Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Description

Product Description

“We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the goddamned electrical sockets.”
 
With wit and irreverence, lexicographer Kory Stamper cracks open the obsessive world of dictionary writing, from the agonizing decisions about what to define and how to do it to the knotty questions of ever-changing word usage.
 
Filled with fun facts—for example, the first documented usage of “OMG” was in a letter to Winston Churchill—and Stamper’s own stories from the linguistic front lines (including how she became America’s foremost “irregardless” apologist, despite loathing the word), Word by Word is an endlessly entertaining look at the wonderful complexities and eccentricities of the English language.

Review

“[An] eloquent love letter to letters themselves. . . . A cheerful and thoughtful rebuke of the cult of the grammar scolds.” — The Atlantic

“Both memoir and exposé, an insider’s tour of the inner circles of the mysterious fortress that is Merriam-Webster. Stamper leads us through her own lexicographical bildungsroman, exploring how she fell in love with words and showing us how the dictionary works, and how it interacts with the world that it strives to reflect.” —Adrienne Raphel,  The New Yorker

“As a writer, Stamper can do anything with words. . . . You will never take a dictionary entry for granted again.” —Mary Norris, best-selling author of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
 
“A fascinating, even enthralling, examination of the way words actually work in our language, warts and all.” — The A.V. Club

“An unlikely page-turner. . . . Stamper displays a contagious enthusiasm for words and a considerable talent for putting them together.” — The New Yorker
 
Word by Word cherishes the dexterity involved in making dictionaries, and . . . proves refreshingly attentive to its human stories. Part of its quirky charm is a delight in the idiosyncrasies of others—not least Merriam-Webster’s many correspondents.” — The Wall Street Journal
 
“Packed with the kind of word-lore that keeps readers and writers up late at night: Where do our words come from? How and why do their meanings change year to year, century to century?” — The Dallas Morning News
 
“Great fun. . . . [Stamper] brings both zest and style. . . . An exuberant mash note to language.” — The Times Literary Supplement
 
“[ Word by Word] mixes memoiristic meditations on the lexicographic life along with a detailed description of the brain-twisting work of writing dictionaries.” — The New York Times
 
“Anyone who loves words or has opinions about them will have fun in this sandbox of a book.” — The Washington Times
 
“A delectable feast. . . . [Stamper] declaims elegantly on the beauty and necessity of dialect, how to evaluate emerging words, and many other topics. [She] is at her best when entertaining the reader with amusing etymologies, celebrating the contentiousness of grammar, and quoting annoying emails from an opinionated public,” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Fascinating. . . . Part memoir, part workplace chronicle and part history lesson.” — The New York Post
 
“A lexicographical bildungsroman. . . . [Stamper] presents passionate, precise, good-humored (and bad-humored) descriptions of every stage of the process that goes into making an entry.” — The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
“[ Word by Word] entertains as much as it instructs.” —Baltimore Sun
 
“A captivating book.” — Lincoln Journal Star
 
“Idiosyncratic and engaging.” — The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA)
 
“A smart, sparkling and often hilarious valentine to the content and keepers of dictionaries. . . . A paean to the craft of lexicography.’” — Shelf Awareness
 
“A funny inside look at how new words make their way into dictionaries, an irreverent take on the history of English itself, and a memoir of [Stamper’s] own journey.” — Daily Hampshire Gazette
 
“[A] marvelous insight into the messy world behind the tidy definitions on the page. . . . By turns amusing, frustrating, surprising, and above all, engrossing. It is perhaps unsurprising, given her line of work, that Stamper employs words with delightful precision in her writing.” — Booklist

About the Author

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer who spent almost two decades writing dictionaries at Merriam-Webster. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Washington Post, and she blogs regularly on language and lexicography at www.korystamper.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Hrafnkell
On Falling in Love
 
We are in an uncomfortably small conference room. It is a cool June day, and though I am sitting stock- still on a corporate chair in heavy air-conditioning, I am sweating heavily through my dress. This is what I do in job interviews.
 
A month earlier, I had applied for a position at Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary company. The posting was for an editorial assistant, a bottom-of-the-barrel position, but I lit up like a penny arcade when I saw that the primary duty would be to write and edit English dictionaries. I cobbled together a résumé; I was invited to interview. I found the best interview outfit I could and applied extra antiperspirant (to no avail).
 
Steve Perrault, the man who sat opposite me, was (and still is) the director of defining at Merriam-Webster and the person I hoped would be my boss. He was very tall and very quiet, a sloucher like me, and seemed almost as shyly awkward as I was, even while he gave me a tour of the modest, nearly silent editorial floor. Apparently, neither of us enjoyed job interviews. I, however, was the only one perspiring lavishly.
 
 “So tell me,” he ventured, “why you are interested in lexicography.”
 
I took a deep breath and clamped my jaw shut so I did not start blabbing. This was a complicated answer.
 
###
 
I grew up the eldest, book-loving child of a blue-collar family that was not particularly literary. According to the hagiography, I started reading at three, rattling off the names of road signs on car trips and pulling salad-dressing bottles out of the fridge to roll their tangy names around on my tongue: Blue Chee-see, Eye-tal-eye-un, Thouse-and Eyes-land. My parents cooed over my precociousness but thought little of it.
 
I chawed my way through board books, hoarded catalogs, deci­mated the two monthly magazines we subscribed to ( National Geo­graphic and Reader’s Digest) by reading them over and over until they fell into tatters. One day my father came home from his job at the local power plant, exhausted, and dropped down onto the couch next to me. He stretched, groaning, and plopped his hard hat on my head. “Whatcha reading, kiddo?” I held the book up for him to see: Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, a book from my mother’s nursing days of yore. “I’m reading about scleroderma,” I told him. “It’s a disease that affects skin.” I was about nine years old.
 
When I turned sixteen, I discovered more adult delights: Austen, Dickens, Malory, Stoker, a handful of Brontës. I’d sneak them into my room and read until I couldn’t see straight.
 
It wasn’t story (good or bad) that pulled me in; it was English itself, the way it felt in my braces-caged mouth and rattled around my adolescent head. As I grew older, words became choice weap­ons: What else does a dopey, short, socially awkward teenage girl have? I was a capital- n Nerd and treated accordingly. “Never give them the dignity of a response” was the advice of my grandmother, echoed by my mother’s terser “Just ignore them.” But why play dumb when I could outsmart them, if only for my own satisfaction? I snuck our old bargain-bin Roget’s Thesaurus from the bookshelf and tucked it under my shirt, next to my heart, before scurrying off to my room with it. “Troglodyte,” I’d mutter when one of the obnoxious guys in the hall would make a rude comment about another girl’s body. “Cacafuego,” I seethed when a classmate would brag about the raging kegger the previous weekend. Other teens settled for “brownnoser”; I put my heart into it with “pathetic, lick­spittling ass.”
 
But lexophile that I was, I never considered spending a career on words. I was a practical blue-collar girl. Words were a hobby: they were not going to make me a comfortable living. Or rather, I wasn’t going to squander a college education—something no one else in my family had—just to lock myself in a different room a few thou­sand miles away and read for fourteen hours a day (though I felt wobbly with infatuation at the very idea). I went off to college with every intention of becoming a doctor. Medicine was a safe profession, and I would certainly have plenty of time to read when I had made it as a neurosurgeon.*
 
Fortunately for my future patients, I didn’t survive organic chemistry—a course that exists solely to weed slobs like me out of the doctoring pool. I wandered into my sophomore year of college rudderless, a handful of humanities classes on my schedule. One of the women in my dorm quizzed me about my classes over Raisin Bran. “Latin,” I droned, “philosophy of religion, a colloq on medieval Icelandic family sagas—”
 
“Hold up,” she said. “Medieval Icelandic family sagas. Medieval Icelandic family sagas.” She put her spoon down. “I’m going to repeat this to you one more time so you can hear how insane that sounds: medieval Icelandic family sagas.
 
It did sound insane, but it sounded far more interesting than organic chemistry. If my sojourn into premed taught me anything, it was that numbers and I didn’t get along. “Okay, fine,” she said, resuming breakfast, “it’s your college debt.”
 
###
 
The medieval Icelandic family sagas are a collection of stories about the earliest Norse settlers of Iceland, and while a good number of them are based in historically verifiable events, they nonetheless sound like daytime soaps as written by Ingmar Bergman. Families hold grudges for centuries, men murder for political advantage, women connive to use their husbands or fathers to bring glory to the family name, people marry and divorce and remarry, and their spouses all die under mysterious circumstances. There are also zombies and characters named “Thorgrim Cod-Biter” and “Ketil Flat-Nose.” If there was any cure for my failed premed year, this course was it.
 
But the thing that hooked me was the class during which my pro­fessor (who, with his neatly trimmed red beard and Oxbridge manner, would no doubt have been called Craig the Tweedy in one of the sagas) took us through the pronunciation of the Old Norse names.
 
We had just begun reading a saga whose main character is named Hrafnkell. I, like the rest of my classmates, assumed this unfortunate jumble of letters was pronounced \huh-RAW-funk-ul\ or \RAW-funk-ell\. No, no, the professor said. Old Norse has a different pronunciation convention. “Hrafnkell” should be pronounced—and the sounds that came out of his mouth are not able to be rendered in the twenty-six letters available to me here. The “Hraf” is a guttural, rolled \HRAHP\, as if you stopped a sprinter who was out of breath and clearing their throat and asked them to say “crap.” The - n-is a swallowed hum, a little break so your vocal cords are ready for the glorious flourish that is “-kell.” Imagine saying “blech”—the sound kids in commercials make when presented with a plate of steamed broccoli instead of Strawberry Choco-Bomb Crunch cereal. Now replace the /bl/ with a /k/ as in “kitten.” That is the pronunciation of “Hrafnkell.”
 
No one could get that last sound right; the whole class sounded like cats disgorging hair balls. “Ch, ch,” our professor said, and we dutifully mimicked: uch, uch. “I’m spitting all over myself,” one student complained, whereupon the professor brightened. “Yeah,” he chirped, “yeah, you’ve got it!”
 
That final double- l in Old Norse, he said, was called the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. “What?” I blurted, and he repeated: “voiceless alveolar lateral fricative.” He went on to say it was used in Welsh, too, but I was lost to his explanation, instead tumbling in and over that label. Voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. A sound that you make, that you give voice to, that is nonetheless called “voiceless” and that, when issued, can be aimed like a stream of chewing tobacco, laterally. And “fricative”—that sounded hopelessly, gorgeously obscene.
 
I approached the professor after class. I wanted, I told him, to major in this—Icelandic family sagas and weird pronunciations and whatever else there was.
 
“You could do medieval studies,” he suggested. “Old English is the best place to start.”

Product information

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Videos

Help others learn more about this product by uploading a video!
Upload video
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who bought this item also bought

Related posts

Customer reviews

4.6 out of 54.6 out of 5
583 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Hannah
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Sublime Romp
Reviewed in the United States on May 15, 2017
For many people, the dictionary is a relic once used by grandparents and is now, in its retirement, relegated to the dishonorable position of dust-covered doorstop. Lexicographers – those quiet, anti-social compilers of dictionaries – are, presumably, a thing of the past.... See more
For many people, the dictionary is a relic once used by grandparents and is now, in its retirement, relegated to the dishonorable position of dust-covered doorstop. Lexicographers – those quiet, anti-social compilers of dictionaries – are, presumably, a thing of the past. Not so, proclaims Kory Stamper, longstanding lexicographer for Merriam-Webster. In this rousing debut that unveils the complicated craft of defining words and the science of unearthing the etymological origins of their meaning, Stamper proves the dictionary is a lexical reference that’s long been taken for granted.

Stamper sets the tone in her opening chapter, giving readers a first taste of what’s to come: a candid portrayal of the ins and outs of lexicography, delivered with sharp wit and exactitude. Recalling the day she was hired by Merriam-Webster, Stamper invites readers to the hushed confines and inelegant cubicles of the “modest two-story brick building” in Springfield, Massachusetts where word mavens work, in some instances for months at a time, to extricate the definition, pronunciation, and etymological origin of individual words. Such work requires a reverence for the English language not found in the average person.

"Lexicographers spend a lifetime swimming through the English language in a way that no one else does; the very nature of lexicography demands it. English is a beautiful, bewildering language, and the deeper you dive into it, the more effort it takes to come up to the surface for air."

Wading through the English language to pinpoint the perfect definition of a word requires a noiseless work environment. The “weird sort of monastic” devotion lexicographers give to the English language, and their hallowed approach to the daily challenges of providing the public with an up-to-date dictionary, lends itself to a work space that demands people speak in whispers and celebrate their lexical triumphs with silent fist pumps. How else, Stamper asks, could a lexicographer be expected to determine the difference between the words measly, small, and teensy?

"There’s nothing worse than being just a syllable’s length away from the perfect, Platonic ideal of the definition for “measly,” being able to see it crouching in the shadows of your mind, only to have it skitter away when your co-worker begins a long and loud conversation that touches on the new coffee filters, his colonoscopy, and the chances that the Sox will go all the way this year."

Colonoscopies are just the beginning of Stamper’s comedic contributions. She blends sophistication with humor at every turn, making the act of reading about dictionaries an absolute delight. Stamper was drawn to the life of a lexicographer, she asserts, recounting an incident when she embarrassed her daughter in public:

“Are you taking pictures for work again?”
“Just one.”
“Oh my God,” [my daughter] moaned, “can you ever just, like, live like a normal person?”
“Hey, I didn’t choose the dictionary life – ”
“Just stop – ”
“ – the dictionary life – ”
“MOM –”
“ – chose me,” I finished, and she threw her head back and sighed in exasperation.

Many of Stamper’s amusing asides are delivered as footnotes, such as her reaction to the 1721 edition of Nathaniel Bailey’s An [sic] Universal Etymological English Dictionary, whose subtitle goes on for another two hundred and twenty-two words and garners Stamper’s facetious remark: "They sure don’t title dictionaries like they used to."

facetious \ fuh-see-shuh s \ adj: 1: not meant to be taken seriously or literally 2: amusing; humorous 3: lacking serious intent; concerned with something nonessential, amusing, or frivolous.

It stands to reason that a person who specializes in defining words would demonstrate an exemplary understanding of the English language, and Stamper more than proves herself a talented wordsmith. Her use of ten-dollar words is employed in a friendly manner. Some words are defined in the footnotes, while others remain undefined and will, fittingly, send many readers running to the dictionary. While the procedure for compiling defined words into a viable resource is fascinating, Word by Word would not be as entertaining were it not infused with Stamper’s snarky personality.

The work of a lexicographer, however, requires that the person – rather, the lexicographer’s personality – be removed from the equation. “You must set aside your own linguistic and lexical prejudices about what makes a word worthy, beautiful, or right, to tell the truth about language,” Stamper explains, because writing definitions isn’t about making hard and fast rules for a word – as so many people are inclined to think – but rather, it’s an act of recording how words are being used in speech and, more importantly, in publications.

The common misperception that lexicographers are the definitive authority on the English language – whose definitions and pronunciations of words are akin to law ordained by divine beings – has resulted in more than a few letters being sent by confused or outraged individuals to Merriam-Webster’s physical and digital inboxes. Perhaps the most compelling example of this concerns the 2003 release of the Eleventh Collegiate dictionary in which the word “marriage” was redefined to include the sub-sense (a secondary meaning of a word): "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage." This new sub-sense was added because in the late 1990’s, when revisions to the Collegiate Dictionary began, the issue of same-sex marriage was widely debated, prevalent not just in speech but also in nearly every major news publication.

Six years after its publication, one person noticed the new sub-sense in the Eleventh Collegiate dictionary’s definition of “marriage,” took offense to it, and launched a fiery write-in campaign that inundated Stamper’s inbox with hundreds of complaints and accusations against Merriam-Webster, along with numerous threats to harm Stamper. These angry letter-writers maintained a strident adherence to the misconception that lexicographers somehow shape language, culture, and religion. Further, they failed to understand that the very act of writing about gay marriage (regardless of the vehemence they assigned to the idea of same-sex couples being legally wed) worked to create citational evidence of the word “marriage” being widely used in relation to gay couples. In other words, the efforts made by the appalled letter-writers indirectly worked to validate that the word “marriage” had, in fact, been due for a revisal of its definition to encompass its many usages.

From dealing with irate letter-writers to spending months teasing out the proper definition of overly complicated words like “is” or “a,” the work of a lexicographer is thankless. Lexicographers don’t have their names assigned to the dictionaries on which they work tirelessly. And the English language, fluid in nature and ever changing, never stops demanding that dedicated word connoisseurs hunch over their desks and puzzle out the most effective definition to encapsulate a words new usage.

"When the dictionary finally hits the market, there is no grand party or celebration. (Too loud, too social.) We’re already working on the next update to that dictionary, because language has moved on. There will never be a break. A dictionary is out of date the minute that it’s done."

Word by Word is a sublime romp through the secret life of dictionaries; a guaranteed rapturous read for word lovers, grammar fanatics, and linguists.
44 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Mal Warwick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
If you love language, you''ll be enchanted by this brilliant and funny book.
Reviewed in the United States on June 20, 2017
When you think of dictionaries, chances are good the ones that would come to mind are the Merriam-Webster Collegiate and the Oxford English Dictionary (as well as whatever comes up online). Did I get that right? Certainly, those are the two most commonly consulted by... See more
When you think of dictionaries, chances are good the ones that would come to mind are the Merriam-Webster Collegiate and the Oxford English Dictionary (as well as whatever comes up online). Did I get that right? Certainly, those are the two most commonly consulted by educated American readers. If you''re a curious sort, you might wonder how all the words and definitions find their way into the pages of those dictionaries. Well, wonder no more! The lexicographer Kory Stamper of Merriam-Webster, Inc., has written Word by Word, a delightfully profane and often hilarious account of how she and her colleagues work to update their dictionaries, not just the Collegiate but the online Merriam-Webster Unabridged as well (the successor to the old Webster''s Third New International Dictionary).

Stamper is passionate about her work. "The more I learned," she writes, " the more I fell in love with this wild, vibrant whore of a language." Her book abounds with charming examples of the intensity she and other Merriam-Webster editors bring to their jobs. And no wonder: it''s clearly hard work.

Unless you''re already familiar with the ways and means of lexicography, you''ll be amazed at the extraordinary pains the Merriam-Webster staff sometimes takes simply to define a single word. "By the time a word is put in print either on the page or online, it''s generally been seen by a minimum of ten editors." Stamper describes the process, step by step, in language so lively you''ll never think about the world of dictionaries as stuffy ever again. "What appears to be a straightforward word ends up being a linguistic fun house of doors that open into air and staircases that lead nowhere," she writes. For example, at one point Stamper''s job was to revise the definition of "take." That seemingly simple word, it turns out, means twenty different things. Sorting through all the citations set aside to illustrate those different definitions was a Herculean task. It required "a month of nonstop editorial work." But when Stamper bragged (or complained) to a table-full of editors at a dinner about the length of time she''d invested in a single word, a lexicographer from the Oxford English Dictionary was amused: "''I revised "run," he said quietly, then smiled. ''It took me nine months.''" Stamper explains: "Of course it [took nine months]. In the OED, "run" has over six hundred separate senses [definitions] . . ."

And yet language, especially English, changes far more quickly than lexicographers could ever possibly keep up, Stamper explains. "A dictionary is out of date the minute that it''s done."

In an extended discussion of English grammar, Stamper will disabuse you of any lingering notion that ours is a tidy and rational language. With example after example, she demonstrates the sheer illogic of the rules of grammar. "[W]here do these rules come from, if not from actual use?" she asks. "Most of them are the personal peeves, codified into law, of dead white men of yore . . . Standard English as it is presented by grammarians and pedants is a dialect that is based on a mostly fictional, static, and Platonic ideal of usage." (The italics are Stamper''s.)

Throughout her book, Stamper is free with profanity. For example, she drops the "f-bomb" 17 times. At one point she explains that the profanity is to make her come across as cooler than she is.

There are plenty of surprises in Word by Word. "As you go through the written record, you''ll find that Shakespeare used double negatives and Jane Austen used ''ain''t.'' You''ll find that new and disputed coinages have come in and have not taken away from the language as it was used, but added to it; that words previously considered horrendous or ugly—words like ''can''t''—are now unremarkable."

If you love language, you''ll be enchanted by this brilliant and funny book.
21 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Lexicography can be fun
Reviewed in the United States on January 24, 2018
One of the best reads I''ve had in a long, long time. Never knew lexicography could be so interesting - but a good storyteller with a wicked sense of humor helps. I''ve owned printed dictionaries before (even had a copy of the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica once) but... See more
One of the best reads I''ve had in a long, long time. Never knew lexicography could be so interesting - but a good storyteller with a wicked sense of humor helps. I''ve owned printed dictionaries before (even had a copy of the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica once) but seldom used them for jobs other than holding doors open. Now I really understand what they do and why one needs them. I now find myself far more discerning about exact usages and really love where this "mongrel" English language has been rummaging through history. I particularly like the sense of freedom I now have speaking "me" and feel liberated from the so-called "peeves of dead old white men". You have to read the book to understand that last comment. It''s a wink to the author from me.
18 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Gary Moreau, Author
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Don''t judge this book by its cover. It is much, much more.
Reviewed in the United States on March 3, 2021
Whatever you think this book is about based on the cover and title of this book, it’s not that. It’s far better. Kory Stamper is a lexicographer and if you have a dictionary nearby you will find out that means she helps to write dictionaries, perhaps even the one... See more
Whatever you think this book is about based on the cover and title of this book, it’s not that. It’s far better.

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer and if you have a dictionary nearby you will find out that means she helps to write dictionaries, perhaps even the one you just used to find out what, in fact, she does. She is an editor at Merriam-Webster.

The book does talk a lot about the actual process of writing a dictionary, which is far more fascinating than you are probably expecting. And hard. It is, as she notes, a craft that requires some initial talent that must then be honed over years of actually doing the work – all under a deadline.

She’s a good writer, as you would expect, but she is really, really funny, as in ha ha, not odd. (I did that for the lexicographers who might read this – clarity and all that.) It is a wry, dry, airy, whatever kind of humor. I am not a lexicographer. But I do enjoy words and I LOL’d on numerous occasions.

I particularly enjoyed a passage in the book where she talks about the history of dictionaries. “The first book that scholars will call a proper monolingual English dictionary is the 1604 A Table Alphabelitcall… by Robert Cawdrey.” In his opening letter to readers he notes, “Doth any wise man think, that wit resteth in strange words…? Do we not speak, because we would haue others vnderstand vs?”

I immediately thought back to a comment made to me some years ago. My wife is Chinese and did not begin to learn English until she was well into her forties. And in my opinion she does amazingly well. (Much better than I have done in learning Mandarin.) Well enough, in fact, that I understand her as well as I understand any native English speaker.

Nonetheless, she speaks in a dialect often referred to as Chinglish. When she speaks, therefore, some native English speakers will act as if they don’t understand a word she says and look to me for translation.

I help her with her vocabulary, without judgment, but I don’t correct her when I believe that her meaning should be clear to anyone who takes the time to listen. (Most don’t.) One day, however, we happened to run into a Chinese friend of ours who teaches a STEM subject at a local college in the US and joined him for lunch. After a few minutes I noticed that he was interrupting my wife quite often to correct her English grammar. And as we departed he said to me, “You really should correct her grammar more often. How else will she learn? And if she doesn’t she will always be regarded here (i.e. America) as somehow intellectually inferior.”

I have mulled that comment ever since. He’s right, of course, but no, I didn’t take his admonition (it was stronger than advice) to heart. Because I believe that the person being spoken to has an obligation to listen. And if you listen, and are a bit flexible in the notion that how you speak is the only proper way to speak, then you will understand a lot more than you do. And that works, by the way, even if the speaker uses the same dialect that you do and their grammar is perfect. (Our problems, generally, are not lingual so much as the fact that we just don’t listen to each other.)

It’s not just an American problem, by the way. I tried to learn Mandarin. But in a country of 1.4 billion people there are very few foreigners, and only a small percent of those speak Mandarin fluently. The Chinese, as a result, assume that all foreigners, and we are easy to spot, are speaking in their native tongue, which the Chinese seldom understand. As a result, when I spoke to a Chinese person in my novice Mandarin they would not have a clue what I was trying to say. When they finally understood, however, they would tell me how to say it in proper Mandarin. And guess what, it was exactly what I had said, tones and all.

I asked several of my bilingual Chinese friends about this over time and the reply was always immediate and the same. “They thought you were speaking English.”

Which segues quite nicely into a second pet peeve that Kory apparently shares. Words are not a product of nature, like rain or oxygen. We made them up. All of them. They are mere symbols developed to help us communicate more easily and more efficiently.

As a result, it is difficult to say that anything relating to words and grammar is right or wrong in any biblical sense. The ultimate standard by which we should evaluate all written and spoken language is the degree to which true intent is understood. And that, in the end, is what dictionaries are designed to help us achieve. They are not the Atomic Chart of words. Nor are they the rulebook of lingual chess. Unlike these two reference tools, however, they do hold a mirror to society and its history. And in that sense they can make for very interesting and informative reading.

She also set my mind at ease regarding pronouns. I am well into my seventh decade of life so when I was at the age to learn about such things my teachers always insisted that he and she were singular and they was plural. In this day and age, however, we’re advised to ask someone which pronouns they prefer when first meeting them. But that’s just not practical. I won’t remember their name, much less their preferred pronouns, and it seems a very wasteful use of my dwindling brainpower to try.

I never use he any more and I’m fine with that. I get it. But I can’t quite bring myself to use she as my generic pronoun. It seems like you''re over-compensating. And he or she, of course, is just too cumbersome and wasteful. As a result, therefore, I seldom use pronouns anymore. I write around them. That, however, often leads to lingual waste, which is not much better than using the wrong pronoun.

But she is all for they as both the singular and the plural pronoun of choice and offers a convincing amount of evidence that there is historical precedent for this. I’m in. If I solve no other dilemmas this week it will have been a very productive week indeed.

I love words. I read books by the armful. And I have written a few, although none has sold more than a handful. (The publishers tell me that''s because I don’t have a marketing platform. "Thanks for all your help.") I have spent my entire career in the embrace of industry, meaning companies that actually make things using lots of very intimidating machinery.

I purchased this book because it seemed to promise a perspective similar to my own – words as fun and interesting. My own experience with the experts hasn’t always been so. When I ventured into the English curriculum (I was a mathematics major) during my freshman year at a prestigious liberal arts college I got an F on my first homework assignment. The assignment was simple enough. Define fun. And to this day I don’t understand the criticism the professor scrawled in bold red ink at the top of my submission.

Later, when I decided I really wanted to write, despite my obvious inability to define fun, I relied on my mother-in-law, a retired high school English teacher with a master’s degree to reinforce her cred, as they would say in some contemporary dialects. She refused to work electronically, so I would send her printed copies of my work and she would send me back my printed hopes and dreams marked up with a red pen. And without fail she included the comment that she had limited her comments to only the most egregious and inexcusable mistakes in the interest of time and ink. It was deflating, to be sure, since I saw red everywhere.

I believe Kory would acknowledge that she was born with that gene. After years of being a lexicographer, however, she has apparently softened her perspective. She even accepts the use of the word irregardless, which most people who worship at the altar of proper English continue to scoff at. I try not to use it and agree that it is not a word as it is a double negative and therefore meaningless. I wonder, however, if the problem isn’t our use and definition of “ir” rather than the jumble that is irregardless. Same with “un”, I believe, as in our apparently acceptable use of the word uneducated. That may not be a double negative, but it is an internal contradiction. We’re all educated in something.

At any rate, I had great fun reading this book and believe you will too. Kory is a very good writer and must be brave as well. Imagine publishing a book about dictionaries knowing that all of your fellow lexicographers will read it. They do sound like a pretty good bunch, however, so maybe they will keep the red pens on the desk. (Figuratively speaking, of course, in this age of computers.)
3 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Tasha Martin
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I heartily recommend this book
Reviewed in the United States on March 14, 2017
I heartily recommend this book; Kory is utterly hilarious, and there''s a lot of interesting background about language in there as well. I didn''t think it was possible to make lexicography as amusing as she did. She is a brilliant writer and a talented lexicographer who has... See more
I heartily recommend this book; Kory is utterly hilarious, and there''s a lot of interesting background about language in there as well. I didn''t think it was possible to make lexicography as amusing as she did. She is a brilliant writer and a talented lexicographer who has managed to sum up both the transcendental joy in working with words and the moments of frustration (and occasional despair).

This book is a distillation of all of the best parts of the job; it made me fiercely miss being a lexicographer, but it was 100% accurate.
51 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Sam Clemens
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Great Read, but her position seems less than authoritative.
Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2019
This is a fascinating book by a Merriam-Webster lexicographer. Yet, to my dismay...according to my taste, experience and determination)...she often comes down too much on the liberal-permissive side of questions. E.g., she claims she used to dislike the word "irregardless,"... See more
This is a fascinating book by a Merriam-Webster lexicographer. Yet, to my dismay...according to my taste, experience and determination)...she often comes down too much on the liberal-permissive side of questions. E.g., she claims she used to dislike the word "irregardless," but eventually had a kind of epiphany and now fully embraces it. Hmmm. She tells us that one legit. pronunciation of "nuclear" is "nucular." As someone who has worked in broadcast radio and values ''Standard American English"...No, no, I DON''T buy that. Come to think of it, she also accepts "Ebonics" as legitimate speech...yikes!!

So, a fun book, but we OFTEN disagree...and I do have that radio education and experience, as well as more than twenty years as a medical professional...and--OFTEN--No Dice!!! Oh, I am ALSO a dialectician (and very much enjoy dialects), but this STILL does not excuse many "nonstandard" entries in this book (and in her company''s dictionary).

Let me put this another way: As a "living thing," I think a language must have SOME "fluidity," and be accepted as undergoing a certain amount of change (and growth) over time, but--for me--Stamper goes WAY over the TOP!!!..and frankly, this baffles me. Her stance seems similar to that of folks who have accepted EXTREME "cultural relativism." For a much more balanced approach, I recommend Garner''s books on proper English usage.
3 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Patrick McGraw
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Samuel Johnson Lives Again in Kory Stamper
Reviewed in the United States on August 11, 2017
This is a well-written, drily humorous book written by someone who loves words. For instance, the author tells the reader that sex and adventure are not why people consult a dictionary--that is what encyclopedias are for. Her understated wit, however, is only icing on the... See more
This is a well-written, drily humorous book written by someone who loves words. For instance, the author tells the reader that sex and adventure are not why people consult a dictionary--that is what encyclopedias are for. Her understated wit, however, is only icing on the cake. I had no idea how complicated the editing of a dictionary could be or how many steps the publisher has to go through in order to produce a new edition. The best payoff to reading the book, however, is that I learned a bunch of new words, always defined in the book. The author taught me more words in one book than Patrick O''Brien ever did. Though not as exciting as an Aubrey/Maturin novel, Word by Word is an enjoyable read. I first heard about the book on A Way with Words, the NPR radio program. If you are a fan of that show (or should be), this is the book for you.
9 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Zachary C. Jackson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A book that feels like finding home
Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2019
"We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the go*****ed... See more
"We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the go*****ed electrical sockets. We dress it in fancy clothes and tell it to behave, and it comes home with its underwear on its head and wearing someone else’s socks. As English grows, it lives its own life, and this is right and healthy. Sometimes English does exactly what we think it should; sometimes it goes places we don’t like and thrives there in spite of all our worrying. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like Latin; we can throw tantrums and start learning French instead. But we will never really be the boss of it. And that’s why it flourishes."

I''m sure my wife hates when I read books like this because I interrupt her every 3 minutes to read another amazing passage. If you are a lover of language, you will find a home in this book that you didn''t realize you were missing. She makes fools of "grammar nazis" and anyone who imagines that there is one correct way of speaking English while also reveling in the untold multitudes of rules that govern our mess of a language. It''s a sarcastic, endearing, and loving tribute to the English language and those who would seek to explain it.
One person found this helpful
Helpful
Report

Top reviews from other countries

SW
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 6, 2017
This book is absolutely wonderful. It''s so well written — really informative and full of erudition. But although it possesses both those characteristics, it''s never dull — and it could well have been very dull indeed. Quite to the contrary, in fact; this book is chock a...See more
This book is absolutely wonderful. It''s so well written — really informative and full of erudition. But although it possesses both those characteristics, it''s never dull — and it could well have been very dull indeed. Quite to the contrary, in fact; this book is chock a block full of humor. I haven''t laughed out loud while reading a book like this for years. And make no mistake, this is a serious book! There are individual words and chapters that are gems — the chapter on pronunciation and the discussion on the definition of marriage are good examples. It''s a book that should be read by anyone with a layman''s interest in the English language. Bravo! (mid 18th century: from French, from Italian, literally ‘bold’ (see brave)
2 people found this helpful
Report
Nauti
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Could have been better
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 28, 2020
I knew nothing about lexicography and the world of dictionaries before reading this book. So it was definitely a worthwhile endeavour. But “endeavour” is what it felt like! The writing is dry and there isn’t an overarching narrative - just a collection of many anecdotes....See more
I knew nothing about lexicography and the world of dictionaries before reading this book. So it was definitely a worthwhile endeavour. But “endeavour” is what it felt like! The writing is dry and there isn’t an overarching narrative - just a collection of many anecdotes. But it did inspire me to look for a “grown up” dictionary and having done my research I settled on The Chamber’s 13th edition !
Report
Kay Niyazi
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 20, 2017
Brilliantly insightful to the heroic life of the lexographer
Report
Manuel Fernandes
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great insights into dictionary making
Reviewed in India on August 17, 2018
''Word by Word: The secret life of dictionaries'' by Kory Stamper, who spent almost two decades writing dictionaries at Merriam Webster, is a must-read for all those interested in the English language; and those who are not, read it anyway, you just might get interested....See more
''Word by Word: The secret life of dictionaries'' by Kory Stamper, who spent almost two decades writing dictionaries at Merriam Webster, is a must-read for all those interested in the English language; and those who are not, read it anyway, you just might get interested. Drawing from her extensive experience, Ms. Stamper takes you in a highly entertaining manner through the process of defining words. The 300-page paperback covers all the serious stuff like the eight parts of speech (POS, “which also stands for ''piece of shit''”, she says), pronunciation, spelling, small words, bad words, wrong words, and the rest lucidly and with rare humour. Talking of MW''s need for native English speakers as lexicographers, she says, “You need to know without being told that ''the cat are yowling'' is not grammatically correct whereas ''the crowd are loving it'' is just very British.” I am loving the book.
6 people found this helpful
Report
Mark Richards
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
this book is great. If all of that sounds incredibly boring
Reviewed in Canada on January 8, 2018
If you are interested in how dictionaries are made, or linguistics in practice, or think you might be, this book is great. If all of that sounds incredibly boring, you''re in the wrong place. I really enjoyed reading this and my only complaint is that the book is too short...See more
If you are interested in how dictionaries are made, or linguistics in practice, or think you might be, this book is great. If all of that sounds incredibly boring, you''re in the wrong place. I really enjoyed reading this and my only complaint is that the book is too short and doesn''t contain amusing anecdotes for every single entry in the dictionary.
Report
See all reviews
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who viewed this item also viewed

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Explore similar books

Tags that will help you discover similar books. 12 tags
Results for: 
Where do clickable book tags come from?
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Pages with related products.

  • funny history books
  • Best etymology for kids
  • word dictionary
  • Explore words of life for adults

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale

Word by Word: The online sale outlet online sale Secret Life of Dictionaries outlet sale