Ed. Note

After two years, this little corner of the internet has closed shop. Stick around and check out the Webster's Daily archives. You can browse by date or use the A to Z Index.

If you're looking for more dictionary hijinks, try Ammon Shea, who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary and wrote a book about it. (Here's Nicholson Baker's review in the NYTBR.) Also, see the newly published Websterisms, by crossword puzzler Arthur Schulman and historian Jill Lepore.

You can find me these days at my personal website, www.joshwallaert.com.

The Editor

Scope, n.

The limit of intellectual view; the end or thing to which the mind directs its view; that which is purposed to be reached or accomplished; hence, ultimate design, aim or purpose; intention; drift. It expresses both the purpose and thing purposed.


Westering, a.

Passing to the west.


Spray, n.

The water that is driven from the top of a wave in a storm, which spreads and flies in small particles. It differs from spoon-drift; as spray is only occasional, whereas spoon-drift flies continually along the surface of the sea.


Snow-slip, n.

A large mass of snow which slips down the side of a mountain, and sometimes buries houses.


Bath, n.

A place in which heat is applied to a body immersed in some substance. Thus, a dry bath is made of hot sand, ashes, salt, or other matter, for the purpose of applying heat to a body immersed in them. A vapor bath is formed by filling an apartment with hot steam or vapor, in which the body sweats copiously, as in Russia; or the term is used for the application of hot steam to a diseased part of the body. A metalline bath is water impregnated with iron or other metallic substance, and applied to a diseased part. In chimistry, a wet bath is formed by hot water in which is placed a vessel containing the matter which requires a softer heat than the naked fire. In medicine, the animal bath is made by wrapping the part affected in a warm skin just taken from an animal.


Salt, n.

The part of a river near the sea, where the water is salt.


Fairy, n.

Fairy of the mine, an imaginary being supposed to inhabit mines, wandering about in the drifts and chambers, always employed in cutting ore, turning the windlass, &c., yet effecting nothing. The Germans believe in two species; one fierce and malevolent; the other gentle.


Beard, v.t.

To take by the beard; to seize, pluck or pull the beard, in contempt or anger. I have been bearded by boys.


Copple-stones, n.

Lumps and fragments of stone broke from the adjacent cliffs, rounded by being bowled and tumbled to and again by the action of water. We apply the word to small round stones, from the size of an inch or two, to five or six inches or more, in diameter, wherever they may be found.


Coom, n.

Soot that gathers over an oven's mouth; also, the matter that works out of the naves or boxes of carriage wheels. In Scotland, the useless dust which falls from coals.


Air-sacs, n.

Air bags in birds, which are certain receptacles of air, or vesicles lodged in the fleshy parts, in the hollow bones and in the abdomen, which all communicate with the lungs.


Boundary, n.

Bound is the limit itself or furthest point of extension, and may be an imaginary line; but boundary is the thing which ascertains the limit. Thus by a statute of Connecticut, it is enacted that the inhabitants of every town shall procure its bounds to be set out by such marks and boundaries as may be a plain direction for the future; which marks and boundaries shall be a great heap of stones or a ditch of six feet long, &c. This distinction is observed also in the statute of Massachusetts. But the two words are, in ordinary use, confounded.


Composition, n.

The act of inventing or combining ideas, clothing them with words, arranging them in order, and in general, committing them to paper, or otherwise writing them.



A is the first letter of the Alphabet in most of the known languages of the earth; in the Ethiopic however it is the thirteenth, and in the Runic the tenth. It is naturally the first letter, because it represents the first vocal sound naturally formed by human organs: being the sound uttered with a mere opening of the mouth without constraint, and without any effort to alter the natural position or configuration of the lips. Hence this letter is found in many words first uttered by infants; which words are the names of the objects with which infants are first concerned, as the breast, and the parents.


Inwood, v.t.

To hide in woods.


Pneumatics, n.

In natural philosophy, that branch which treats of air. In chimistry, that branch which treats of the gases. In the schools, the doctrine of spiritual substances, as God, angels, and the souls of men.



An exclamation expressive of grief or sorrow, equivalent to alas. It is a compound of the Saxon wa, wo, and la, oh. The original is wa-la, which is doubtless the origin of our common exclamation, O la, and to this, wa, wo, is added. The true orthography would be wa la wa. But the word is, I believe, wholly obsolete.


Heart-string, n.

A nerve or tendon, supposed to brace and sustain the heart.


Invention, n.

The action or operation of finding out something new; the contrivance of that which did not before exist; as the invention of logarithms; the invention of the art of printing; the invention of the orrery. Invention differs from discovery. Invention is applied to the contrivance and production of something that did not before exist. Discovery brings to light that which existed before, but which was not known. We are indebted to invention for the thermometer and barometer. We are indebted to discovery for the knowledge of the isles in the Pacific ocean, and for the knowledge of galvanism, and many species of earth not formerly known. This distinction is important, though not always observed.

In poetry, it is applied to whatever the poet adds to the history of the subject.


Press, v.t.

To urge with force or weight; a word of extensive use, denoting the application of any power, physical or moral, to something that is to be moved or affected. We press the ground with the feet when we walk; we press the couch on which we repose; we press substances with the hands, finger or arms; the smith presses iron with his vise; we are pressed with the weight of arguments or of cares, troubles and business.


Shack, n.

In ancient customs of England, a liberty of winter pasturage. In Norfolk and Suffolk, the lord of the manor has a shack, that is, liberty of feeding his sheep at pleasure on his tenants' lands during the six winter months. In Norfolk, shack extends to the common for hogs, in all men's grounds, from harvest to seed time; whence to go a-shack, is to feed at large. In New England, shack is used in a somewhat similar sense for mast or the food of swine, and for feeding at large or in the forest, [for we have no manors,] and I have heard a shiftless fellow, a vagabond, called a shack.


Rot, v.i.

To lose the natural cohesion and organization of parts, as animal and vegetable substances; to be decomposed and resolved into its original component parts by the natural process, or the gradual operation of heat and air.


Old, a.

Advanced far in years or life; having lived beyond the middle period, or rather towards the end of life, or towards the end of the ordinary term of living; applied to animals or plants; as an old man; an old age; an old camel or horse; an old tree. We apply old chiefly to things subject to decay. We never say, the old sun, or an old mountain.


Summercolt, n.

The undulating state of the air near the surface of the ground when heated.


Attraction, n.

This power, principle or tendency in bodies to unite, is distinguished by philosophers into attraction of gravity or gravitation, which extends to a sensible distance, such as the tendency of the planets to the sun, or of a stone, when raised in the air, to fall to the earth, and of which kind is the attraction of magnetism, and of electricity; and into attraction of cohesion, or that tendency which is manifested between small particles of matter, at insensible distances, or near the point of contact, to unite them in coherence. The attraction of gravity is supposed to be the great principle that confines the planets in their orbits. Its power or force is directly as the quantity of matter in a body, and inversely as the square of the distances of the attracting bodies. Contiguous attraction is that which is exerted between minute particles or atoms, at insensible distances. When this principle unites particles of the same kind, it is called affinity of aggregation, cohesive affinity or cohesion. When it operates on dissimilar particles, producing union, it is distinguished as heterogeneous, and called chimical attraction or affinity.


Involute, n.

A curve traced by the end of a string folded upon a figure, or unwound from it.