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The Dictionary for Your Homeschool

Have you considered what dictionary to use? Info via
edited from my archives …

Many months ago, in an earlier blog, I wrote a post about dictionaries.  Other than my writings on biblical classical education, no other topic stirred so many questions and comments.  Unfortunately, in spite of the post’s popularity, it has been lost forever.  That is the bad news.

The Adventures of English

The Adventures of English

The good news is, I am writing more a more definitive opinion on the subject today.  Since that time, I have done more reading and research on the history of the English language.  I highly recommend for Mommies The Adventure of English   by Melvin Bragg.  The book is based on his research for the highly-acclaimed cable TV series.  I could hardly put the volume down, it is so exciting.  Clearly, the hand of God is present in the founding and preservation of our beautiful language.

Another riveting work is King Alfred’s English, by Laurie White. This history of our language from a Christian perspective is suitable for teens and adults. I read it aloud to my children 7- 12 years old, and they enjoyed it immensely.

As I read of the history of my language, I thought more on how the meanings and spellings of words change over the years.  Authors have a tremendous influence on this (Shakespeare!).  The Bible had the greatest influence of any source.  And dictionaries solidify and codify the use of language by the people who handle those tools.

A little history.

Noah Webster published the first great American Dictionary in 1828.  This dictionary utilized large portions of Scripture for definition, as well as quotes from the classic authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden.   Webster’s stated mission, given in his preface, was to differentiate our language from that of British English, when appropriate; to place “as authorities” such men as “Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jay, Madison, Marshall, Ramsay, Dwight, Smith, Trumbull, Hamilton, Belknap, Ames, Mason, Kent, Hare, Silliman, Cleaveland, Walsh, Irving, and many other Americans distinguished by their writings or by their science;” and …

to ascertain the true principles of the language, in its orthography and structure; to purify it from some palpable errors, and reduce the number of its anomalies, thus giving it more regularity and consistency in its forms, both of words and sentences; and in this manner, to furnish a standard of our vernacular tongue, which we shall not be ashamed to bequeath to three hundred millions of people, who are destined to occupy, and I hope, to adorn the vast territory within our jurisdiction.

If the language can be improved in regularity, so as to be more easily acquired by our own citizens, and by foreigners, and thus be rendered a more useful instrument for the propagation of science, arts, civilization and Christianity; if it can be rescued from the mischievous influence of sciolists and that dabbling spirit of innovation which is perpetually disturbing its settled usages and filling it with anomalies; if, in short, our vernacular language can be redeemed from corruptions, and our philogy and literature from degradation; it would be a source of great satisfaction to me to be one among the instruments of promotion these valuable objects.  If this object cannot be effected, and my wishes and hopes are to be frustrated, my labor will be lost, and this work must sink into oblivion…

To that great and benevolent Being, Who, during the preparation of this work, has sustained a feeble constitution, amidst obstacles and toils, disappointments, infirmities and depression; Who has twice borne me and my manuscripts in safety across the Atlantic, and given me strength and resolution to bring the work to a close, I would present the tribute of my most grateful acknowledgements.  And if the talent which He entrusted to my care, has not been put to the most profitable use in His service, I hope it has not been “kept laid up in  a napkin,” and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven.

In 1843, Webster died and the brothers George and Charles Merriam purchased the rights to the dictionary.  Webster’s son-in-law, Chauncey Goodrich, oversaw the revision of the dictionary produced for its use in the university Goodrich worked for: Yale University.  This was the first in a series of revisions to what is now the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  The original revisions were made to extract many of the Scriptural references and tone down the strict Biblical definitions of Webster’s first edition. Thus, the second edition was much smaller than the first.  The Webster family was reportedly unhappy with the result, but had little recourse.

A little comparison

This trend of watering-down Webster’s definitions has continued to the present day, with the addition of vulgarities and cursings added in more recent editions (especially the controversial Third Edition).  There is really no comparison.  Here are some examples from the Webster’s 1828, the Merriam-Webster, and Oxford, for analysis.


1828 {… but we pronounce it wimen, and so it ought to be written, for it is from the Saxon wifman, wife-man} 1. The female of the human race, grown to adult years.

And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman. Gen. ii

Womenare soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible. Shak.

We see every day weomen perish with infamy, by having been too willing to set their beauty to show.  Rambler.

I have observed among all nations that the woman ornament themselves more than the men; that wherever found, they are the same kind, civil, obliging, humane, tender beings, inclined to be gay and cheerful, timorous and modest. Ledyard.

2. A female attendant or servant. Shak.

Merriam-Webster 1. An adult female person 2. Womankind 3. feminine nature: womanliness 4. a female servant or attendant

Oxford 1 an adult human female. 2 a female worker or employee. 3 a wife or lover

Look at another example…


Webster’s 1828: 

1. The faculty of the mind by which man is enabled to compare ideas and ascertain the relations of terms and propositions; as a man of clear judgment or sound judgment. The judgment may be biased by prejudice. Judgment supplies the want of certain knowledge. 2. The determination of the mind, formed from comparing the relations of ideas, or the comparison of facts and arguments. In the formation of our judgments, we should be careful to weigh and compare all the facts connected with the subject. 3. In law, the sentence of doom pronounced in any cause, civil or criminal, by the judge or court by which it is tried. Judgment may be rendered on demurrer, on a verdict, on a confession or default, or on a non-suit. Judgment, though pronounced by the judge or court, is properly the determination or sentence of the law. A pardon may be pleaded in arrest of judgment.4. The right or power of passing sentence. 5. Determination; decision. Let reason govern us in the formation of our judgment of things proposed to our inquiry.6. Opinion; notion. She, in my judgment, was as fair as you.

7. In Scripture, the spirit of wisdom and prudence, enabling a person to discern right and wrong, good and evil.

Give the king thy judgments, O God. Ps.72.  8. A remarkable punishment; an extraordinary calamity inflicted by God on sinners. Judgments are prepared for scorners. Prov.19. Is.26.9. The spiritual government of the world. The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son. John 5.

10. The righteous statutes and commandments of God are called his judgments. Ps.119.

11. The doctrines of the gospel, or God’s word. Matt.12.

12. Justice and equity. Luke 11. Is.1.

13. The decrees and purposes of God concerning nations. Rom.11.

14. A court or tribunal. Matt.5.

15. Controversies, or decisions of controversies. 1 Cor.6.

16. The gospel, or kingdom of grace. Matt.12.

17. The final trial of the human race,when God will decide the fate of every individual, and award sentence according to justice.

 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. Eccles.12.

Judgment of God. Formerly this term was applied to extraordinary trials of secret crimes, as by arms and single combat, by ordeal, or hot plowshares, &c.; it being imagined that God would work miracles to vindicate innocence.

Merriam-Webster 1. A decision or opinion given after judging; esp: a formal decision given by a court 2. cap the final judging of mankind by God 3. the process of forming an opinion by discerning and comparing 4 the capacity for judging: DISCERNMENT

Oxford 1 the ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions. 2 an opinion or conclusion. 3 a decision of a law court or judge.

I would encourage you to search online and compare more definitions yourself.  You can use the most benign words to see great changes in our daily language.  Judge for yourself the difference.

The differences between Merriam-Webster and Oxford have been startling for decades.  Oxford (the British Dictionary) is much more immoral in its definitions (notice a woman is a “lover” as the third definition).  The latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed such entries as aisle, chapel, saint, sin, empire, county, and carol, among many others relating to Christianity and Government.

The Merriam-Webster has been considered the “more conservative” choice for many American families.  Yet it still lacks the historical depth, literary detail, and Scriptural accuracy of the original 1828.  The individual entries seem worlds apart in meaning and application.

The dictionary we use in our homes does affect the education our children receive.  They will turn to it for information, for context, for the meaning of their own language.  What they learn and use in those pages will affect how they understand, interpret, and communicate truths for the remainder of their life.  The dictionary is an invaluable resource in the molding of their vocabulary and character.

How do you want to train you children to know their language? What standard do you want to set before them for their vocabulary and definitions? Is there a moral absolute, and should your language reflect that?  The answers to these questions were clear to my husband and I.  We set out to buy a new dictionary.

It isn’t cheap, but when we  prayed for this essential tool, the Lord provided it for us for less than $10.  My children began using it immediately, in spite of it’s hefty size and tightly-printed columns.  This green volume has become one of our best-loved, most loved tools in our educational endeavors.

What dictionary do you use? Have you given it much thought?


  1. We also have the 1828 dictionary, we bought it a couple of years ago. It makes me happy just looking at it, LOL. We have great fun just flipping through it and finding words we’ve never even heard of. We have officially labeled my dad “tardygaited.” 🙂


  2. Great post and makes me think of another great set of books from the 19th century – The McGuffey Readers. We used to teach our kids how to read using the Bible. Then the McGuffey Readers which were chock full of scripture, references to Bible stories and Christian living. Didn’t take long for them to be edited down to good moral content. Now we have programs to teach our children to read that are real twaddle. It’s great that they can learn to read, but what are we filling their minds with as they learn? Is the ultimate goal that they ONLY learn to read? Kind of like that argument – I don’t care if my kids read Harry Potter as long as they’re reading a book. Bleh. I reject that poorly made argument.


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