romina_g's review against another edition
“Word by Word” is at times a memoir, at times an instructional tome on the work of a lexicographer: a person who writes dictionaries.
It is, without question, one of the most interesting books that I’ve read in my lifetime — especially because before it, I wouldn’t have spared a thought for lexicography. Not only does it explain many fascinating things about the English language, but also it manages to be witty and fun.
Some things I learned while reading this book:
- How to (broadly) write a definition for a dictionary (surprisingly more complex than it seems)
- Many bizarre origins of common and not so common English words
- Plenty new vocabulary. You can tell Stamper has a way with language
- The small dots in between words that you find in dictionary entries are not syllable breaks! They are the places where you could split the word with a hyphen if you were to write it in two lines
Some of my favourite quotes:
“While everyone thinks they speak Standard English, no one natively speaks it: Standard English is itself a dialect based on a written ideal that we learn as we gain education. If we all spoke Standard English as a native dialect, then books on ´good grammar´ or ´proper English´ would be useless; we’d already know it.”
“People rarely think of English as a cumulative thing: they might be aware of new coinages that they don’t like, but they view those as recent incursions into the fixed territory they think of as “English,” which was, is, and shall be evermore.”
Above all, I think this book can change your perspective on grammar rules, etymological pedantry, and the language itself. A must read!
dewey7962's review against another edition
I laughed out loud far more times than I expected to reading this. Great book! And bonus: Kory taught me the difference between an initialism and an acronym. Learn something new every day!
jroberts3456's review against another edition
Beyond that, Word By Word is a fascinating peak behind the curtains of modern dictionary production. She expounds upon both the history and purpose of dictionaries and the stories she tells are quite often enthralling—not just for word geeks or English nerds either, she spins a genuinely fascinating yarn that begs for absorption and rereading. It’s a stunner, folks, plain and simple.
stevendedalus's review against another edition
Stamper savours words, sprinkling esoteric and obscure words with obvious happiness, adding to the charismatic and personal appeal of her writing.
Explaining the construction, daily operations, and business side of dictionaries is really where the book shines, showing the hidden side of a daily object. Unfortunately, the padding at the end as the book gets into political struggles over gay marriage feels unnecessarily long and recapitulative of all the purpose-of-the-dictionary stuff that went before. You can practically hear the editor begging for extra pages.
But it's still a worthwhile corrective to grammar snobs and a love letter to the English language form a true paid expert who writes with charm. May have been better as a long-form article, but I don't really begrudge its wandering.
bmwpalmer's review against another edition
My only unfulfilled wish: I was hoping she'd write about 'nonplussed,' a word which is now used to mean one thing, as well as (in nonstandard English) the opposite of that thing, to the point that it is now completely meaningLESS to me. She doesn't address 'nonplussed,' but she does USE it (in the chapter entitled Posh). And in the nonstandard way! I am so confused by this word and I wish it would go away.
sshabein's review against another edition
This book isn't perfect - it is a book about the complex task of defining the English language written by someone who spends their life doing this, and as such, it can be a little too technical at times.
It is however, fascinating for anyone who, like me, gets excited when learning about pockets of the world they know nothing about, and it was a really interesting glimpse into the ways that language can be tracked and defined.
One of my favorite books in a while
shelfimprovement's review against another edition
Though she didn't get into whatever genius runs their goddamn Twitter account, which is what I want to be when I grow up.
Despite the fact it covers some hardcore word nerdery (or perhaps because of that), it's very informal and self-effacing in its tone. It's not stiff at all, as you might expect. Stamper writes in a conversational tone that suggests that her normal kind of conversation is a little quirky and hyper, laughing at her own weird jokes and and a learned ability to shrug off the people who don't find her funny. It's a little disorganized, though, bouncing around between ideas without a clear sense of structure. And I felt that some of the chapters were kind of skimmable--pronunciation isn't that interesting, even if it's important to dictionaries.
There's a lot of little tidbits that I loved from here, including her horror at people who say nonsense like "done work" (I'm looking at you, Philly and South Jersey, and your disdain for prepositions), but my favorite piece of trivia from this book, because I am never going to be mature ever, no matter how old I get: "Who thought that 'pumpernickel' was a good name for dark rye bread? Because when you trace the word back to its German origins, you find it means 'fart goblin.'"
Overall, a fun read for anyone who loves language.