About

harm·less drudg·ery is run by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster who spends all day reading citations and trying to define words like “Monophysite” and “bodice ripper.”  She has been doing this sort of thing since 1998, long enough to remember blue galleys, grease pencils, rubber stamps, and inter-office mail.  Most recently, she’s gained some notoriety for being one of three editors who write, edit, and appear in the “Ask the Editor” video series.  (Pursuant to the video series: yes, her hair changes colors, and no, she will not marry you). She also travels around the country as a representative for Merriam-Webster, occasionally giving talks and lectures on things that only other word nerds would be interested in.

When she is not doing the word-nerd thing, she does other nerdy things, including knitting, baking, and live sound engineering.  But she will probably not bore you to death with those things here.

If you enjoy the sort of pabulum (sense 3) that appears here, you can read more of Kory’s blabbing at the Merriam-Webster blog, A Thing About Words, as well as occasionally in the Guardian. Her opinions, typos, and blog are her own and not representative of Merriam-Webster &c. You know the spiel.

64 responses to “About

  1. How does she know she won’t marry me? What is she, clairvoyant?

  2. I make up words now and then. I offer them to my friends and my spouse, but they are usually ignored or quickly forgotten. I am going to give you a few words I’ve made up recently. If you like them, they are yours. Please allow me to send you new ones as they occur to me, otherwise they get forgotten and disappear. Thanks.

    Here are two: insinuendo, excremendacity.

    someone must have a use for these words.

    sincerely,

    brillp

  3. just finished reading an article by richard dawkins?
    I think. Thought of a new word: allegorephobic.

    brillp

  4. I love dictionaries and will browse through them for enjoyment, but never thought of how they are created. Thanks for some great posts.

  5. Melinda Menzer

    My friend Penny pointed me to your blog. She knew I would love it, and I do. I am an English professor at Furman University in Greenville, SC. I would love to see if you could come here and give some “talks and lectures on things that only other word nerds would be interested in.” I’m teaching my History of the English Language course and a freshman seminar called “Who Speaks Bad English?” right now, and you would be great for both of them. Is this possible? Please let me know. Thank you!

  6. Kory, I saw your video on “a, an” — and it reminded me that the word “a” is probably the only word in the English language that you pronounce differently when you refer to it abstractly, versus when used in a regular sentence. When you say, “The word “a” is an article,” you pronounce it as the long-a vowel. But if you say, “I own a dog,” you (as in most people — you specifically may do differently) pronounce it “uh.” Is there some kind of technical, lexographical term for this???

    • Dave,
      The reason is based on the accent, or lack thereof. When you combine the article with a noun or noun phrase (as in “a dog” or “a crazy dog”) the article is un-accented, and so, like many an accented vowel in English is “reduced” to the sound referred to as schwa (from the Hebrew name for a similar phenomenon), represented by the symbol ə or, secondarily, by “uh”. Incidentally, the definite article “the” behaves the same way before a consonant. I believe this unaccented vowel sound may be the most common sound in the English language. (There are perhaps thirty in this paragraph.)

  7. Cassio Vieira

    Dear Kory, I’m curious: live sound engineering?
    Cassio Vieira (yes, that bivalve!)
    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazil

  8. jeffrywith1e

    Kory, I have a question for you based on a thin hunch- and if I’m wrong it could be completely meaningless…..

    Have you heard of the band called the Danielson Famile? If so, have you met them or do you know them?

    Here’s the line of thought-
    1. Your last name is Stamper
    2. You are with Merriam-Webster
    3. The Merriam-Webster Podcast’s theme song is credited to Joshua Stamper- relatively safe assumption that this could be a spouse or sibling
    4. Copyright with New Jerusalem Music
    5. New Jerusalem Music is heavily associated with the wonderful and crazy band Danielson Famile.
    6. Therefore… if Kory knows Joshua in any way… then there’s a chance she’s met the folks at New Jerusalem and there the chances of her knowing the band would seem pretty good.

    Or my whole theory lands in the grass way out in left field.

    • korystamper

      Wow, that’s some serious sleuthing. Should I be worried that you’ve put this much thought into my connections with Danielson?

      The quick answer is yes, HOME RUN, I absolutely know the Danielson Famile and all the fine people at New Jerusalem Music & Sounds Familyre Records. (I’m also a big fan of Joshua Stamper, seeing as how I’m his wife).

      • jeffrywith1e

        That’s awesome! It wasn’t much thought- (other than making sure my grammar was correct whilst trying to communicate with a lexicographer (did I use ‘whilst’ correctly!?!)). It was a flash thought. It took way more time composing the question than it did to come to the conclusion. The moment I saw Joshua Stamper and New Jerusalem I thought you probably had heard of Danielson. Not many have. And fewer actually like them. My brother and I love the band and were even able to see them once in Minneapolis.

        I’m a big fan of these strange little coincidences.

        Well, now I have another question. You said you absolutely know them. Do you like them? They are an acquired taste as far as music styles go. Of the people I’ve met who’ve heard, or heard of them, or I’ve attempted to introduce Danielson to- few love them and most despise them.

      • jeffrywith1e

        BTW, I’ve been looking around and listening to some of Joshua’s music online. This is some good stuff. I’m a fan now, too. Different reason than yours, however.

    • Barnard Spielburg

      I have a demo CD of Tooth and Nail from 1997 that has Smooth Death by Danielson Family which is one of my favorite songs since then. Meanwhile, Kory Stamper is my favorite commentator of the Merriam Webster dictionary website. Coincidence?

  9. Myke

    Kory,
    I make up words all the time that seems descriptive to me but everyone knows are not really words (e.g., diaganeighbor for the folks that live across the street and one house down). Is this a way that some “words” become real words – just by someone making it up and its usage catching on over time?

  10. Myke

    Sure. No problem. I look forward to reading what you have to say on the topic.

  11. Gary

    Kory,
    By all accounts your M-W Ask the Editor cuts (ATE) don’t do your apparent ballsy and whimsical personality justice (I’m still laughing at the back and forth on that first Marc Adler response). I know you won’t marry me, but please allow me to admire you from afar :) . What promted me to google (hey, is google a verb in the dictionary yet???) you today and thus come across this site was a ATE (always have watched yours and occassionally watch others’) I came across when I tried to look up “permitable” which to my surprise apparently isn’t a “word” although I think it should be. Anyway… I’ve been give shit my whole speaking life for using the word “irregardless” and I now know, because of you, I’ve not been wrong. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  12. Pingback: a letter to English « sparrows and sandcastles

  13. psychopathspeaks

    I apologize Ms. Stamper.
    I simply cannot entertain the idea of marrying a purple-headed lexicographer. It’s a matter of principle – please don’t take it personally.

    Regards,

  14. Kory,

    Does Webster’s Biographical Dictionary include entries for names from the Bible and classical Greek/Roman history? I need correct pronunciation for these, and I know Webster’s includes that, while other general biographical dictionaries (if you can find them) only contain encyclopedic information. I know Webster’s is out of print, but there are used copies readily available.

    Thanks!

  15. Florian

    It’s been a pleasure stumbling over your blog. Thanks!

  16. Are you really the one who had to define “Bodice ripper”? What a life.

  17. I feel quite at home here. Thank you very much.

  18. Now, can we start –at the very least– regularize English spelling, because there are millions of kids who have struggled and are struggling memorizing all its irregularities! Honest! If English spelling was a car, it would not run! Mind you, do car really … run? In the MEANtime, reform, reform, reform! Still fetching water at the well?

  19. Considering there are millions of kids and people struggling to learn this mess of a language, let me suggest that this is not “harmless” drudgery! In fact, many kids are called “disabled”, as a result. Many will see a life of drudgery, as a result! Ergo, English should be labelled “harmful” –with one “l”, of course, and this website, “harmful drudgery”! If some languages could be labelled toxic or banned, English would be on the top of that list! In the MEANtime, keep prescribing to us! Ritalin with coffee and a little bit of “IN”glish on the side, for good me”jj”ur! Joy! Joy! Joy! Will you call the cops on me? The spelling cops! Not THE cops! Right? Rite? Riot?

  20. nori

    dear kory,
    i feel like florian and isntevenpast – I’m very happy to have discovered yr blog. thanks a lot. i like your style.

    ‘the decline of english’ was an especially good one. as an expat i feel a special responsibility to english. oops, scratch that, i mean to american! why don’t you and your pals at MW folk make it clear that you are lexicographers of american, not english. i mean, do i have to start walking in the road on my way home to lay the table?
    fondly
    nori

    ps – i wrote ‘toward english’ first, but changed it b/c i think ‘to’ is better usage and most of all b/c i couldn’t decide betw ‘toward’ and ‘towards.’ can you help?

  21. vj

    Wordweb is widely used because of its convenience. Why doesn’t M-W come up with something like that?

    On a different note: Huge Crush +1… I do not see the need for repetitive and obvious explanations for this :)

    • korystamper

      Oh, we do: we offer lots of downloadable dictionaries. They’re under the “Shop” link on the main MW site. Have a ball! And, as always, thank you for your contributions to the Feed the Lexicographers Fund.

  22. Will

    Brilliant! I laughed. I cried. I ate the whole thing and came back for seconds. In 1975, in a used book store in Atlanta, I came across a book of essays about the publication of Webster’s 3rd. This is even better. Thank you.

  23. SAHarris

    In regards to MW’s “trend watch” for the word Militia.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/trend-watch/2013/01/11/

    It states that modern opponents of gun control tend to support Definition 2, while supporters of gun control generally support Definitions 1 and 3. I think that the real question is, which definition would the drafters of the Second Amendment support? Which definitions were in common usage in the late-18th century?

    • korystamper

      Excellent question, and one we cannot possibly answer. Whole books are written on this subject; decades of arguments have centered on the intent of the Second Amendment. Even if you looked at dictionaries used by the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (likely Johnson’s 1755), it will only tell you what the common use of “militia” was during that time–not what the framers necessarily meant by it.

  24. marc leavitt

    Hi Kory:
    I occasionally take the Merriam-Webster vocabulary test in between thumb twiddles, and I’ve tried to leave a question on the web page, but haven’t been successful. I’m curious about the relevance of the scores; e.g., do the numbers mean anything? And why?
    Second, the test is much too easy (I know; I’m blowing my own horn). Could someone up the ante, or add a harder test?

    I’d appreciate your help. Your column is great fun.
    Cheers,
    Marc

  25. why do I think about David Foster Wallace now?

  26. Amygdalism : continually responding to perceived threats of any kind with immediate fight or flight strategies regardless of consequences.

    I thought you might want to put this in your next dictionary. No charge.

  27. Love your blog and your sense of humor! Sounds like a dream job to me; I read the dictionary for fun, and turn me loose with the OED and I’m in heaven!

  28. I don’t like a lot of blogs. Yours I love!

  29. The notion that there is rampant confusion over less/fewer but that the history of English belies the putative rigidity of this rule seems exaggerated if not bogus. Some scolds may find the rule confusing, but to me the “exceptions” — sums of money, units of time, distances and others — would seem to conform to the rule’s intrinsic logic.

  30. Alex

    Howdy from Brazil!
    My first language is Portuguese, but English is first in my heart: I like it better than Portuguese! Simpler grammar, shorter words. You know what latin languages are like…
    As I love languages, and English in particular, I’ve been your fan ever since I found your videos. To be honest, I like all MW videos, but I have to say that yours (I mean you!!!) are my favorite. Lucky guy, your husband. But don’t let your ego swell, that would ruin everything good in you.
    So how come I’m only the 456th follower of ths blog? You, I mean, it deserves a lot more.
    I’ve got an idea: right now I’m taking an online course by Coursera/Duke U: English Composition I – Achieving Expertise, and I’m going to ADVERTISE this blog there! On the grounds of linguistic relevance, no matter who the writer is.
    Most students are non-native speakers of English, but I think they’ll be interested. :)

  31. Kory, or anybody, but I hope Kory reads this: How would an excellent, fluent translator translate this sentence from English to, say, Italian? “He’s a real Eddie Haskel.” I wonder if every culture has a word that means Eddie Haskel.

  32. Sky

    Hi,
    I was just telling a friend about your wonderful article “Alma Mater,” but when I looked for it online the original link from brainchildmag was dead. I can’t seem to find it anywhere else, either. Do you know if there’s any way to access the article? I can’t (don’t want to) believe it’s just gone.

    • korystamper

      Hmm, if the original link is dead, then I think it’s no longer available online period. I’ll check, though! Thanks for reminding me that, um, I wrote that!

  33. David F

    Kory, I recently came across your blog, and I must say I am entranced. I won’t ask you to marry me; my wife insists on the mano a mano of monogamy. I will say I find your stance refreshing, thoughtful, and decidedly not dreary. (This from a business writing teacher who must firmly enforce The Rules while striving to be, well, thoughtful and undreary.) Thank you for writing with humor, clarity, and style. And thanks for using “asshattery” in your National Grammar Day post.
    –a new devoted fan.

  34. Mr. Peican Pants

    Bad grammer makes me [sic]

    Love,
    Your future ex-husband

  35. Peter Bodnar

    Love your site, love your videos.

    From your About section: (Pursuant to the video series: yes, her hair changes colors, and no, she will not marry you).

    Should the period be inside the close parenthesis?

  36. From “Monophysite” to “bodice ripper”… sounds like the new “A to Z” :)

  37. sf

    Interesting blog! I had always thought it was spelled “shpeel”. Thanks for mentioning that, so now I know.

  38. Linda Babat

    Kory, when I met you (again) at ITBE, I had no idea you were a celeb with a Grammar Girl connection. Hope the rest of your trip was a good one!

    Linda (Natgeo learning ESL)

  39. J

    There in lay your problem, you work for Websters. The greatest butcher of the English language that ever lived.

  40. My NYC high school (Hunter College HS) required that we take a speech class to get rid of at least some of our NY accents. We were told “If you ever leave NYC, no one will listen to a thing you have to say because of that accent.” This helped me navigate decades in the West and deep South, it also served Elena Kagan, Bernadine Healey, and Cynthia Nixon well.

  41. If you won’t marry us, can we at least be friends? ;)

    But my more serious comments:

    1. I love your blog and your MW videos. You have a great sense of humor that comes across on the blog and take a pretty good tact on being the language descriptivist that you are but still admitting that there is some value in understanding language prescriptivism and not having to like a word like “irregardless” even if it is a word.

    2. How would one get a job at MW or another major dictionary, doing language related work? I tried looking for a MW careers page, but haven’t had any luck finding one. And how much linguistic background experience is necessary? My degree is in linguistics and I have done work on a Japanese-English dictionary, but that’s about the extent of my experience.

  42. Stephen

    I’m curious how many words do you know? (estimate Ok) and when is the next “editors of merriam-webster” calendar due out? and how much for a signed copy?

  43. Stephen

    Oh, and how did you get your job (or how does one in general get a lexicographer job)?

  44. Hello there, I’ve just been wandering about your blog, and it’s really very funny. Although, I’m sure you’ve been told that many times before. I particularly liked your post about a conversation you might have had with a person on the plane about old dictionaries vs. new dictionaries. Looking forward to reading more :)

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