Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 111: Look it Up

To inform the content of Grammar Grater, we consult a number of experts and seek answers from expert reference materials. Those materials include an assortment of dictionaries. Using and choosing dictionaries requires some vital skills and a thoughtful approach.

Back in May, when the Grammar Grater podcast visited the American Copy Editors Society — or ACES — national conference in Minneapolis, Minn., producer Brett Baldwin and I had the chance to talk to lexicographer Wendalyn Nichols, the perfect person to give us advice on dictionary skills.

Nichols is the editor of Copyediting newsletter, and she used to be the editorial director of Random House's reference division, where she wrote and oversaw the writing of Random House dictionaries. "I write about dictionaries as often as I can because for me it's sort of a personal crusade to teach dictionary-use skills, which seems to get missed," Nichols says.

One misconception Nichols works to dispel is the idea that there's a singular, authoritative dictionary. Another misconception Nichols often encounters is the belief that once a word gains currency, a definition will appear for it. "[People] say, 'Why can't I find the word tweet in my dictionary?' as if somehow it should materialize in their paper dictionary because people are starting to post tweets on Twitter," she says.

In the course of our interview, Nichols explains how lexicographers go about updating and adding words to dictionaries. She also gives tips on how a person can select a dictionary that's right for him or her, and she describes what really matters when it comes to comparing online versus print dictionaries.


Music from this episode: "Looking for You" by Garret Mimms, "Words Cannot Describe" by Mirah

Sources referenced: Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary; Merriam-Webster English Dictionary; American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language; Webster's New World College Dictionary

Link: American Copy Editors Society

MPR News

Listen Now

Other Radio Streams from MPR

Classical MPR
Radio Heartland