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ENG170: The English Language: Background Information

Spring 2022, D. Patey

Kory Stamper, Lexicographer, Class of 1996

Kory Stamper ’96 is an associate editor at Merriam-Webster and the author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. As a result of her “Ask the Editor” videos and her popular blog Harmless DrudgeryThe New York Times has deemed her “very much part of the vanguard of word-nerd celebrities.” A few years ago, while visiting Smith, she took some time to share her thoughts on some of her favorite—and not-so-favorite—words and definitions. 

Watch the short VIDEO here!

The Great Dictionaries

Here is a selective, chronological list of dictionaries in which to look for the development of a word's meaning:

Oxford English Dictionary

For a key to symbols and other conventions in the OED, use this site


Same Dictionary, Different Editions

One example of finding different editions of a dictionary:

  1. Go to the Five College Catalog
  2. Choose "Title" from the drop-down menu
  3. Enter "The Random House Dictionary of the English language" into the search box.

You will see various editions listed. Not all are available at Smith.