Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Dictionary

“A word to the wise ain’t necessary…”


That title is only the beginning of a quote from the comedian Bill Cosby.

Here’s the full quote: “A word to the wise ain’t necessary—it’s the stupid ones that need the advice.”

And, to be honest with you, our current world culture is full of folks who are in charge but are eminently stupid.

Let’s check a dictionary for “stupid” and compare it with the actions of just one group of people who are, sadly, “in charge”—financiers.

STUPID = “Lacking or marked by lack of intellectual acuity; in a state of mental numbness especially as resulting from shock; lacking intelligence; and, devoid of good sense or judgment.”

You may not agree with my assessment of financiers but using dictionaries is undeniably important in Reading, Writing, and Publishing—the three main topics of this blog.

Last year, I wrote a post called Dictionary Evangelist. I do hope you’ll take that link and watch the video there—go ahead—I’ll wait right here

So, that was Erin McKean, a founder and the CEO of the online dictionary Wordnik and, previously, the Principal Editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary.

Wordnik is irrevocably Cool since it’s a dictionary that you can add words to—based on Erin’s philosophy that dictionaries shouldn’t be compiled by traffic cops but by folks who fish

This woman is definitely a phenomenon since she’s not only a celebrated lexicographer but also writes for The Boston Globe and has had a blog about dresses for 7 years ( A Dress A Day ).

Plus, she has a great article in The New York Times called Using Undictionaried Words—here’s an excerpt:

“…serve as your own lexicographer and shine your own light on largely undiscovered words. For it’s a kind of lexical Catch-22: since editors at most traditional dictionaries won’t include a word until they see published evidence of its use, holding off on using a word just because it’s not in the dictionary can actually delay its inclusion.”

Not hard to see why I, a man whose favorite word is “word”, find this woman’s work fascinating
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What *Is* The Right Word, Anyway?


Whether you’re a writer looking for the right word or a reader wondering what that particular word means, dictionaries can be handy.

Still, dictionaries have been mere snapshots of an ever-changing language

In the previous post, Dictionary Evangelist, there was an entertaining video of lexicographer, Erin McKean, who thought it was important to have a dictionary to which words could be continually added. Do checkout her creation, Wordnik, and add a few words :-)

I use a free program called WordWeb on my computer (which, sadly, is only for PCs) that lets me check spelling and meaning by highlighting any word in any program or web page and clicking a couple keys, voila!

And, if you want to trace the historical meanings and roots of words, even though many dictionaries have some of that, you might use an Etymology Dictionary.

Speaking of history, and staying with English, there is the famous dictionary of Samuel Johnson from 1755.

Going further into history and delving into the trials and challenges of lexicographers, spend some careful reading time with the Preface to Johnson’s 1755 dictionary.

Care to share any really strange words with us in the comments?

Have any words you’ve created that you’d like to see in the language?

Any words you think should be banned?
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Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
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Dictionary Evangelist


Ever used a dictionary?

Since most readers of this blog more than likely have some interest in reading, writing, or publishing, odds are you have looked into a dictionary :-)

So what are the people who make dictionaries called? Lexicographers << Whew! Quite a word

I’m going to share a video of a talk by lexicographer, Erin McKean. She’s a serious student of words and still manages to deliver a talk that’s humorous while being highly informative.

She feels that most dictionaries, paper or Web, act like traffic cops–deciding which words are acting “legal” enough to be in a dictionary.

She created an online dictionary, Wordnik, that you can actually add words to!!

This video is so much fun I think it might be illegal :-)

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