After gaining independence from British rule, Americans struggled through their first quarter century still under the yoke of the British language as laid down by Samuel Johnson in his 1755 dictionary. Worse still, they spelled words any which way they fancied, a practice that was bound to keep them a hopeless third world country forever. Along came Noah Webster to the rescue. His An American Dictionary of the English Language, published on April 14, 1818, was the first major lexicon to include distinctly American words and standardize their spelling. The dictionary, which took him more than two decades to complete, introduced more than 10,000 “Americanisms.” With 70,000 entries, it was thought by many to have surpassed Samuel Johnson’s dictionary both in scope and authority.
He also promoted the simpler spelling of many words: musick became music and plough became plow, for example. Centre and theatre, center and theater. He was not totally successful — Americans refused to change women to wimmen and tongue to tung no matter how much he argued. Nevertheless America became a nation with rules and definitions, marching forward.
Alas, the British remained mired in their archaic Samuel Johnsonian speech whilst the Americans were embracing the future.