She thinks for a moment. “I worked really, really hard on the definition of ‘build-out,’ but I’m sure no one has ever really looked at it.”
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper is freaking terrific. I’m sure that the brilliant, clever, funny, insightful Ms. Stamper could come up with a better superlative descriptor than “freaking terrific,” but I can’t.
It’s partly a workplace memoir (“What’s it like to work for a dictionary publisher?”), but it’s also about the history and role of dictionaries in society (“prescriptive vs. descriptive”), and partly about the way that language works (however people want it to, apparently). I know, I know, that might sound pretty dry. But Stamper’s fantastic writing makes reading this book an absolute delight. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading it (although it’s not really a comedic book, per se, I am just especially charmed by a quick wit), and I learned a lot. For anyone that appreciates good writing, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Before I read this book, I tended to think of the dictionary as somehow divinely provided. It did not occur to me that actual human beings wrote the definitions, and, if I had some vague idea that they were made by a human, I had no idea how they went about it. This book made me realize the tremendous amount of work that goes into each entry. I have a newfound respect for dictionaries after reading the book. In fact, I was so enamored with dictionaries after reading Word by Word that I bought a damn print dictionary.
My Rating: 5 stars