Herbert C. Morton, 81, a writer who was a former journalist, government official and consultant and who served as publications director of the Brookings Institution from 1956 to 1968, died of cancer Dec. 21 at his home in Bethesda.

Dr. Morton, who came to the Washington area when he joined Brookings in 1956, was an associate commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where he edited the Monthly Labor Review, from 1968 to 1975.

He worked from 1975 to 1983 for Resources for the Future, where he was a senior fellow and public affairs director and co-author of Energy Today and Tomorrow. From 1984 to 1987, he directed the scholarly communication and technology office of the American Council of Learned Societies.

Since 1987, Dr. Morton had researched and reviewed lexicographic works. In 1989, he held a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship.

He was the author of the critically acclaimed 1994 book "The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove's Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics."

The book examined the publishing history, the personalities and the popular and critical reception to Webster's Third International Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1961 by G.&C. Merriam Co.

As Dr. Morton wrote, its publication was "the stormiest controversy in the annals of lexicography." Dr. Morton's book, reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post's Sunday Book World on Sept. 4, 1994, was hailed for presenting an "informed, rational and utterly persuasive" account of the landmark dictionary's tempestuous reception by scholars, journalists and the public.

It tells of many, especially in the press, who falsely attacked the dictionary as overly modern and somewhat slapdash, most famously as a dictionary that seemed to accept "ain't" as good English and prefer icons of pop culture to classic authors and linguists as English language authorities.

Dr. Morton showed how this was largely unfair and exaggerated and, interestingly, traced much of this criticism to the publicity department of the dictionary's publisher. He went on to show the acceptance the dictionary gained from scholars and critics alike while selling more than 2.5 million copies to an admiring public.

Dr. Morton, who had served on the executive board of the Dictionary Society of North America from 1996 to 1999, was the author of other books, articles and technical reports on a variety of topics.

Over the years, he had been a consultant to the Russell Sage and Ford foundations, the National Commission on Employment Statistics and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Dr. Morton, a Minneapolis native, served with the Army in the Pacific during World War II. He was a 1942 graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he also received a doctorate in business and economics.

He was an information specialist with the War Assets Administration in 1946 and 1947, then spent six years as a reporter and editor with the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper. From 1953 until coming to Washington and joining Brookings, he was a research editor and assistant professor at Dartmouth College's Amos Tuck business school.

His first wife, the former Doris B. Liebenberg, died in 1973. His second wife, the former Kathryn A. "Peg" Aring, died in 1980.

Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Barbara Orlans Morton of Bethesda; two daughters from his first marriage, Janet Morton of Cary, N.C., and Martha Fusaro of White Plains, N.Y.; and a granddaughter.