The Onion takes us back:

In late 1783, change was sweeping the Western world. The Revolutionary War had drawn to a close, the Treaty of Paris had been signed, Mozart’s Great Mass was performed for the first time, and, with the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon, mankind was poised on the threshold of flight. And only one newspaper, H. Ulysses Zweibel’s The Onion, had the courage to stand against it all. Here, for the first time ever, is a reprint edition of The Onion‘s October 6, 1783 issue.

I would like to draw your attention in particular to their attack on that Rogue Noah Webster: “Have we, in this Newe Wourld, cast off one Tyrant, who would taxx our Tea and Gov’rn us from A Far, only to adopt an Other who would shew us How to Speak, and Standerdise our Speling with a Rod of Iyrn, and Up Braid our ev’ry Pronouncement, as does a Dictinrie?” (Thanks, Kári!)


  1. Wrye & suttle Pronouncements on orthodoxx orthographie, in Deed.

  2. Crown, AJP says

    Once you’ve peeled away the layers of meaning I’m not sure I totally agree with Zwiebel on this one. For one thing it’s very useful when you read German knowing that ‘ie’ is always pronounced eee and ‘ei’ is always eye, so I think it was rather silly of him to misspell his own name like that. We’ll have to ask David, perhaps they didn’t do it in those days.
    I agree that Webster’s changing the spelling of sox and the other words was a little childish.

  3. Crown, A.J.P. says

    Oh come on… isn’t anyone going to argue?

  4. I’m sorry, but this is abuse; you want room 12A, just along the corridor.

  5. Crown, A.J.P. says

    No I don’t.

  6. Noah Webster was no stranger to abusive commentary, both linguistic and political, as discussed here.

  7. A.J.P. Crown says

    Mark Liberman, although not wholly untrue these are, as you must know, tendentious portraits (yours and the NNDB’s) of Wm. Cobbett. Wikipedia is much less biased, and no doubt the Oxford DNB has an even better biography if only it would allow everyone free access to it. But take — almost at random — this: even if I ignore that it’s an anachronism, it’s really preposterous to call Cobbett the racist in his dealings with Thomas Jefferson, of all people — have you seen the slave quarters at Monticello? It’s very naughty to offer your readers potted histories of people you don’t like. You should put your nationalistic prejudice aside, take a deep breath and tell the whole truth.

  8. I agree that Webster’s changing the spelling of sox and the other words was a little childish.
    Just wait til the Chicago White Sox find out about this.

  9. John Emerson says

    I’m invoking Paul Goldberger again. Suck on that, Kron.

  10. John Emerson says

    I’m invoking Paul Goldberger again. Suck on that, Kron.

  11. Crown, A.J.P. says

    I thought afterwards, it’s not yankee chauvinism it’s professional bias — a linguist defending his hero. You can’t write history that way, historians have ethics.

  12. Crown, A.J.P. says

    I laugh at Goldberger! Paul Goldberger is no Lewis Mumford. Not worth invoking. He won’t get you anywhere — certainly not to heaven.

  13. Crown, A.J.P. says

    It reminds me of this article in yesterday’s Independent, on how 1 in 5 London women have fæcal bacteria on their hands, ergo they are dirtier than men. Nothing about how London women have fæcal bacteria on their hands, ergo their boyfriends should try wiping the baby’s arse more often.
    Similarly, Mark Liberman wants to show that Noah Webster was maligned unfairly. He calls the maligner a racist, as I said, and ‘conservative’ and a few other things (‘crazy’). You would think the words ‘historiography’ and ‘context’ might ring a bell, but instead we get: He served in Parliament, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in 1830 for inciting to rebellion, and died in 1835. The End. The point about Cobbett is that during those years he wrote Rural Rides. That made him in England one of the best remembered champions of the 1832 Reform Act. Of course, since Mark doesn’t mention The Great Reform Act there’s no need to explain how that jibes with Cobbett being a ‘conservative’. Mediocre scholarship, Mark.

  14. Now, now, you can’t expect linguists to be historians.

  15. Crown, A.J.P. says

    Well David and Marie-Lucie and the rest don’t seem to have any difficulty recounting history. Perhaps you could ask a linguist what you call someone who rigs history to suit their own prejudices; you’re right, it’s not a historian.

  16. The paper version of the Onion ran their flash back last week, and I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much at an issue of the Onion. It was also an orthographic delight!

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