If you have a topic you’d like me to blab about on this here blog, leave a comment below. I read them all! That is meant to be as ominous as it sounds.

If you’re interested in having me speak at your conference, university, library, or stadium rock concert, send me a note here. This also goes for press folks who want me to talk about things like why “moist” is not actually gross, but “moistify” is:


17 responses to “How?

  1. I’d love to see you weigh in on the etymology of the phrase “the whole nine yards”. I haven’t found any compelling answer, yet. You?

  2. In at the 1:30 mark you say a sentence with a word that is (I claim) not a word: it’s instead a mispronunciation of a common french word. I’m curious, though, what word you think you’re saying as it doesn’t seem to be unusual (in the USA anyway) and presumably others uttering this sound also think they’re using this (non) word.

    • Kory Stamper

      I’m saying this, which is a word we’ve borrowed into English from French, and appropriately given an English-ish pronunciation. (I was actually told to French it up a little during the shoot–the way I usually say it bastardizes it even more. Sorry, Francophones!)

  3. Andrew

    How do you know the difference between jelly and jam? I ask, because I have a hunch that M-W, and all dictionaries, get it wrong. After all, most citations of the words won’t give you any information to distinguish them. “He spread some jelly on his toast” doesn’t tell you much about *what* is being spread. And citations that *do* explain the difference between jelly and jam, or otherwise provide sufficient details for a reader to suss it out, will necessarily be drawn exclusively from those sources that *do* distinguish between them. But my hunch is that IRL, most people who actually use the words *don’t*, or at least consider one a subset of the other. Is this sort of casual use lexically significant, or is it simply taken for granted that a large number of terms are used more loosely than even the ur-descriptivists at M-W could reasonably indicate? Is there field research, in which M-W sends lexicographers out into the world to ask people what they call the stuff in their sandwich next to the peanut butter (and then asks them to see it, to find out if it’s actually sweetened, congealed juice or sweetened, boiled fruit)? *Shouldn’t there be?* After all, isn’t lexicography the intersection of linguistics and anthropology, and to be honest, a little more on the anthropology side of the street?

    • miss pooslie

      the difference between Jelly and Jam would be for an encyclopedia not a dictionary.

      they are both cooked down fruit and sugar emulsion that is spreadable. the difference is not lexicographical but nuanced as to how it is prepared, etc.

      • gc

        Based on my gustatory experience……
        the difference between jelly and jam
        A-jelly has no solid material
        B-jam has solid material

  4. Adam Nelson

    (gush gush gush your blog is great.)

    I’d love to hear what you can add to the “No, totally” mystery. (

    My intuition is that the ‘No’ in ‘No, totally’ expresses a desire to be perceived as an ally by the first speaker. As in ‘no [I don’t disagree at all], totally.’

    I wonder if its use is more common when the speaker is on the defensive. Or if indicates insecurity in the speaker.

  5. JM Hatch

    Thought you might find this article interesting. Your blog posts were a pleasure.

  6. Justin Kagan


    After yet another writer offended my sensibilities with a misuse of the reflexive pronoun “myself”, I wondered if you would be willing to settle this by considering it as a topic for a future video. While this issue is important to me, I ask not only for myself. It is for the benefit of all, including me.

    Me? Myself? Why is this so terribly difficult for people? Didn’t they teach us to remove everyone else from the sentence, at which point the correct pronoun becomes self-evident? This seems like a natural follow-up to the “it is she” vs. “it is her” debate.

    Thanks for what you do. Keep it up.

  7. E. J. S.

    The first provision in Sec. 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…” The meaning of the often-ignored and controversial phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” has been under scrutiny. Can you elucidate meaning of “jurisdiction” from its 18th Century legal context and usage? Do lexicographers define legal terms, then or now? Thanks.

  8. Daejun Kim

    Dear Kory,

    This is Kim from Korea.
    I’ve just finished your book “Word by Word’ and it has been pleasure reading your book. Thank you for telling me the secrets of lexicography.

    I was just wondering if you can tell me the differences between Merriam-Webster dictionaries and other publishers’ dictionaries such as Oxford dictionaries, Collins-Cobuild dictionaries, and Longman dictionaries?

    As an English learner, I wonder whether there are any significant differences.


  9. wsal57

    Hi Kory,
    While teaching an intensive vocabulary course that preceded an SAT prep class many moons ago, and frustrated that the hyper-hormoned reciprocals of my instruction could not remember that the suffix “ous” meant “filled with” or “full of,” I wrote on the blackboard (yes it was that long ago) “shitous.” I explained that it is a French word, pronounced “shy-tooz” and that using it rather than the boorish “You’re full of shit” would prevent a good beating and instill a sense of superiority, as the French are wont to do. Sadly, they believed me, but did not employ the word often enough for it to catch on.
    PS– It is the working title of my unwritten novel, so don’t grow overfond and try to abscond with it.

  10. wsal57

    Damn word correcting programs, and me for not proofreading. “Reciprocals” was meant to be “receptacles.” Although I think it might make sense in some metaphysical way.

  11. Have you seen, The Omnficent English Dictionary in Limerick Form? The project goal is to produce an unabridged English dictionary, in which all the definitions are in the form of limericks. If you’re ever in the mood for a busman’s holiday (limerick #15326), check it out.

    Loved the book, by the way. I’m now trying to squelch my pedantic tendency.

  12. Richard Tinsley

    Hi, Kory
    I read your book and was hooked from the preface on. You mentioned that, in parts of Ireland, bad weather is called “cat.” Could you elucidate, please, with quotes and dates if possible? Is “cat” a noun meaning “bad weather” or is it an adjective defining the weather? Thanks.

  13. Daniel Barnett

    Hi Kory, I just wanted to let you know that I adored Word by Word. Quite apart from the fascinating insight into the lexicographer’s art and craft, your writing voice is simply a pleasure – clear, funny, self-aware, wise, and so smooth as to trick me into thinking that you hadn’t sweated at all over it. Thank you!

  14. Nancy Perry

    Thank you for your interview with Terry Gross/Fresh Air that was re-aired today, I loved it. I married my husband a quarter of a century ago… and a piece of his speech has driven me crazy.
    Firstly, he grew up in Lima, Ohio and I grew up in LA, CA….
    He would say, “The car needs washed.” and I would, as if in a slippery slope battle, say, “What happened to the ‘to be’ verb?” … then when our children picked it up, I lamented the loss of the ‘to be’ verb, “The car needs TO BE washed!” and gave up. I felt it was indicative of the language and intelligence of the country going to pot. (Never mind that my husband is much more knowledgeable than me, and you could talk with him about anything and he makes it interesting). Your interview helped me here, 25 years later, to realize that something else I have been lamenting, the loss of dialect, is actually alive and well and illustrated by my husband (and occasionally our children… though I think I scared them out of it, …. but more likely we do not live in Lima, OH so their peers inspired them out of it).
    I would love to know where that came from..?? The use of a past tense verb, instead of the ‘to be’ verb indicating something that needs to happen in the future.
    ie: “The dishes need done”
    “The dogs need fed.”
    “The light needs fixed”
    Thanks again, Nancy

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