I am aware that Noah Webster (1758--1843 AD) is responsible for the majority of the differences between British and American spelling (IE: "color" v "colour"). Over time, it seems, in his Speller textbook, he slowly phased out the British spellings for spellings he personally favored.

According to the Wikipedia page about Noah Webster:

Slowly, edition by edition, Webster changed the spelling of words, making them "Americanized". He chose s over c in words like defense, he changed the re to er in words like center, and he dropped one of the Ls in traveler. At first he kept the u in words like colour or favour but dropped it in later editions. He also changed "tongue" to "tung"—an innovation that never caught on.

My question is, did Noah Webster ever explicitly state why he made these changes, either in his books or private correspondences? Also, are there any records of him consulting others while making these decisions or did he act unilaterally?


1 Answer 1


He believed that once we were free from British rule, we should no longer use British spellings. See NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012. It won the Golden Kite award for best NF book of 2012 in the U.S. It's for children, but packed with fascinating information on this most interesting of men. He talked with B. Franklin, who became a sort of mentor, but Franklin's ideas for spelling were even more radical than Webster's. See NOAH WEBSTER: ON BEING AMERICAN, edited by Homer Babbidge, Jr. It contains many lengthy letters and essays by Webster. He talks frequently about being American in every sense, including spelling.

Great question!

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    Jeri, welcome to the site and thanks for the answer! In case you're wondering, I took off the signature from your answer, since that's not how we do things here. (SE is more like a reference than a conversation.) But do feel free to put a signature in your user profile!
    – Joe
    Jun 29, 2013 at 4:08
  • In a wider context, the early American publishing industry was keen to separate itself from all dependency on Britain. For example the earliest American composer, William Billings, whose music was engraved for publishing by Paul Revere (yes, that Paul Revere, the "midnight ride" guy, who was originally a silversmith) exhorted the "daughters of America" in the prefaces of his music books to donate their unwanted clothing and textiles free to the American paper-mills, so that his work would not have to be "tainted" by being printed on imported British paper.
    – alephzero
    Oct 21, 2017 at 5:46
  • It's useful to note that the trends Webster worked were already in progress in U.K. - but the determination to be different was strong on both sides of the pond. Ironically, Webster's determination to modernize faster in America resulted in slower modernization of spelling under the Oxford dictionary tradition. Aug 26, 2023 at 13:03

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