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Word by Word summary

Kory Stamper

The Secret Life of Dictionaries

4.3 (12 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Word by Word by Kory Stamper provides fascinating insights into the world of dictionary-making. Stamper’s humor and knowledge make this a must-read for any word lover, detailing the complexities and art of defining words and the evolving nature of language itself.

Table of Contents

    Word by Word
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 8

    For people whose job it is to research words and communication, lexicographers sure love silence.

    Choosing a career path is never easy, and it’s something a lot of people struggle with. But how’s this for an idea: the discipline of lexicography, or dictionary writing.

    Lexicographers are a rare breed. After all, dictionary writing is not an expanding industry; just think of the last time you bought a dictionary, or even used one. It was probably years ago, if you can even remember.

    But then again, lexicography was hardly a mainstream profession even in its heyday. Those who became lexicographers often didn't originally plan to do so – mostly because not many people know about lexicography in the first place!

    However, if a job does open up, and you’re one of the rare few who finds this kind of work appealing, then there’s a good chance of getting it. The only things lexicographers need are a good command of English and a university degree of some kind – any kind.

    It really doesn’t matter what you studied, as there’s no limit to the diversity of the English language. If you’re about to define a load of mathematical terms, then a mathematician rather than an English major is much more likely to cut the mustard.

    All this means that lexicographers are a rather mixed bunch, from sports enthusiasts to queer studies specialists.

    That being said, lexicography is not an ideal profession for social people, as it often involves sitting alone in absolute silence for hours at a time.

    In fact, when the author applied to work at Merriam-Webster, she was specifically told not to expect social interaction. She was brought to the editorial floor where everyone was busy beavering away in individual cubicles. The silence was deafening.

    And this is exactly what makes it the perfect job for a linguistic nerd. You’ll get to sit in silence thinking about words all day long.

    But it's not all about words. In the next blink, let’s look at the role of grammar in lexicography.

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    What is Word by Word about?

    Word by Word (2017) is about an object, and its associated profession, for which people rarely spare a thought: dictionaries and the honorable occupation of lexicography. Kory Stamper introduces the fascinating world of word classification through her own experience at Merriam-Webster, showing what dictionaries can do and, just as importantly, what they don’t.

    Word by Word Review

    Word by Word (2017) by Kory Stamper is an intriguing exploration of the complex and ever-evolving nature of the English language. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With insightful anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories from the world of lexicography, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the making of dictionaries.
    • Stamper's passionate advocacy for the importance of language and her nuanced exploration of its nuances make this book a compelling read for word enthusiasts.
    • Through a humorous and approachable style, Stamper brings seemingly mundane words to life, revealing the hidden stories and layers of meaning behind them.

    Best quote from Word by Word

    Office chitchat of the sort youre used to is not conducive to good lexicography. – Fred Mish, former editor-in-chief of Merriam-Webster

    —Kory Stamper
    example alt text

    Who should read Word by Word?

    • Language enthusiasts and linguistics nerds
    • Lovers of English literature
    • Anyone hoping to get a new perspective on underappreciated professions

    About the Author

    Kory Stamper works as a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster. She is also a popular blogger whose writing has appeared in the Guardian and the New York Times.

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    Word by Word FAQs 

    What is the main message of Word by Word?

    The main message of Word by Word is that words have rich histories and studying language can be fascinating and surprising.

    How long does it take to read Word by Word?

    The reading time for Word by Word varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes a couple of hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Word by Word a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Word by Word is a captivating read that sheds light on the intricacies of language. It is definitely worth exploring.

    Who is the author of Word by Word?

    The author of Word by Word is Kory Stamper.

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