Kory Stamper is a writer and lexicographer. She works as a general definer at Merriam-Webster, where she spends her days reading citations and trying to define words like “Monophysite," “bodice ripper,” and "God." In addition to defining, she appears in Merriam-Webster's Ask the Editor video series, and travels the country giving lectures on the history of English and English dictionaries.
She has written about language use and trends for the Guardian, and her own blog on language and lexicography has been mentioned favorably in the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Millions.
Kory earned her B.A. in Medieval Studies from Smith College with a focus on Indo-European languages and literature. She lives outside of Philly and is mastering the use of "jawn."
praise for word by word
“For those who love language, this debut from Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, will be a delectable feast.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Hungry word lovers will find this book a delicious, multicourse meal of word lore, the personal story of the author’s life and career, and detailed backstory of the harrowing process by which dictionaries are produced…. The real appeal is in the charming stories of the words and the personally guided tour of the Merriam Webster editorial process, told in Stamper’s fresh and funny voice.”
— Library Journal (starred review)
“[A]n unlikely page-turner. Offering a nuts-and-bolts exploration of the English language, Stamper displays a contagious enthusiasm for words and a considerable talent for putting them together, as when describing ‘the fusty glut of old papers bunged hastily into metal bookshelves’ that fills the basement of Merriam-Webster. Her discussion of the role of language in culture is illuminating, and she is a reliable guide” — New Yorker
"A combination of memoir, curtain raiser and historical narrative, Stamper’s prose will have you hooked by the second page and buying a brand-new dictionary by the last." — Newsweek
"Stamper’s excellent new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, is, like a dictionary itself, a composite affair: It’s a memoir that is also an explanation of the work that writing a dictionary entails—and, in both of those things, an erudite and loving and occasionally profane history of the English language. Between the lines, though, Word by Word is something broader still: It’s a cheerful and thoughtful rebuke of the cult of the grammar scolds." — The Atlantic
"'Word by Word' cherishes the dexterity involved in making dictionaries, and. . . . proves refreshingly attentive to its human stories." — Wall Street Journal
"While indisputably erudite, her writing voice is breezy, irreverent, and frequently ribald. You might not think you are interested in the history of dictionaries or how Ms. Stamper came to work as a lexicographer, but spend a few sentences in her company, and you will realize that you are, in fact, fascinated." — The Amazon Book Review
"Stamper. . . .brings both zest and style. She is capable of spinning a suspenseful and even quasi-heroic tale out of her investigation of irregardless, or the adverbial usage of take. Word by Word is great fun, more than one expects from a book about dictionaries."
— Times Literary Supplement
"[A] revelatory memoir." — Telegraph (UK)
“Seen through Stamper’s eyes, a dictionary is not only a reference source, but also a living linguistic record and a window into history. Word by Word offers marvelous insight into the messy world behind the tidy definitions on the page.” — Booklist
"Thanks to Stamper’s assured prose, Word By Word is educational but also entertaining and surprisingly funny. . . . Word By Word is an eloquent primer on this baffling, lovely language we use, and Stamper is our wryly funny tour guide." — A.V. Club
"Kory Stamper has written a smart, sparkling and often hilarious valentine to the content and keepers of dictionaries. Whether describing the editorial table at Merriam-Webster (room for four editors to sit comfortably, or six 'in introverted terror') or the reverence lexicographers have for 'this gorgeous, lascivious' language, she shares her admiration and appreciation for the invisible craftspeople who not only define the recently added 'face-palm,' but also revise the verb 'ghost' to match the current dating scene. In doing so, she deftly explains why 'a living language made by fallible people will not be perfect, but it will be remarkable.'" — Shelf Awareness
"She loves her work, and her enthusiasm adds a real zest to her tales of usage and the chase for words—e.g., "onymous," "cromulent," "vecturist," and "dope slap." Look them up. Those aficionados who love words and the language or who are big-time Scrabble fans will love this book" — Kirkus
“As a writer, Kory Stamper can do anything with words: define them, split them, lump them, agglute them, and make them work for her every bit as ferociously and precisely as she works for them in her day job as a famr-from-mild-mannered lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. You will never take a dictionary entry for granted again.”
— Mary Norris, bestselling author of Between You & Me