Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

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“We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the goddamned electrical sockets.”
 
With wit and irreverence, lexicographer Kory Stamper cracks open the obsessive world of dictionary writing, from the agonizing decisions about what to define and how to do it to the knotty questions of ever-changing word usage.
 
Filled with fun facts—for example, the first documented usage of “OMG” was in a letter to Winston Churchill—and Stamper’s own stories from the linguistic front lines (including how she became America’s foremost “irregardless” apologist, despite loathing the word), Word by Word is an endlessly entertaining look at the wonderful complexities and eccentricities of the English language.
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About the author

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer who spent almost two decades writing dictionaries at Merriam-Webster. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Washington Post, and she blogs regularly on language and lexicography at www.korystamper.com.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Mar 14, 2017
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9781101870952
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Language Arts & Disciplines / Lexicography
Reference / Dictionaries
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Do, or should, dictionaries control language? How do they treat language change, both now and in the past? Which words do dictionaries leave out - and on what grounds? Dictionaries are far more than works which list the words and meanings of a language. In this Very Short Introduction Lynda Mugglestone shows that all dictionaries are partial and all are selective. They are human products, reflecting the dominant social and cultural assumptions of the time in which they were written. Dictionaries exist then not only as works which seek to document language, but also as cultural documents that are connected to the world in which they were produced. Exploring common beliefs about dictionaries, providing glimpses of behind the scenes dictionary makers at work, and confronting the problems of how a word is to be defined, Mugglestone shows that dictionaries are always, and inevitably, more than the crafting of a simple list of words. Concluding with a look at the range of modern dictionaries and transformations, from online dictionaries such as urbandictionary.com or wictionary to txt-spk and slang, she reveals the controversial nature of the debates about communication and language, showing that only in written and spoken English does the language of dictionaries exist in full. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Current Projects in Historical Lexicography brings together seven papers by present and recent editors of historical dictionaries and lexical databases.

The collection is introduced with an overview of the history of historical lexicography from the ancient world to the present day, with particular emphasis on the major nineteenth-century dictionaries of German, French, English, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish, and on their successors. In the first paper, Javier Martín Arista describes the present state of, and the prospects for, the Nerthus lexical database of Old English. The next two introduce specialized dictionaries of the language of medieval and early modern texts: Fernando Tejedo-Herrero’s comprehensive dictionary of the language of the great thirteenth-century lawcode Siete Partidas, and Juhani Norri’s Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375–1530. Marijke Mooijaart’s paper discusses the online integration of the four historical dictionaries which cover Dutch from the earliest times to the twentieth century. The next two papers, Stefan Dollinger on the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles and the Bank of Canadian English, and Maggie Scott on the Concise Scots Dictionary, describe projects to revise twentieth-century historical dictionaries as the language varieties which they register evolve. Finally, Jeremy Bergerson’s paper presents a project for an etymologically rich historical dictionary of Afrikaans. An appendix to the volume comprises two previously unpublished short documents by Katherine Barber and John Considine which bear on the history of the Dictionary of Canadianisms revision project.

The contributions to this volume offer a rare set of insights into ongoing lexicographical work, addressing both methodological issues such as inclusion criteria and the balance between diachronic and synchronic coverage, and practical issues such as publication media and funding.

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