Reading about the 19th century battles between Noah Webster and his many enemies, real and imagined, I was struck by the famed American lexicographer and others’ frequent resort to the anonymous article. In 1834, an article in a Massachusetts periodical accused Joseph Worcester, Webster’s mild-mannered rival, of “gross plagiarism”.
Webster’s name did not appear on the article, but it was in all likelihood written by him, according to The Dictionary Wars, a book by Peter Martin. Anonymous articles were common in the 18th century and much of the 19th.
In recent decades, anonymity in books, newspapers and established websites has been infrequent enough to create a sensation. Witness the fuss about Primary Colors, the 1996 novel about the Bill Clinton era. Originally published anonymously, it was eventually revealed to have been the work of the political columnist Joe Klein. Last year, the New York Times published an unsigned op-ed by a senior official in the Trump administration, who wrote that presidential appointees were “thwarting Mr Trump’s more misguided impulses”.