Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Erin McKean

A Love Affair With Words . . .


A recent survey here showed that folks wanted posts on Writing first, then Publishing, then Reading—of course, words are used in all three :-)

And, since my favorite word is “word”, one could expect that when I was growing up dictionaries and thesauruses were some of my best friends

Thing is, there are dictionaries and there are Dictionaries (same with those synonym-thingie books).

I recently let myself be influenced by Erin McKean, who’s been talked about here before.

I even did a calculation of my small budget and determined I could float $50 on my credit card for the few extra months it would take to pay off a new expense

I paid for a year’s subscription to Oxford Dictionaries Pro.

That last link actually leads you to Oxford Dictionaries (where you can use some of their wonderful features) and this link will let you subscribe to the Pro edition.

OK, I’m going to give you some reasons to consider parting with half-a-hundred-per-year but, in case you could care less, there’s a totally cool video down at the bottom of this post :-)

I should point out that the free edition does let you choose between U.S. English and World English, it does have articles on Better Writing—spelling, grammar, etc.—along with Learner’s Dictionaries and Word Puzzles; but, there’s no linked thesaurus and the writing tips are minimal (but, still, helpful).

So, the Pro Edition:

* Go from a dictionary entry straight to the thesaurus entry or vise versa.

* Browse the dictionary in various categories: Subject, Meaning, People & Places, Usage, Region, and Word Class.

* There are 1.9 million Example Sentences (fully searchable).

* It’s updated every quarter.

* Plus:

Language resources

  • Searchable complete versions of New Hart’s Rules, Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and Garner’s Modern American Usage
  • Specialist dictionaries for writers and editors include New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, and Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
  • Link directly from dictionary headwords to relevant chapters or entries in the Writers and Editors sections
  • Comprehensive Writing Skills including grammar and punctuation where good writing starts, style and usage to write effectively and create the right impression, and quick spelling tips
  • Use the Vocabulary Builder to enrich creative writing

* And, if you’re a librarian, there’s even more :-)

I’ll share one use I’ve made of this radically cool dictionary.

I have an excellent friend who lives in Australia (I’m in the U.S.) and I did a search that filtered the dictionary for Australian, Informal, Nouns for the words “man” and “woman” (the other Country Filters are British, Canadian, Indian English, Irish English, North American, Northern English, New Zealand, Scottish, South African, and US; the other Usage Filters are archaic, dated, derogatory, dialect, euphemistic, figurative, formal, historical, humorous, literary, rare, and technical; and, the other Word Class Filters are adjective, adverb, verb, abbreviation, conjunction, contraction, combining form, determiner, exclamation, plural noun, predeterminer, prefix, preposition, pronoun, and suffix).

There was one world for women that my friend said she’d never heard used

She even checked a well-known, specifically Australian dictionary

She mentioned another, related word that she’s heard used and the dictionary had it defined but didn’t say it was Australian usage

We had a lively discussion of the whys and where-fors of which words end up in which dictionaries

She’s going to survey her writers’ group and I’m eager to hear what they say :-)

As far as what words end up in which dictionaries and which dictionaries are best suited for certain uses plus lots of other mega-cool lexicographical information (delivered with compelling style) check out this video of Erin McKean (former principal editor of one of Oxford’s dictionaries) as she talks to the folks at Google about her profession


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“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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Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
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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 :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

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!!

She also writes for the Boston Globe.

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

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