Word by Word by Kory Stamper is a non-fiction book about dictionaries. Wait! Before you close out of this blog post, I promise you reading my review will be worth it, because this my friends, is a great book full of entertaining writing. Yes, a book with the subtitle of “The Secret Life of Dictionaries” may not interest some, but believe me, this read is well worth your time.
Stamper takes us through her experience of getting a job at the renowned dictionary-publisher Merriam-Webster, their various departments, the steps to getting out the latest edition of the dictionary, and other quirky little facts about this oft-forgotten industry. Of course we do get a few grammar lessons, but they are usually included to simply give context as to how the english language has evolved, so Stamper is careful to not get bogged down into too many complicated explanations. Another fun aspect to this book is the language-Stamper is obviously familiar with lots of lesser-known words, so she sprinkles them throughout her descriptions to keep us on our toes. My favourite examples include: ‘futzed’ and ‘peevers’. Another interesting fact that she drops is that the word ‘pumpernickel’, as in the type of bread, has its origins in the German language, and actually means ‘fart goblin’. You’re welcome!
Stamper’s experiences of navigating the political firestorm when references to same sex marriage were added into the new definition of the word ‘marriage’ is fascinating, and I must say I developed a newfound sense of awe and appreciation for lexicographers. Readers will also appreciate her and her colleague’s struggles with defining the word ‘nude’ after a particular buzzfeed video called out the existing dictionary definition.
By far, my favourite parts of this book included the correspondence between the public and the editors at the dictionary. Apparently, as incentive to purchase a dictionary in the first place, people can write in to the editors with word-related questions, and an editor MUST respond to you. Some of the complaints that Stamper included are priceless, especially when the questions have nothing to do with words or grammar. For instance, one of the first email queries they received was asking where to buy beans. When I read that, I immediately laughed out loud, but after thinking about it a bit more, I grew concerned for the human race as a whole.
Anywho, If you don’t like reading footnotes, this book may irritate you because there are lots of them. But if you’re interested in why the word ‘irregardless’ is actually a word, then you should definitely read this.
*Please note this post contains affiliate links, and if you choose to purchase the book through Amazon I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
I’m in the middle of this right now and it’s great! So I’ll co-sign your recommendation 🙂
yay! Glad you’re enjoying it too.
Okay I’ll admit that it didn’t totally interest me initially, but I’m so glad that it was worth reading and these words are so funny! (especially the ones in the video- and I love words like schlemeil) Sounds like a really smart book- great review!
thank you! It’s perfect for book lovers like us
Oh this is one that’s been on my list for ages! So glad to know that you enjoyed it 🙂
I heard about this one but passed it by, that seems like a mistake! It sounds more fascinating than I thought it would be. Great to read your take on it, I think I have to pick it up!
it’s a really fun one, surprising in so many ways!
I love weird and wonderful nonfiction like this. This would be the perfect gift for my mum!! 🙂
it’s a great gift idea actually, I never thought of that…
This sounds like the kind of geeky weirdness I love! I also loved hearing Burns in an American accent, though oddly I found it almost entirely incomprehensible… 🤣😂🤣
You’ve made this sound like so much fun! This might be a good one to have around the house – I think my daughter would like it, too.
I like that video clip from the author!
I feel iffy because I was recently burned with a book about books called Dear Fahrenheit 451. It started out strong and then biffed it on the metaphorical pavement.
hahaha I love the word ‘biffed’ it, wonder if that’s in the dictionary?
Probably not. It’s a colloquialism where I come from. If someone falls really hard, you say they “biffed it.”
I’ve definitely heard it, but as I learned in this book, dictionaries track what people are saying, regardless of whether it is considered a ‘real’ word or not
Fantastic Review!!!😀❤ Just love the kitty!!!😍🐱❤
Thank you very much! And Pearl says thank you too
You’re welcome and Awww!!!💙
I must read this book. Great review. Thanks.
I hope you like it! Thanks for stopping by.
I’m 61% through The Word Detective by John Simpson, which covers the same sorts of issues in heading up the Oxford English dictionary–part autobiography, part lessons in how historical dictionaries are produced, mostly mind-boggling insights into how the social construction of a dictionary/language works. Its the sort of book one can read chapter by chapter without having worry about losing track of the plot, so reading it on my phone whenever I have to wait in a lineup or doctor office etc. Sounds like this one will make a good replacement when I finish.
Oh I love those sorts of books!!! One you can revisit over a long period of time…I also do this with short story collections.