In a 99%
Invisible episode, Avery Trufelman stated that America’s
19th-century preoccupation with the self and self-help was reflected in
the fact that Webster’s
1841 edition of his dictionary had 67 additional words prefixed with
“self-”. I’ve yet to find this factoid repeated, to say nothing of
finding evidence for the claim.
I count 116 “self-” entries in the 1828
version. In the 1841
version I count 179. That’s 63 additions. (This
unfortunately required me to manually count entries as I could not find
nicely formatted versions.) Back then, though, Johnson was not
consistent with how he dealt with parts of speech and related words. For
example, the 1828
version has “self-abusing” and “self-abuse”; the 1841
version only has the former. Similarly, the 1841 addition added
“self-abasing” to 1821’s “self-abasement” and “self-abased.”
Trimming the additions down to what I thought were meaningful
differences – i.e., not simple grammatical variations – I count 44
additions between the 1828 and 1841 editions.
Given that the 1828 version is reported
to have 70,000 words – I did not count myself – and advertisements
for the 1841 claimed “many thousand more words than that or any
other English dictionary hitherto published” it probably is
fair to conclude the 38% increase in “self-” words was significant.
Meaningful “self-” additions
self-adjusting self-aggrandizement self-annihilation self-applying
self-assured self-attractive self-beguiled self-condemnation
self-dereliction self-destroying self-devised self-doomed self-dubbed
self-educated self-elected self-elective self-governed self-gratulation
self-ignorant self-immolating self-inflicted self-insufficiency
self-invited self-judging self-made self-propagating self-regulated
self-reliance self-reproachingly self-repulsive self-ruined
self-sacrificing self-satisfied self-sounding self-spurring
self-suspended self-suspicious self-sustained self-taught self-torturing
self-troubling self-upbraiding self-violence self-worship
Update 2022-07-26: Avery Trufelman referred
to Cheng, who cites Zakim (2006):
… in the early 1840s. Driven by the same concerns, American
physicians had a few years earlier identified a new medical condition
they diagnosed as “moral insanity,” a term used of persons who failed to
restrain their passions. It was a distinctly post-patriarchal disorder,
born of an age “of the first person singular,” as Emerson described it.
Noah Webster accordingly added sixty-seven new words to the second
edition of his American Dictionary in 1841 that all began with the
prefix “self.” This was convincing, if circumstantial, evidence of the
transformation of Americans’ personal sovereignty… [note 50: Noah
Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language Containing the
Whole Vocabulary of the First Edition … the Entire Correction and
Improvements of the Second Edition … to Which Is Prefixed an
Introductory Dissertation (Springfield, Mass.: George and Charles
Merriam, 1849). (Zakim 2006, pp. 122-123)].
Also, see this
thread on r/dictionary.
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