Book Review: Word by Word

I get it, I have an odd reading penchant. Word by Word, the Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper is an excellent example of my need to know something about everything. Oooh a book on lexicography, I know jack all about lexicography, I should read that.

Basic Summary(Courtesy of Amazon):

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.

My thoughts:

It’s been a while since I read a book that had me laughing so hard I cried, gasping for breath. I’m being totally serious here. This book was hysterical.

It’s a lot of detail about words and how they come to be defined. Some of that is more interesting than other parts, but you can skim pretty easy over the too much sections and still laugh your a** off in the funny parts, which are numerous.

This is a great book if you like to learn about new things in a way that won’t make you want to gouge your own eyes out.

Side note to help the lexicographers out: Dictionaries to do not make words, they are not the arbiters of how words should be used, they record how a word is already used in written context. As Stamper points out, removing or adding a word does not actually change society. If it did, don’t you think they would have removed the word murder years ago?