Do you have strong feelings about the word “irregardless”? Have you ever tried to define the word “is”? 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. Kory Stamper takes our stage to crack open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography—the practice of making dictionaries—in her book Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Stamper reveals the agonizing decisions about which words to define and how to do it, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She outlines the intricacies of the process, such as 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. In the process she reveals little-known surprises—for example, the fact that “OMG” was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917. Join Stamper for a delve into the complexities and eccentricities of the English language, and the startlingly rich world of quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate.
Kory Stamper is a lexicographer (that is, a writer and editor of dictionaries) who spent almost two decades working at Merriam-Webster. She has written and appeared in the “Ask the Editor” video series at Merriam-Webster, and has traveled around the world giving talks and lectures on language and lexicography. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Washington Post, The Guardian and The New York Times and presents her own writing on her blog at harmlessdrudgery.com.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle and Seattle University as part of the Arts & Culture series.
Program Format: 50 minutes book talk, 20 minute Q&A, post-event book signing