H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
and their analogues. Yet more, he transposed the e and the r in many words ending in re, such as theatre, lustre, centre and calibre. Yet more, he changed the c in all words of the defence class to s. Yet more, he changed ph to f in words of the phantom class, ou to oo in words of the group class, ow to ou in crowd, porpoise to porpess, acre to aker, sew to soe, woe to wo, soot to sut, gaol to jail, and plough to plow. Finally, he antedated the simplified spellers by inventing a long list of boldly phonetic spellings, ranging from tung for tongue to wimmen for women, and from hainous for heinous to cag for keg.
A good many of these new spellings, of course, were not actually Websters inventions. For example, the change from -our to -or in words of the honor class was a mere echo of an earlier English uncertainty. In the first three folios of Shakespeare, 1623, 1632 and 1663-6, honor and honour were used indiscriminately and in almost equal proportions; English spelling was still fluid, and the -our-form was not consistently adopted until the fourth folio of 1685. Moreover, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is authority for the statement that the -or-form was a fashionable impropriety in England in 1791. But the great authority of Johnson stood against it, and Webster was surely not one to imitate fashionable improprieties. He deleted the u for purely etymological reasons, going back to the Latin honor, favor and odor without taking account of the intermediate French honneur, faveur and odeur. And where no etymological reasons presented themselves, he made his changes by analogy and for the sake of uniformity, or for euphony or simplicity, or because it pleased him, one guesses, to stir up the academic animals. Webster, in fact, delighted in controversy, and was anything but free from the national yearning to make a sensation.
A great many of his innovations, of course, failed to take root, and in the course of time he abandoned some of them himself. In his early Essay on the Necessity, Advantage and Practicability of Reforming the Mode of Spelling he advocated reforms which were already discarded by the time he published the first edition of his dictionary. Among them were the dropping of the silent letter in such words as head, give, built and realm, making them hed, giv, bilt, and relm; the substitution of doubled vowels for decayed diphthongs in such words as mean, zeal and near, making them meen, zeel and