Books About Words

As a kid, I used to read the dictionary and the encyclopedia whenever I got the chance. I guess I was a kind of meta nonfiction type. I am still collecting dictionaries to this day.

First up is The Word Detective by John Simpson. His story is one that frustrated me all the while keeping me intrigued enough to finish reading his memoir. I’ll admit I picked this up a while ago and that all I knew about the OED was that Tolkien worked there at some point. I enjoyed reading about the process of modernizing the entire process of creating this dictionary. He spent over forty years of his career bringing it into the digital age. Overall it’s a good read, but it did seem a bit confused about if it was purely a memoir or the nonfiction account of how words end up in the OED. Either way would have been fine with me. There were also times when his tone seemed almost condescending to the reader. Still, it’s worth a library check out.

Word By Word written by Kory Stamper was utterly different in tone and voice. Without knowing either author, I’d go out on a limb and say that Mr. Simpson worked with words because it was his job and that Ms. Stamper works with words because she loves them and gets paid to do so. It’s a massive difference in how both stories read. This book was a fun and more telling journey through how a definition gets approved in the Merriam-Webster world. I can still see myself being a lexicographer in another life. While it may seem tedious to research words and then devise the perfect definition I enjoyed hearing all the details.

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