Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

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US hardcover, 1st edition.

Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries is a book about lexicography by Kory Stamper. In it, she describes in detail the process lexicographers use to create dictionaries including how to determine if a word is worthy of an entry word, how to classify them, and how to write and change definitions over time. The books also includes a mini biography of Stamper's life and work at Merriam-Webster and some of the more interesting and controversial words she's had to work on.


Being a fan of words and dictionaries, I started reading this book. After only a short way into it I was already loving it, so I quickly read through the rest of it and found it very enjoyable.


I don't own this book, but I have listened to the audio book.



  • The book is enjoyable to read. Stamper has a comfortable writing style and uses a lot of colloquialisms and doesn't shy from colorful curse words when the situation calls for it.
  • After reading this book, I came away with a much better understanding and appreciation of the language, the writing, and the science of trying to understand it.
  • Stamper uses a wide array of vocabulary throughout the book. Although, as a lexicographer, it would be criminal if she did not.
  • Stamper does a good job explaining the basics of the English language including grammar, word usage, and the various categories we use to describe them. She also neatly explains the job of a lexicographer and how it can be unexpectedly difficult.
  • Stamper makes a great case for descriptive rather than prescriptive English, explains why respelling words to match their pronunciation is a doomed prospect, and discusses why English is nourished by dialects, especially those viewed as inferior, and points out how the hatred of dialects is often a dog whistle.
  • The audio book is read by the author, who sounds not unlike Tracy Grandstaff, the voice actor of Daria from the show Daria.
  • It was interesting hearing about all the shit Stamper had to deal with answering the hundreds of emails from people who either suck at English, or don't understand what a dictionary is.


  • Nothing.


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Interview - The A.V. Club.
Book lecture.
Book lecture.