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Wordnik: The Dictionary Redefined

Exploring the Word Wide Web, or what Dr. Seuss can teach us about linguistic snobbery.

In 2007, lexicographer Erin McKean gave a TED talk that left many speechless with its keen insight about the evolution of language and the shortcomings of traditional dictionaries. This month, McKean launched Wordnik, her long-awaited solution to the problems she outlined in her talk.

Wordnik is an ongoing project out to discover all the words and all there is to know about them.

A crowdsourced toolkit for tracking and recording the evolution of language as it occurs, its goal is to gather as much information about a word as possible — not its mere definition, but also in-sentence examples, semantic “neighborhoods” of related words, images, statistics about usage, and more. And it’s all compiled via user submissions.

Besides the makings of a next-gen dictionary, Wordnik is a refuge for linguistic underdogs and etymological rejects alike — and we love it. Because why should some stuffy Brit in his Oxford cubicle raise a disapproving eyebrow at the real language real people use and tell us that “brainpicker” isn’t actually a word?

Anyone who’s read a children’s book knows that love makes things real. If you love a word, use it. That makes it real. Being in the dictionary is an artificial distinction. [McKean @ TED]

For the full, straight-from-the-source scoop on Wordnik, check out this excellent interview with McKean on the TED Blog.

via Chris Anderson

Published June 10, 2009




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