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Many of us take dictionaries for granted, and few may realize that 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 to define and how to do it, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why 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. And along the way, she reveals little-known surprises--for example, the fact that "OMG" was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917.
Word by Word brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a startlingly rich world inhabited by quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate. Certain to be a delight for all lovers of words, Stamper's debut will make you laugh as much as it makes you appreciate the wonderful complexities and eccentricities of the English language.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-12-05
- Reviewer: Staff
For those who love language, this debut from Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, will be a delectable feast. Stamper, who also produces the dictionarys Ask the Editor video series, has drawn up a witty, sly, occasionally profane behind-the-scenes tour aimed at deposing the notion of real and proper English and replacing it with a genuine appreciation for the glories and frustrations of finding just the right word. Stamper claims to approach her subject irreverently, and she certainly does make fun of both language and those who peddle it for a living. But her teasing is belied by a real devotion to its spirit, if not to the letter of all the stuffy so-called laws. Liberally employing a host of wonderful wordsfoofaraw, potamologistshe declaims elegantly on the beauty and necessity of dialect, how to evaluate emerging words, and many other topics. Stamper is at her best when entertaining the reader with amusing etymologies, celebrating the contentiousness of grammar, and quoting annoying emails from an opinionated public. If she bogs down occasionally in the swamps of industry jargon, its easy to forgive her. As one of her colleagues notes, Words are stubborn little fuckers. However, Stamper corrals them to her purpose with such aplomb that readers might just feel like applauding. Agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent. (Mar.)