Word By Word
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Word By Word : The Secret Life of Dictionaries

4.21 (1,808 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

Do you have strong feelings about the word "irregardless"? Have you ever tried to define the word "is"? Brimming with intelligence and personality, this vastly entertaining account of how dictionaries are made is a must-read for word mavens. 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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 152 x 214 x 28mm | 482g
  • Random House USA Inc
  • PANTHEON
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 110187094X
  • 9781101870945
  • 7,443

Review quote

"A satisfying dip in the ocean of words and a thoughtful consideration of current American English and dictionaries. Hungry word lovers will find this book a delicious, multicourse meal of word lore... The real appeal is in the charming stories of the words and the personally guided tour of the Merriam-Webster editorial process, told in Stamper's fresh and funny voice."
--Library Journal (Starred Review)
"A witty, sly, occasionally profane behind-the-scenes tour aimed at deposing the notion of 'real and proper English'... Stamper corrals [words] to her purpose with such aplomb that readers might just feel like applauding. For those who love language, this debut...will be a delectable feast."
--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Neatly and wittily covers grammar... A smart, sparkling and often hilarious valentine to the content and keepers of dictionaries. Most people use a dictionary with little thought given to the genesis of definitions, or their maintenance. Stamper pulls back the curtain in Word by Word."
--Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness for Readers
"[M]arvelous insight into the messy world behind the tidy definitions on the page... Lexicography is not sexy, but in this spirited book about the science and art of making dictionaries, it is 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. What is surprising is how enjoyable she makes reading about the drudgery of dictionary making. Seen through Stamper's eyes, a dictionary is not only a reference source, but also a living linguistic record and a window into history."
--Bridget Thoreson, Booklist
"[Stamper] loves her work, and her enthusiasm adds a real zest to her tales of usage... Big-time Scrabble fans will love this book."
--Kirkus
"As a writer, Kory Stamper can do anything with words: define them, split them, lump them, agglute them, and make them work for her every bit as ferociously and precisely as she works for them in her day job as a far from mild-mannered lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. You will never take a dictionary entry for granted again."
--Mary Norris, bestselling author of Between You & Me
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About Kory Stamper

KORY STAMPER is a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, where she also writes, edits, and appears in the "Ask the Editor" video series. She blogs regularly on language and lexicography at www.korystamper.com, and her writing has appeared in The Guardian and The New York Times, and on Slate.com.
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Table of contents

Preface xi

HRAFNKELL: On Falling in Love 3
BUT: On Grammar 23
IT’S: On “Grammar” 38
IRREGARDLESS: On Wrong Words 52
CORPUS: On Collecting the Bones 68
SURFBOARD: On Defining 94
PRAGMATIC: On Examples 125
TAKE: On Small Words 136
BITCH: On Bad Words 149
POSH: On Etymology and Linguistic Originalism 169
AMERICAN DREAM: On Dates 189
NUCLEAR: On Pronunciation 199
NUDE: On Correspondence 216
MARRIAGE: On Authority and the Dictionary 230
EPILOGUE: The Damnedest Thing 255

Acknowledgments 263
Notes 265
Bibliography 275
Index 281
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Review Text

"As a writer, Kory Stamper can do anything with words: define them, split them, lump them, agglute them, and make them work for her every bit as ferociously and precisely as she works for them in her day job as a far from mild-mannered lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. You will never take a dictionary entry for granted again." -Mary Norris, bestselling author of Between You & Me

"A love letter to letters themselves... A cheerful and thoughtful rebuke of the cult of the grammar scolds. Stamper [is] a wry and charming correspondent. Word by Word is, like a dictionary itself, a composite affair: It's a memoir that is also an explanation of the work that writing a dictionary entails." -Megan Garber, The Atlantic

"An unlikely page-turner...Stamper displays a contagious enthusiasm for words...Illuminating." -The New Yorker

"Delightful... Informed, irreverent and witty...A gloriously (occasionally even uproariously) well written book, and unsurprisingly erudite. Do read [Word by Word]." -Stevie Godson, New York Journal of Books
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Rating details

1,808 ratings
4.21 out of 5 stars
5 42% (762)
4 41% (735)
3 14% (250)
2 3% (51)
1 1% (10)
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