Happy Dictionary Day, word-nerds! This is the official holiday in which we celebrate the birth of Noah Webster, who would be 254 years old if he were still living and breathing on this planet. Webster, of course, is the guy we consider the father of the American Dictionary, without whom our word knowledge would be something quite different—hence, it's not just his birthday, it's a day to celebrate dictionaries in general.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster editor at large, passed along two quotes by Webster he considers "appropriate and inspirational in that they continue to be true for us today." First, "the business of the lexicographer is to collect, arrange, and define, as far as possible, all the words that belong to a language, and leave the author to select from them at his pleasure and according to his judgment." Second, "Analogy, custom, and habit form a better rule to guide men in the use of words than any tribunal of men.”
Webster's was not the first dictionary (those date back to Sumerian times) but was the first Americanized version, coming after the "first purely English dictionary," Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabetical (1604), which included 3,000 or so words. In 1746 to 47, per M-W.com, "Samuel Johnson undertook the most ambitious English dictionary to that time, a list of 43,500 words." Webster's early 19th-century dictionary featuring 70,000 words sprang from that, and was followed by the Oxford English Dictionary. Dictionaries would never be the same.