Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

Book Review of Word by Word

Word By Word by Kory Stamper

“Language is one of the few common experiences humanity has.”

So begins the Preface to Kory Stamper’s wonderful memoir, Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.

Hanging on Stamper’s personal narrative about how she came to be a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster and what that work is like is the entertaining history of the English words with which humans have recorded their knowledge, experience, beliefs and discoveries. This discussion of words also includes a discussion of linguistic prejudice, that attitude that self-appointed grammar police cop when someone doesn’t follow their[1]* prescribed rules.

You’d be correct if you imagined that dictionary editors spend eight hours a day in silent study, but you’d be dead wrong if for a moment you thought that reading about it would be boring.

Stamper writes with attitude.

That attitude arises from the little thought any normal person gives to the writing of dictionaries – including most lexicographers before they take the job. Before the internet, high school graduates received a dictionary before going off to college. I still have my red, clothbound Merriam-Webster Collegiate, which Stamper claims “is one of the best-selling books in American history and may be second in sales only to the Bible.” (In a footnote following this claim, she admits that this is more likely for having been “one of the oldest continuously published desk dictionaries around,” not because there’s any hard data.)

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate

I still have the 9th edition I took to college.

The Collegiate is a desk dictionary, not the big fat one that people use as booster seats for visiting grandkids. That one – The Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged – is, as Stamper notes, obsolete the moment it rolls off the press. Because even though most of us who use a dictionary do so to check meaning, spelling and usage, a dictionary is, ultimately, an historical document. It’s a snapshot of the language as it was during the ten or more years during which the lexicographers in a dingy building in Springfield, Massachusetts worked to update it.

As Stamper makes clear with humor and great stories, English is not static. Words can’t be caged on a page. How people use language changes all the time. And the history of those changes offer a glimpse into the history of those who use those words.

Word By Word is not just a terrific book about words, but also an excellently written personal memoir that tells the story about The Secret Life of Dictionaries, proving that any subject can spawn a compelling narrative when well told.

[1] Stamper explains that the singular “their” actually dates back to the fourteenth century.

alternate headshot

Deborah Lee Luskin is not ashamed to say that she owns about half a dozen English dictionaries – and regularly reads them.

My Miscellaneous Life

Sometimes, a day at the beach is more important than a day at your desk.

How often do you stop to think about your journey as a writer? If you had to choose, would you say you are plotting your life, or pantsing it? There’s no right or wrong answer here, and there’s no right or wrong way to create a writing life. It’s just been on my mind lately how intentional (or not) I have been of late when it comes to figuring out what kind of writing I ultimately want to do and how to start navigating toward that destination.

I have just completed Jennifer Louden’s course, Get Your Scary Sh*t Done (GSSD for short). It was a very practical and inspiring seven weeks of exploring my motivation and desire, digging deeply into what’s holding me back (surprise! it wasn’t what I thought it was), and generally working on sussing out some simple steps that I could take to move closer to the “finish line” that I’d defined for the course.

While the structure and exercises in the course were excellent and very helpful and enlightening, one of the most valuable gifts of the course was the simple but profound way that participating made me prioritize my creative project in a way that I haven’t been able to do for a while. The course gave me permission and created the “container” in which I could remember how to disconnect from the so-called real world and reconnect with myself. Totally worth the price of admission.

Around week five – while in the midst of all this discovery and focus – I had a column due for my local paper. I’d like to share that column with you today because it reflects on the idea of prioritizing what’s most important in our lives, whether that’s family or friends or writing or some other thing that makes you come alive. And, it reminds us to be careful of falling into the trap of focusing all our time and energy on the less important things … the things that may seem more important, but which – in reality – are maybe not quite as dire or life-defining as we might think.

Here’s to giving the truly important things in your life their full due.

 

 

 

My Miscellaneous Life

As I was searching through my computer’s hard drive the other day, I was struck by the fact that many of the documents that are most important to me live in a folder labeled, somewhat ignominiously, “Misc.” While my work, finance, and legal files reside in directories featuring appropriately descriptive and respectful names, digital information about life goals, creative projects, activist resources, personal interests, and social correspondence are relegated, like a huddled mass of misfit toys, to a virtual no-man’s-land.

Seeing these files, which represent some of the most “real” aspects of my life — especially when compared with the fleeting relevance of things like client projects and tax returns — I couldn’t help thinking of the saying, life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

Though most often attributed to John Lennon, who featured a similar line in his song, “Beautiful Boy,” the earliest appearance of this oft-quoted line was published in a 1957 Reader’s Digest under the name of cartoonist Allen Saunders. Mr. Saunders was definitely on to something.

It’s a sad reality, after all, that most of us spend far too many of our days nose-to-grindstone taking care of all the so-called Important Stuff. Real Life, meanwhile, happens despite our misguided focus. Unfortunately, like my “Misc” computer files, the stuff that really matters is often swept into the corners where it is rarely given its full due.

That made me think of another old maxim, actions speak louder than words.

If someone asked what you care about most, how would you answer? You might mention your family, the environment, justice, beautiful artwork, good music, fine wine, sharing time with friends. But, how many of us can honestly say that our day-to-day choices reflect the things we say we love? How does what we do match up against our best intentions?

A few weeks ago, I was dutifully hammering away on a midafternoon deadline when my daughter asked if she could go to the beach with some friends. It was a perfect late-spring day — unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny — designed to inspire truancy. My daughter caught a ride with a friend’s mom, and I remained at my desk, chipping away at my task.

But as I sat there, my thoughts kept straying from the keyboard to the sandy shore of Crane Beach. Soft, warm winds buffeted me through the open window, and I could almost hear the small voice inside my head urging me to follow my thoughts and make a dash for the beach.

I hesitated out of habit, but the small voice was persistent. It reminded me what mattered most and assured me that the sky would not fall if I chose to play hooky for the rest of the afternoon.

The beach was even lovelier than I’d imagined. I smiled as I watched my daughter and her friends run along the water’s edge and practice ill-advised gymnastics maneuvers on the sand. And when the girls ranged out of earshot, I closed my eyes, tilted my head to the sun and the wind, and just sat. It was pretty darn close to perfect.

Seeing those computer files dumped unceremoniously in that “Misc” folder made me realize that it might be time to adjust my perspective. I had put these personal treasures in a digital junk drawer while the less-important things like work and finances had taken over the top tiers of my hard drive. I had everything upside down.

Similarly, it’s easy to go through my days looking at things from the wrong angle. How easy is it to mistake a career for a life? How simple to fall into the trap of thinking that we are what we own? How often do we get so wrapped up in keeping up that we forget where we were going? It happens all the time.

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We just need to remember who we really are, what we really love, and then go ahead and let our actions speak louder than our words.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Do all you possibly can

 

It’s that time of year for kids and young adults to graduate. In our family we have at one end – a college graduation  (and he goes right into the army from there) and at the other end, we also have one who will be entering her senior year in high school.

She’s not sure what she wants to study when she goes to college. She’s got a few options in mind but hasn’t come to a decision.

“What do you think, mom?” She asks.

“Take a bunch of classes,” I tell her. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field. Don’t make the mistake I did. I took English and writing classes, but because they were so easy, I didn’t think they counted. I thought that you had to really work at what you wanted to be and it had to hurt. It was the remnants of the no pain- no gain philosophy i was taught as a youth.  As a result it took me three years to figure out I didn’t want to be a Pharmacist.”

That’s a lot of wasted time.

I didn’t realize that part of the reason the English and writing classes were so easy was because I loved them. Journalism? Fantastic. Shakespeare and Melville? Out of this world. Learning about writers and how to work with words floated my boat. I loved reading. I loved writing. It took me far too long to figure out that it’s absolutely okay to work in a field that you absolutely love.

Love creates enthusiasm.

The same thing can be applied to what you write about. As an example, I’ve written white papers – far, far too many. I don’t like writing them, in fact I’d rather have my teeth pulled (and I hate the dentist) than write them, but I do it (always dragging my feet) because they pay the bills. White papers are a necessary evil to surviving as a writer.

Compare that to when I get to write about stories and lessons learned (the genre I feel most comfortable in.) The words virtually fly out of my fingertips. I hear the stories in my head, I know exactly where I am going. It’s like talking with old friends, we finish each other’s sentences.

And yet I don’t schedule enough time to write *my* stories because they don’t bring in the money., They are something that’s too easy and therefore I think not as valued.

Perhaps I should take my own advice. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field.”

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Thanking My Students

Thanking my students

Thanking my students for their willingness to be vulnerable and learn.

Tonight, I’ll be giving an informal commencement address thanking the students who’ve participated in the memoir-writing class I’ve been teaching at the Moore Free Library for the past twelve weeks. This is what I’ll say:

  • Thank you for your courage to show up and bleed onto the page.
  • Thank you for trusting each other and me with your stories.
  • Thank you for your eagerness to learn about language and how to control it.
  • Thank you for your remarkable stories about the human condition, told in engaging language that awakens your readers’ interest and compassion.
  • It is this storytelling that equalizes us, and I’m humbled and honored by your generosity in sharing yours.

The class has been remarkable from start to finish: from when the librarian applied for and received a generous grant to support my teaching, to  tonight, when students will hold a reading for family and friends. We’ll also eat cake.

As with any good “commencement,” this is not the end. The class will continue as a Rosefire Writers Circle, where I will lead the group in automatic writing practice. In the RWC, we practice timed writing exercises designed to prime the creative pump. This process liberates writers to focus and fly, letting loose the unknown in the wonder of words. We immediately read this new work, bearing witness to the strange and wonderful stories that emerge. And we do so by practicing deep listening in a positive response method that engenders a synergy. Participants in these groups invariably write more, write better, and write with greater confidence.

We’ve blocked out Five Fridays, and opened enrollment to include newcomers to the group. If you live nearby and are interested, please be in touch.

Deborah Lee Luskin, photoDeborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont and is housed on the web at her newly renovated site, www.deborahleeluskin.com

Penguin Random House – Season of Stories

Making time to read can be challenge. I rarely have the pleasure of long, uninterrupted hours of recreational reading. Usually, I’m able to sneak in a chapter here and there. More often than not, I’m consuming novels as audio books that I listen to while I’m driving, taking a shower, preparing dinner, or running the vacuum. (And – yes – listening to audio books counts as reading.)

In addition to novels, I also love to find bite-sized stories that I can enjoy in the even smaller pockets of reading time that crop up in my day. When my daughter was younger, I often used the time waiting in the pick-up line at school to catch up on a little reading. These days, I get my “micro” reads in while I’m boiling water for a cup of tea or waiting to pick up my lunch order.

I’ve already shared some fun “quickie” reading apps, including tapas and wattpad. I’ve also recently discovered a budding appreciation for comics by experimenting with an Amazon-related site and app called Comixology. But, sometimes I crave a more traditional (but still bite-sized) kind of literature. That’s where I think Season of Stories might just fit the bill.

Here’s how the publisher describes their email event:

For a limited time in the fall and winter of 2016, we emailed eleven fiction tales directly to readers, all written in the first person. Readers could dive into a great story when a quick escape from daily stress was needed. Our mission was to make your inbox a better place with great stories.

Every week, a different Penguin Random House author took over the newsletter, including award-winning and bestselling authors like Anthony Marra, Elizabeth McCracken, and Adam Johnson.

The stories were told serially, a piece of a story was sent out each day until the full narrative wrapped up just in time for the weekend. The stories are free and will only be in the emails (you won’t be able to get them anywhere else!).

This storytelling event has ended but a special one-week long edition has begun.  Sign up below to start receiving the latest story and to stay informed as we ramp up for another full Season of Stories:

 

I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use some good news in my inbox; and what better than some quality literature? I’ve already signed up, and invite you to do the same. Can’t wait for the first installment!

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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From Digital to analog to … Danalog*

*Danalog = part digital, part analog.

Last fall, I wrote about my trials and tribulations on my search for planner peace.  Eight months later, my epic journey continues.

Things I’ve learned on my quest for planner peace:

  • Using digital methods (Google, GQueues and Teamwork) to collect my appointments and tasks is crucial. I can add things on the go and prioritize during my weekly planning time.
  • I need to “write” things down for them to stick in my brain (I’ll explain the quotes in a minute).
  • Each part of my life requires its own unique color for clarity and retention.
  • I need a both weekly spread and a daily spread.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve learned is that I’m not likely to find a pre-printed paper layout that meets all my needs.

I’ve mentioned I’m part of an awesome paper planning group on Facebook. Recently someone sheepishly posted that she’d created a digital layout and was using the iPad an Apple pencil to complete it weekly. In the immortal words of Gru from Despicable Me “LIGHT BULB”.

Creating the layout digitally allows me to design layouts that meet my needs. Using the Apple Pencil to fill in the layouts by hand on a weekly basis creates connections in my brain that fuel my productivity and personal growth.

My weekly layout. The seven days run across the top 3/4 of the screen with hourly breakouts for each day. The bottom quarter is my to dos by category.
I experimented, creating layouts using InDesign and Excel. I like InDesign better, but if you are considering creating your own layouts, don’t wait for the perfect software, seize the moment and make it happen! You can use whatever program you are most familiar with (any word processing or graphic design program would work). The nice thing about creating your own planner layout is if you decide something doesn’t work, you aren’t stuck with it. Plus, if you really want to stay analog, you can print your templates out.

Steps to create your own planner layout

  • Determine what you need on the page (Breakout of the day hourly? To do list? Tracking chart? Word count? Water consumption?)
  • Design your layouts
  • Save them as .pdf files
  • Open them on the iPad (I email them to myself and open them using and annotation program such as Goodnotes, Explain Everything or Notability).

I'm adding a task to my to do list using Google pencilIt’s worth noting that an Apple Pencil is not required, many of the programs listed above will let you add text boxes and enter information via a keyboard. I just need the hand to brain connection.

I have developed a routine where Sunday morning or first thing Monday at the absolute latest, I sit down and plan my week. I copy what’s on my work and home Google calendars and create a to do list for the week drawing from my task managers. I only plan one day ahead. At the end of each day, I’ll make the plan for the next. Using both a weekly and a daily layout means copying things twice, but it gives me a big picture view of my week and allows me to focus in on specific tasks on any given day.

I’ve been at it about six weeks now and I’ve made tweaks along the way but I’m really happy with the results. Not only am I noting (and completing tasks), I’m tracking personal development too. I’m keeping a food journal and also tracking pain management and treatment for a foot injury as well as my modified exercise regiment. At the end of the day it’s so nice to see progress! Even if I’ve only checked off 3 things. If they are the three things I set out to do, I’m ecstatic.

What’s the draw back? The layout is fairly utilitarian. I’m too pragmatic to make it pretty. I keep telling myself I’ll make time to make it look nice, but alas, I don’t. I’d rather be working on my WIP or out riding ATVs with my family. I’m jealous of my paper planning friends who utilize stickers and all the pretty washi tapes, but on the upside, I’m saving trees by not printing and money by not buying washi and stickers. 🙂

So that’s my latest installment in my search for planner peace. I’m not sure I’ll EVER be 100% satisfied, but this is working better than most of my last iterations.

Have you tried making your own time management templates?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

Dress the part so you can (maybe) act the part

 

Writers are rare birds. We like to separate ourselves from the rest of the flock when we do our work.  Solitude is our natural inclination.

We also like to be comfortable. So, so very comfortable.

When I was in college, I could only write if I was wearing my “writing shirt” – a grubby, hole-filled, but incredibly soft and heavy shirt. It kept me warm. It anchored me – a security blanket across my shoulders. It wasn’t meant for others to see, it was only meant for me.

These days I don’t have the luxury of wearing “comfortable” (read – not appropriate for public viewing) clothing. My office is on the first floor and it’s me who has to get up to answer the door. I’m there when the kids come home from school and work.

I don’t wear pajamas. I don’t wear sweats and I’ve long lost that beautiful (to me anyway) writing shirt.

That doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable, of course I am. Discomfort takes away from creativity.

But it does mean that I am a little more put together than I was in earlier writing days.

And guess what? My writing is a little more put together as well.

Co-incidence? Maturity? Experience? Who knows.

But here’s a suggestion. If you have a  comfortable uniform that you wear when you write, and you find that your writing may be getting a little sloppy, a little too relaxed – try mixing things up a bit.

Put on a button down shirt.

Wear shoes instead of slippers.

A cardigan instead of a stained sweatshirt.

Even consider upgrading your writing utensils to something a little more polished.

We’ve all heard the advice to “dress for success. In this case”, why not try to dress the part of a successful writer? Updating your outfit may turn out to be nothing. It may not change your writing one bit,  but then again maybe, just maybe it might jump start some creative spark.

You’ll never know until you try.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.