come to represent it, what one wishes to hear. I did not, however, wholly blame them. Those same 17 years had seen a vast change in their industry. The commissioning publisher no longer existed, that which followed had announced, at around year twelve ‘well, we’ll publish it if we have to’, and a successor had been consigned to the scrapheap a few months before. Ironically, the new uber-company, a global name, had already thrown me out once, before finding themselves in charge once more, thanks to a takeover. I had fantasies of meetings in some distant office: ‘No, not that bloody slang dictionary again…’

So I was not surprised. The new imprint had no experience of this variety of reference, the book – many pages, lengthy editing, the complex typography that informs any dictionary – would be expensive. The twin gods of profit and loss were unhappy. But their bosses had placed a gun at their head, and they in turn placed one at mine. We will publish, they continued, but despite your contract, we will not produce the on-line edition that had been part of that contract. Take it or leave it.

In 1998, when I signed the contract for Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) as an expansion (there would be citations and doubtless many more entries) to my Cassell Dictionary of Slang, the Internet was up and running. There was something called an ‘e-book’. Its definition was somewhat vague; today’s e-book had yet to take off. The term meant no more than a digital version. I saw an all-singing, all-dancing, ‘live’ edition of the dictionary. The then publishers may have seen something different but we did not discuss it. There was enough to do.

It was this, then, that the new owners rejected. If I still wanted to take the dictionary online, it was up to me.

Take it or leave it? I took it. The book appeared, was kindly reviewed, won a prize, even achieved a reprint. The author Martin Amis, in a footnote, had christened me ‘Mr Slang’. I worked on the brand. Two years on there was a second meeting: do you intend to support my continuing work? Absolutely not. OK: the slang lexicographer is traditionally a soloist. We do not do teams. But we do need help.

There were three avenues to explore. A publisher, an academic institution, a commercial business. I set off looking. The first had been solved. Reference publishing in the UK was vastly reduced. I had already had a long flirtation with the most important of all such companies as a possible backer of the print book. We had danced, ever more intimately, almost to the altar. But their pre-nup proved unsignable. Like Dickens’ Miss Havisham I kept the wedding dress. I wrote to universities, some seemed amenable. Again, there were suitors. The most prestigious seemed very keen. Our first conversation ended ‘We look forward to working together.’ The last, nine months on, admitted ‘We don’t actually know how to do this.’ I know few business people. I called in favors from friends that do. The experience was, let’s say, educative. I would offer my pitch. My host cut invariably to the chase: what’s in it for me? The word ‘monetize’ reared up. I had no useful answer. The concept of patronage, of simply backing something worthwhile, cut no ice. We parted. I envisaged a secretary bringing a restorative drink. The magnate amused. ROFL as the textspeak has it.

I did not give in. The wedding dress grew stained, tattered, the wedding feast crumbled to dust. Backed by my wife, who in a second career has made herself a peerless mistress of cite extraction, I continued to work. This was not noble or otherwise plucked from the self-help manuals: what else was there to do? I research slang much as I breathe. And there was so much on offer. The Internet was a cornucopia of material. If my predecessors had sometimes struggled to find examples of slang in use, my problem was no more than one of choice: where should I go today? Newspaper databases and contemporary journalism, TV and movie scripts, lyrics from every type of popular music, social media… I even read more books, often from newly formed digital archives. Unprecedented, incomparable riches. How could I give up when every day my own database expanded and thus, I hoped, improved?

It is fitting, therefore, that the net would save me. Like many writers looking for exposure, I had signed up for Twitter. In April 2014 a tweet appeared; I had no idea of the poster, I could not resist the content: ‘Do you want to put the dictionary online?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Would you like me to do it?’ ‘Yes please. How much?’ ‘Nothing. The work should be there.’ This was a relief: I have no funds and other programmers – I had approached several – had demanded megabucks. We met. The sender was a twenty-year-old programmer, David Kendal. He was impressively knowledgeable, not only of programming but of the possibilities for putting it to lexicographical use. We made a deal. I turned over the data, he set to work. What followed was not always simple nor smooth, but the task advanced. The three volumes of print, much augmented, and with the potential for regular improvement, emerged in digital form.

If the rest is not history, then it is what is launched today. Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online. It is here: https://greensdictofslang.com. Those who wish only for a simple headword plus etymology plus definition may access it for free. Those who wish to see the underlying citations, its heart, must pay a subscription. We have tried to keep it low. There will be regular updates. New research tools will be added. Like the Internet which hosts it, the possibilities are endless.

How to Celebrate Dictionary Day


American English didn’t always have its own dictionary. At first the reference books were imported from England, says the Daniel Boone Regional Library, and when the first dictionary that included “new words, peculiar to the United States” was published in 1800, linguists panned it, considering American English “barbarous.”

Yet one American named Noah Webster was determined “to produce American standards of good usage,” and in 1806, he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The next edition, An American Dictionary of the English Language, took a little while to complete: 26 years to be exact.

To honor what’s considered the first major American English dictionary and the man behind it, lexicographers and word lovers celebrate Dictionary Day every October 16, which also happens to be Webster’s birthday.

There are myriad word-nerdy ways to kick up your linguistic heels. As our founder Erin McKean jokingly suggests, you can place your dictionary stand (everyone has one, right?) “by the hearthstone,” hoping that Noah himself magically comes down the chimney and leaves you “a shiny new dictionary” (the Assistance League of Los Gatos-Saratoga in California did just that for underprivileged kids, only without the hearthstones).

You can also make like Mr. Verb and fete a favorite tome such as the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). If food and words pique your appetite, you can follow suit with Feast and Phrase who will be “exploring food in the world of words” and making delicious “gastrolexical discoveries.”

Like Hugo of Helsinki you might take the day to update your “New to me” word list, or like teacher Michelle Jewett go out of your way to partake in education. For Michaela Lee, Dictionary Day will be all fun and games, and for Brian Krisch a day of doodling. Meanwhile, Non Talbot Wels is going to be, as always, “standing up to censorious twits.” Rock on.

Also consider a Dictionary Day-Halloween mash up like lexicographer Toma Tasovac who apparently will be “dressing up as Samuel Johnson and randomly accosting senior citizens for looking up naughty words” (pictures, Toma, or it didn’t happen), although we’re sure the Strong Language blog would be there to defend those raunchy retirees.

(Ir)regardless, you’ll want to heed Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre and learn a thing or two about the differences between different dictionaries (in other words, there’s no such thing as THE DICTIONARY), what dictionary compilers actually do (they’re “not bouncers but custodians”), and while you’re at it, take your favorite lexicographer out to lunch (please, though, no alphabet soup).

If you’re a total Noah Webster-fan person, you can visit his birthplace and childhood home in West Hartford, Connecticut, where, by the way, the original copy of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary with notations by Webster is currently on display (cue lexiphilic heads exploding everywhere).

But, as Erin suggests, Dictionary Day isn’t necessarily about celebrating the physical book itself but the words inside, regardless of the container. So you might want to revel in your favorite word by tweeting it over at HaggardHawks Words all month! (Why not consider giving it a home for a whole year?)

How will you be celebrating Dictionary Day?

Dictionary Day Contest Winners: Fictional Dictionaries

Happy Dictionary Day!

Last week we posed the challenge: to celebrate the birthday of lexicographer Noah Webster, make up a dictionary. A fictional dictionary, if you will. A fictionary. You get the picture, and you more than delivered.

We had a lot of favorites. There was the practical, like @TorchwoodPride’s “Intaxication A to Z, a Taxman’s invaluable Insurance against Flaws, Faults, and Forgeries.” There was the trippy, such as @lowdudgeon’s “The Synesthete’s Dictionary – Definitions supplemented with the most common associated colors, sounds, tastes & personalities.”

And we can’t forget the meta, like Kotonosato’s “The Dictionary Dictionary: From ‘The ABCs of Abacuses’ to ‘Zwilliger’s Concise Dictionary of Zulu,’” and @HansonHelen’s “Dictionary of fictional dictionaries.”

A dictionary we’d want to own is runner-up @ChromaGeddon’s “Real-time businessese plugin for video conferencing with translation eg ‘We need synergy’ –> ‘We don’t know what we need.’”

We’d gladly include on our already bursting bookshelves second runner-up @searchlight5’s “The Compleat Dictionary of Words and Phrases Commonly Used by Mimes” (perhaps inspired by The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation), at a very slim zero pages.

But there can only be one winner, and that would be @lowdudgeon and his “Dictionary of Autocorrect Replacements – Near-homophones (of a sexual, scatological or Freudian nature) for all common words.” So that’s where the iPhone gets its words.

Thanks to everyone for playing! All players mentioned in this post will get some lovely prizes. We’ll be in touch soon to obtain addresses.

Dictionary Day Contest: Fictional Dictionaries

Dictionary, by greeblie

Dictionary, by greeblie

[Photo CC BY 2.0 by greeblie]

We here at Wordnik love dictionaries of all kinds. We love etymologicons, idioticons, and synonymicons. We love specialty dictionaries, traditional dictionaries, and those that are crowd-sourced. We love dictionaries old and new. But what about those dictionaries that don’t exist but should?

In celebration of Dictionary Day, which takes place on October 16 and honors the birthday of lexicographer Noah Webster, we’re holding a contest. You may be familiar with The New Yorker‘s popular Questioningly column. Every week, readers receive a different challenge, such as Muppetizing a movie, making up a punctuation mash-up, or coming up with the worst job in literature, and are asked to tweet their answers (which are as many as they can think of).

The Super Dictionary

The Super Dictionary, by joelk75

[Photo CC BY 2.0 by joelk75]

Taking a cue from Questioningly, we’re asking you to make up a dictionary. It could be political (Mitt Romney’s 180s, A to Z), pragmatic (50 Ways to Leave Your Lover), or just plain silly (A to Z Guide to ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ Style). The only requirement is that it doesn’t already exist.

Tweet the title of your fictional dictionary with the hashtag #wordnikAtoZ. The contest will run from today until Monday, October 15. On the 16th, we’ll announce our favorites, the runners-up, and the big winner. Prizes await!

Dictionary Day – Contest


Dictionary by crdotx, on Flickr

Dictionary Day is just a couple of weeks away! To help celebrate this day honoring the “Father of the American Dictionary,” Noah Webster, we’re holding a contest: now that you’re using Wordnik as your go-to word source, show us how you’re putting your print dictionary to use. Perhaps you’re using it as a door stop, or to flatten some flowers, or as a booster seat for a toddler. Whatever non-lexicographical use you’re putting your dictionary to, we want to see it.

Spanish dictionary pages up into the air

Spanish dictionary pages up into the air by Horia Varlan, on Flickr

By midnight Pacific Time on October 15, send your photos to us via Twitter or email, or post them on our Facebook wall. You can enter as many times as you want. The winners will receive a Wordnik T-shirt and some other swag, and appear on our blog.

Definition of love

Definition of love by Billy Rowlinson, on Flickr

Interested in learning more about Noah Webster? Check out this new biography, The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture, by Joshua Kendall (here’s the review from the The New York Times). If you’re on the east coast, you may want to visit the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut, the lexicographer’s birthplace. If you like corn mazes and lexicographers, you’re in luck, while for Halloween you may want to consider going as the Dictionary Fairy. Finally, for some inspiration for your dictionary photos, browse through this Flickr group, Lexicography and Dictionaries.

We look forward to seeing your dictionary photos!