As the co-founder of Reverb Technologies, the maker of the online dictionary Wordnik, Erin McKean is reshaping how we interact with language itself.
In this fun, short talk from TEDYouth, lexicographer Erin McKean encourages — nay, cheerleads — her audience to create new words when the existing ones won’t quite do. She lists out 6 ways to make new words in English, from compounding to “verbing,” in order to make language better at expressing what we mean, and to create more ways for us to understand one another.
Why you should listen
Erin McKean’s job as a lexicographer involves living in a constant state of research. She searches high and low — from books to blogs, newspapers to cocktail parties — for new words, new meanings for old words, or signs that old words have fallen out of use. In June of this year, she involved us all in the search by launching Wordnik, an online dictionary that houses all the traditionally accepted words and definitions, but also asks users to contribute new words and new uses for old words. Wordnik pulls real-time examples of word usage from Twitter, image representations from Flickr along with many more non-traditional, and highly useful, features.
Before Wordnik, McKean was one of the youngest editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary. She continues to serve as the editor of the language quarterly Verbatim (“language and linguistics for the layperson since 1974”) and is the author of multiple books, including That’s Amore and the entire Weird and Wonderful Words series. All that, and she maintains multiple blogs, too: McKean is the keen observationalist behind A Dress a Day and Dictionary Evangelist. Is there anything she can’t do? Surprisingly, she is notoriously bad at Scrabble.
What others say
“Ms. McKean is part of the next wave of top lexicographers who have already or may soon take over guardianship of the nation’s language, and who disprove Samuel Johnson’s definition of a lexicographer as ‘a harmless drudge.’” — The New York Times