The Untold Narrative: Unearthing the Hidden History of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary


When it comes to dictionaries, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a household name. However, few are aware of the fascinating history that lies behind this renowned reference book. This article aims to shed light on the untold narrative of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, unearthing its hidden history and providing a glimpse into the evolution of this linguistic treasure.

The Birth of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary traces its roots back to the early 19th century when Noah Webster, an American lexicographer, embarked on a mission to create a comprehensive dictionary of the English language. In 1806, he published his first dictionary, titled “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language,” which laid the foundation for what would eventually become the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Webster’s dedication to linguistic precision and the inclusion of uniquely American words set his dictionary apart from its British counterparts. His commitment to standardizing American English was so influential that it earned him the title “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”

The Merger: Merriam & Webster

In 1843, the publishing company G. & C. Merriam was founded by George and Charles Merriam. Over the years, the Merriam brothers established themselves as reputable publishers of educational books, primers, and dictionaries. Their paths eventually crossed with the Webster family, leading to a collaboration that would shape the future of the dictionary.

In 1847, after Noah Webster’s death, the Merriam brothers purchased the rights to Webster’s dictionaries and began publishing revised editions under the name “Merriam-Webster.” This merger marked a significant turning point in the history of the dictionary, combining the Merriams’ publishing expertise with the linguistic legacy of Noah Webster.

The Evolution of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Throughout its history, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has undergone numerous revisions and updates to adapt to the changing needs of its users. From the first edition that contained around 70,000 entries to the modern online version with over 470,000 words, the dictionary has continued to expand its vocabulary and refine its definitions.

One of the notable developments in the dictionary’s evolution was the introduction of the Collegiate Dictionary series in 1898. This series aimed to provide more comprehensive coverage of the English language, incorporating etymologies, synonyms, and usage examples to enhance the reader’s understanding of the words.

In recent years, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has embraced new technologies, making its content accessible through various platforms, including online dictionaries, mobile apps, and even voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. This adaptability has allowed the dictionary to remain relevant and indispensable in the digital age.

Unearthing Hidden Gems

Beyond its role as a linguistic authority, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary hides intriguing stories and hidden gems within its pages. Over the years, lexicographers have encountered amusing and unusual words during their research, many of which have found their way into the dictionary’s pages.

For example, the word “snollygoster,” meaning a clever, but untrustworthy person, was added to the dictionary in 2006 after being dormant for more than a century. Similarly, “muggle,” a term popularized by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series, made its way into the dictionary in 2003, signifying a person lacking in a particular skill or expertise.

These hidden gems not only reflect the ever-changing nature of language but also showcase the dictionary’s commitment to capturing the richness and diversity of English vocabulary.


1. What makes the Merriam-Webster Dictionary unique?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary stands out for its comprehensive coverage of the English language, including its emphasis on American English. It is known for its precise definitions, etymologies, and usage examples, making it an invaluable resource for language enthusiasts, writers, and scholars.

2. How often is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary updated?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary undergoes regular updates to incorporate new words, revise definitions, and reflect the linguistic shifts in the English language. With the advent of the digital age, updates can be made more frequently to ensure the dictionary remains up-to-date.

3. Can anyone contribute to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary?

While the general public cannot directly contribute to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, lexicographers gather data from various sources, including published materials, online content, and linguistic research, to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the dictionary’s content.

4. Is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary available in languages other than English?

Currently, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary primarily focuses on the English language. However, it does offer translations and bilingual dictionaries for select languages, such as Spanish and French, to aid language learners and bilingual individuals.

5. How has the Merriam-Webster Dictionary adapted to the digital age?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has embraced the digital age by providing its content through online platforms, mobile apps, and voice assistants. This accessibility ensures that users can access the dictionary’s wealth of knowledge anytime and anywhere, making it an indispensable tool in today’s technologically driven world.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary is more than just a reference book; it is a testament to the evolution of language and the relentless pursuit of linguistic excellence. From its humble beginnings to its digital manifestation, the dictionary has remained a trusted companion for those seeking to explore the depths of the English language. By unearthing its hidden history and recognizing its cultural significance, we can appreciate the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as not only a linguistic resource but also a valuable artifact in the ever-evolving tapestry of human communication.