Lexicography is famously considered an art and science, but Kory Stamper thinks of it as a craft, a term implying "care, repetitive work, apprenticeship, and practice." Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries is a wonderful firsthand account of a lexicographical craftsperson who is master of another craft: writing. Few books about words—or anything else—are this well-written.  Continue reading...
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We take for granted much of a book's white space: margins; paragraph indents; section breaks; extra space given to chapter-opening pages; extra space at the end of chapters left blank. Yet white space plays a crucial role in writing.  Continue reading...
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Thanks to numerous anecdotes about the old and new ways of the lexicography, I quite enjoyed The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary, the memoir of John Simpson, former Chief Editor. Simpson was a participant and prime mover in the huge changes to the OED, which saw the dictionary finally being produced, "from the computer database, not from copper plates." Because of the unique insights into the most important and impressive dictionary in English, this is a book any word lover should enjoy.  Continue reading...
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As we look back at the language of the recent election, it's hard not to feel like political language has fallen into the sewer, and plummeted from there into a lower sewer, and might be still falling.  Continue reading...
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The spells are quite witty, but they aren't the only examples of wordplay in the Harry Potter universe. In the Potter novels J. K. Rowling uses vocabulary that has made her characters living creatures to generations of readers. This tradition continues in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Continue reading...
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Here's a perennially useful guide for choosing what book to read next: think of a title you've long known by name but never read, go straight to a library or bookstore, get it, and read it. Through decades that guide has steered me to Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Hugo's Les Miserables, all of Austen, Dickens, and Twain, and many, many more.

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Garner's Modern English Usage, which just released its fourth edition, is potentially a damn useful thing to me. And after looking through Bryan A. Garner's latest, I can report that the potential is realized: this is an extremely useful and sensible guide. I don't know if I would sleep with it under my pillow, but I won't keep it far from my desk.  Continue reading...
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