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In the Digital Era, Our Dictionaries Read Us

March 26, 2013

For Peter Sokolowski, a high-profile event like the 9/11 attacks or the 2012 vice-presidential debate is not just news. It’s a “vocabulary event” that sends readers racing to their dictionaries.

Sokolowski is editor at large for Merriam-Webster, whose red-and-blue-jacketed Collegiate Dictionary still sits on the desk of many a student and editor. In a print-only era, it would have been next to impossible for him to track vocabulary events. Samuel Johnson, the grand old man of the modern dictionary, “could have spent a week or a month writing a given word’s definition and could never have known if anyone read it,” he says.

Today, Sokolowski can and does monitor what visitors to the Merriam-Webster Web site look up—as they’re doing it.

With the spread of digital technologies, dictionaries have become a two-way mirror, a record not just of words’ meanings but of what we want to know. Digital dictionaries read us.

Excerpt from an article written by Jennifer Howard at TCHE. Continue HERE

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