While most of us might take dictionaries for granted, the process of writing them 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 small words are the most difficult to define (have you ever tried to define “is”?), 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 world inhabited by quirky, erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate. A sure delight for all lovers of words, Word by Word might also quietly improve readers’ grasp and use of the English language.
“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
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, The New York Times, and on Slate.com.