Word by Word

The title of a new book by Kory Stamper, subtitled The Secret Life of Dictionaties:


About how dictionaries are made and the people who make them, and about English words.

From Stan Carey’s 3/21/17 review on his blog:

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, answers all the questions you might care to ask a lexicographer. It casts a coruscating light on the never-ending work of a dictionary – ‘a human document, constantly being compiled, proofread, and updated by actual, living, awkward people’ – and also, necessarily, on words themselves in all their strange, slippery wonder.

It’s pointed, funny, and occasionally (take your pick)

off-color, smutty, dirty, rude, crude, filthy, suggestive, indecent, indelicate, risqué, racy, bawdy, naughty, blue, vulgar, ribald, salacious, coarse, obscene, raunchy, adult

At the same time it’s (take your pick)

authoritative, accurate, reliable, trustworthy, sound, dependable

on linguistic matters, and it gives a peek into the workings of the Merriam-Webster Co.:


The M-W logo and its 2016 Word of the Year

Another peek into the M-W world, this time in a fictional account, briefly treated in my 10/12/11 posting “A lexicographic mystery”:

Now out in paperback, Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass (2009), an engaging mystery novel with lexicographers Billy Webb and Mona Minot as its protagonists.

Billy and Mona, who work for the dictionary firm Samuelson in Claxton, Massachusetts (a thinly concealed Merriam in Springfield, Massachusetts), discover a series of puzzling citations in the Samuelson slip files — unnecessarily long passages marked as being from the book The Broken Teaglass (which they cannot trace), which appears to be a pulp murder mystery set at Samuelson.

(Arsenault worked as an editorial assistant at M-W from 1998-2002, where she helped write definitions for their dictionaries.)

Back to Stamper, who’s been mentioned on this blog several times, most notably in a 1/15/15 posting “Lexicographer, unchained”, about KS and her blog.


KS’s photo for the dust jacket of Word by Word

Background from Wikipedia:

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer and editor for the Merriam-Webster family of dictionaries. In addition to her editorial duties, she presents many of Merriam-Webster’s “Ask the Editor” videos] a series on the publisher’s website and YouTube that discusses the English language, especially unusual or controversial words and usages. She undertakes speaking engagements on behalf of Merriam-Webster and provides expert advice and response to general enquiries on language and lexicography from the public. Stamper has recently enjoyed some notoriety as the Associate Editor responsible for explaining the addition of the term “F-Bomb” into the dictionary.

Stamper was educated at Smith College, where she undertook an interdisciplinary major that involved studying Latin, Greek, Old English, Norse, and Middle English after enrolling in a course on Icelandic family sagas of the 13th and 14th centuries. She says “I loved the style, the rhythm. They’re very bleak, but they have this black humor.”

She graduated with a BA in medieval studies, with a focus on language & literature.

Thanks to the Word by Word book (her first), she’s gotten lots of publicity, including a spirited piece by Jennifer Schuessler in the NYT on March 22nd, “A Journey Into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory”, with this photo:


KS in the basement at the M-W headquarters (photo by Tony Luong)

One Response to “Word by Word”

  1. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries | Weekend Classicist Says:

    […] https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/book-review-word-by-word-the-secret-life-of-dictionaries-by-kory-stamper/ https://arnoldzwicky.org/2017/04/30/word-by-word/ […]

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