Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021

“Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries”


TODAY’S POSTING IS A BIT OF A DETOUR from the usual stretch of pavement that is this blog. On most days I just write about the speed bumps in my life and my encounters with people who either fascinate, entertain, or appall me. Today I am going to talk about a book I am reading. How exciting, No? A book that really doesn’t rely on pictures, Super heroes, or the secret to quick elimination of Belly Fat. It is a book filled with and about Words. I love it.

To oversimplify it “Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper is about how Dictionaries are written and it is not as simple as one would think. I would classify this book as a Love Letter to Language.

Languages – ours and all of the others alive today are in a constant state of flux. Words come and words go, meanings change and there are those words that aren’t really words – or are they?

With both scholarly intensity and a wicked and sometimes spicy vocabulary Ms Stamper explores the Who, What, Why Where, and How of Dictionaries. For example there is a 39 page chapter devoted entirely to “Irregardless” and “Is it or isn’t it a word?”

If you are a person who loves language this is the perfect “Beach Book” for you this summer. It has a great cast of characters, mystery, conflict, and a sizeable dose of humor. If you are not someone who reads dictionaries just for fun then it may read like the label on a prescription bottle.

“Lexicography moves so slowly that scientists classify it as a solid.” That is why it takes years to publish a dictionary.

For twenty years Kory Stamper worked at Merriam-Webster as a Lexicographer, uncovering new words and working to decide on the current meanings of “An”, “Is”, and “Love” among countless other words. What a word means today can carry a boxcar load of different things to different people and it is up to the Lexicographer to ferret out all of those meanings and then to make them understandable in as few words as possible. After all, the dictionary has to be able to be lifted without causing hernias.

“English is a beautiful language, and the deeper you dive into it, the more effort it takes to come up to the surface for air.”

If you are a “Word Person,” someone who relishes the way some words roll off your tongue. If you wonder how simple words can move people to tears or to goosebumping elation you will enjoy “Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.” It is an entertaining peek inside a world that we all know exists, but we never think about until we come up against a gaping hole in the Sunday crossword or someone nominates you for “Defenestration.”

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