Magazine February 8, 2021, Issue

A Grammarian Addresses Pandemics

Detail of a rendering of a portrait of Noah Webster by James Herring (National Portrait Gallery/Getty Images)

Fifteen years after Noah Web­ster wrote his 1784 Grammati­cal Institute of the English Language, and seven years before he issued his first dictionary — for which he would become known as the “Father of the American Dictionary” — he wrote the first American study of epidemiology. It was the two-volume, 700-page Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases. As the grammatical columnist at NR, I’ve stayed away from COVID-19 issues. But because I collect old editions of Noah Webster’s works, as well as his original letters — all things Webster, really — I decided to brave the 18th-century dust in

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Bryan A. Garner — Mr. Garner is the author of The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, Garner’s Modern English Usage, and The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

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C’mon, Zingerola!

Before we roll over and submit, we need to figure out whether we’re dealing with purposeful malevolence or good ol’-fashioned human clusterbuggery.


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