Nakul's Reviews > Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

Word by Word by Kory Stamper
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it was amazing
bookshelves: funny, favorites


Okay, now that I have your attention, I can elaborate. I heard about this book on a podcast, and I thought I should give it a try. I love that I made this decision.

Word by Word is a book about dictionaries, how they are written and edited. It is about the history of making dictionaries, of defining words, of etymology. It is also a comprehensive look into the fascinating life of a lexicographer and a peek into the esteemed halls of the Merriam-Webster office. And most of all, it is a book about the English language - its many captivating words, its beguiling history - written by someone who is clearly devoted to it.

Kory Stamper, who clearly has her way with words, weaves a compelling narrative on what it is like to define words and work with them on a daily basis. She paints an enticing picture of the Merriam-Webster office, with its "Rule of Silence" (capitalized) and weirdly affable people. I know the last words you would use to describe a book on dictionaries is 'page-turner', but Word by Word really is. Kory breaks down a day in the life, and how she uses her 'sprachgefuhl' to document how the world is speaking today.

This is written by a person who is clearly at the top of her craft, and loves it too. It helps that the book has dollops of wit and wry humor, and is full of amazing anecdotes from her life at the office. "We think that we have the right to go through the photo album of English's life and throw away the pictures that don't make sense - blurred pictures, or snaps from that unfortunate stage when it was surly and uncooperative. But those deviations from the plumb line contain surprises and delights not just about English but about the world we live in". Lovely prose that gives you a renowned respect for the dictionary and the people behind it.

The sincerity with which the lexicographers approach their craft makes me happy and jealous. "I told him I'd take the job, and I walked down to the wharf, sat there, and looked at the ocean, just feeling like my life was about to being. It was the damnedest thing". The book left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling for all the people in it, and a ton of new thoughts, ideas and respect. I will chew on this book for the longest time.
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Quotes Nakul Liked

Kory Stamper
“When a lexicographer says “unless…” in the middle of defining, you should turn out the lights and go home, first making sure you’ve left them a supply of water and enough nonperishable food to last several days. “Unless…” almost always marks the beginning of a wild lexical goose chase.”
Kory Stamper, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

Reading Progress

January 15, 2018 – Shelved
January 15, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
March 25, 2018 – Shelved as: funny
March 25, 2018 – Shelved as: favorites
March 25, 2018 – Finished Reading

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