Word by Word

Word by Word

The Secret Life of Dictionaries

Book - 2017
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"Brimming with intelligence and personality, a vastly entertaining account of how dictionaries are made - a must read for word mavens. Have you ever tried to define the word "is?" Do you have strong feelings about the word (and, yes, it is a word) "irregardless?" Did you know that OMG was first used in 1917, in a letter to Winston Churchill? These are the questions that keep lexicographers up at night. While most of us might take dictionaries for granted, the process of writing dictionaries is in fact as lively and dynamic as language itself. With sharp wit and irreverence, Kory Stamper cracks open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography, from the agonizing decisions about what and how to define, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why the small words are the most difficult to define, how it can take nine months to define a single word, and how our biases about language and pronunciation can have tremendous social influence. Throughout Stamper brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a surprisingly rich world inhabited by quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate. A sure delight for all lovers of words, Harmless Drudges will also improve readers' grasp and use of the English language"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, [2017]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9781101870945
Characteristics: xiii, 296 pages ; 22 cm


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ACL_HelenC Dec 06, 2019

Great book for anyone interested in how dictionaries are written. The author uses clear and casual language and the jokes keep things fun. There are tidbits about the history of the English language, interesting discussion about how people perceive (and judge) each other based on the words they use, and a peek into the author's own journey working for Merriam Webster. If you have even the smallest interest in language, you'll love this book.

Mar 24, 2019

I loved the brazen use of unusual words when they were just the right one.

Jan 20, 2019

Her explanations of how dictionaries work got a little technical sometimes, but this was otherwise really funny, witty, sarcastic, and well-written. I have always been one of those grammar/spelling nerds who insisted that certain words (e.g., irregardless, ain't) aren't real words, but this book has helped me to see that the modern dictionary's role is to document language as it's actually used, regardless of whether it's deemed proper or not.

May 21, 2018

Loved this book. It was informative, witty, personable and well-written. By the end, I wanted Kory Stamper to be my friend. Highly recommended for word nerds of all stripes.

Feb 15, 2018

a totally delightful, and utterly unexpected romp through the world of dictionaries, written in a neighbourly style, by a very lexicographer, a logophile, however, a lover of words, and brimming everywhere with fascinating information, with enough insight into human behaviour, finally, to keep you turning all the pages, effortlessly, to the very end

KateHillier Jan 07, 2018

I picked this up thinking it was a history of dictionaries rather than the experiences of one person who works for Merriam-Webster but it was a wonderful trip down the wormhole of lexicography and those who practice it. Grammar nerds have nothing on the people who write definitions and answer complaints from people contesting them. Fascinating trip and I certainly will not look at any dictionary the same way again!

multcolib_karene Jan 07, 2018

Kory Stamper makes the world of dictionary-writing fascinating!

Nov 20, 2017

Author sure broke my stereotype of quiet boring lexicographer!
Now I understand why new edition take so long with say 200+ people, review x words, add y new words within say 10 years.
Internet a boon & bust because it forced some for profit publishers to kill print edition & they get instant feedback on customers/amateur volunteers looking in obscure publications.
I'm jealous lexicographers throw out grammar average person pounded in high school as "rules by writers with pet peeves".
Chuckled at conservatives E-mail barrages on Merriam-Webster as last dictionary to change marriage with same-sex amendment incident or author's daughter groaning at her mother taking pictures of nude lipstick packaging at department store as example for tweaking definition.
Ditto dictionary deleting "snollygoster" as dead word bite dictionary editor in the ass when certain famous person used it to describe politicians.
Offbeat book on "boring industry & profession" highly recommended.

Sep 16, 2017

Very witty...in the style of "Eats Shoots and Leaves". There's something interesting to learn here about the vocation of Lexicology but half way through, I felt I learned enough.

Jul 18, 2017

Granted that I am interested in the subject (otherwise I wouldn't have borrowed the book), I found the description of a lexicographer's life and work as set out by Stamper to be hilarious. She is a bit foul-mouthed, so keep that in mind if you're at all sensitive about that sort of thing.


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