Monday, January 22, 2018

Are You a Word Nerd?

Kory Stamper wrote a book entitled WORD BY WORD. In it she states that there are people who spend their work time writing dictionary definitions for Merriam-Webster. They are “word nerds” who devote a considerable amount of their lives thinking about words, categorizing, describing and alphabetizing them. They are lexicographers.

She further observes that the last printed unabridged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary astonishingly “took a staff of almost 100 editors and 202 outside consultants 12 years to write.” When a dictionary finally is published, these lexicographers have already moved on, working on an update, because “A dictionary is out of date the minute that it’s done.”

Are you a person who loves words? Do you play with them?
I confess I do. One reason I have continued to write poetry over the years is because as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Poetry consists of the best words in the best order.” I seek appropriate language to express my thoughts.

This is not a slight of prose. I love experimenting with novels, short stories, nonfiction and plays as well. But I think everyone who loves words should make an effort to try expressing themselves in poetic form. It makes us better prose writers in the long run.

As to dictionaries, my favorite has always been The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (unabridged). We had it in our home for many years and I loved examining the derivation of words. I still do, although I had to give our huge dictionary when we downsized from our house to an apartment. That and over a thousand other books were donated since I no longer had the space to keep them.

However, the internet today provides us with great help.
I can google words and retrieve all sorts of valuable information.

Being a word nerd helps me be a better writer. I am not satisfied unless I find the right words to express my ideas.
In THE BURNING, for example, I was writing from the point of view of George, a blue collar worker, a simple man who suddenly had to grapple with overwhelming problems. The language had to fit the character yet convey depth of meaning to the reader. It was a challenge.

So back to my original question: are you are a word nerd?
If so, does it benefit you as a writer and/or as a reader?


  1. Yes! I love words...I am definitely a word person
    Great post.
    Good luck and God's blessings

  2. Thank you for commenting, fellow word nerd. I think all good writers share this interest.

  3. Lately I've been choosing books in fields I'm unfamiliar with, such as specific sciences or areas of history, partly for the new vocabulary. I read with a dictionary at my side--the best part of the day is my afternoon reading time. Yes, I love words. And I especially enjoy discovering etymologies, as do you. Nice post.

  4. I also love to read and keep my dictionary nearby. It keeps my mind sharp.

  5. I confess, I am also a word nerd. Even once wrote a newspaper column about words and writing, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think finding the right word does indeed improve our writing, but sometimes it drives me bonkers! Fun post.

  6. I agree, Kathy, sometimes we can go a little overboard trying to find just the right word. That's what good about editing. You can go back and improve on what you've written.

  7. I am obsessed with words--their meanings, nuances and feelings--even their sound: polysyllabic, anyone? I am married to a word-warper. Ex: The birds are pruning themselves. Another ex: You know the little chimney fireplace for the deck? He called it a chimichanga! Nice post.

  8. Hi Susan,

    I like the term "word-warper." Think of your husband as using language creatively.