The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language


Product Details

$29.95  $27.55
Princeton University Press
Publish Date
6.5 X 9.6 X 1.5 inches | 1.65 pounds

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About the Author

Peter Martin is the author of numerous books, including the acclaimed biographies Samuel Johnson and A Life of James Boswell. He has taught English literature in the United States and England and divides his time between West Sussex, England, and Spain.


"With an impressive breadth of research, The Dictionary Wars invites contemplation of the ways in which language itself can affect the soul of a nation."---Meagan Logsdon, Foreword Reviews
"An informative and often pleasantly surprising cultural history."--Kirkus
"Reanimates a 19th-century 'civil war over words' that shaped how Americans speak and write. . . . Anyone who loves words for their own sake will be entertained."--Publishers Weekly
"The level of specific, thorough attention given to a particular period of U.S. lexicography sets The Dictionary Wars apart from other lexicographical histories. It tells a great, human story."--Lynne Murphy, author of The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship between American and British English
"Peter Martin's highly readable work untangles the surprising plot twists that have resulted in Americans' popular acceptance of the name Webster as being synonymous with dictionary. The tale is far more dramatic and surprising than many might imagine and this lively account sets the record straight."--Orin Hargraves, past president of the Dictionary Society of North America
"[A] riveting history. . . . The author navigates a complex story, bringing to life the passions and ideologies that shaped the early American lexicon."--New Yorker
"Wonderfully told. . . . For a tale of lexicographic intrigue, Mr. Martin's book is unexcelled."---Bryan A. Garner, Wall Street Journal
"Engaging and informative. . . . The Dictionary Wars . . . forays into copyright law, educational policy, religious revivalism, and other pressures on the verbal life of the nation."---Christopher Benfey, New York Review of Books
"Martin is a steady and thorough guide to what he calls the 'endless labyrinths of lexicography', and in Dictionary Wars he succeeds in dramatising what could have been mere bibliography."---Max Norman, Literary Review
"What [The Dictionary Wars] does best is to demonstrate that while characters win or lose, the very viciousness of the fight ended up benefiting the whole language and all of us who use it. For those of us nerdy and wordy enough to love the language as well as use it, this is profound."---Nicholas Clairmont, Washington Examiner
"Martin's account of the dictionary feuds of the 19th century is as lively and entertaining as the battle itself."---Patricia T. O'Conner, New York Times
"Peter Martin's The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language shows Noah Webster as every bit the sort of ideologue who is convinced he has a historical mission and carries himself accordingly."---Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
"The Dictionary Wars is a fascinating unveiling of how American English became what it is today."--Desi News
"[The Dictionary Wars] celebrate[s] the development of literature and language that would give the United States of America its own cultural identity. [It] provide[s] a foundational context for the study of our literature and communication and help[s] us celebrate American culture."---Michel L. Ramsey, Roanoke Times