A Letter to a Prospective Lexicographer

Curiosity about lexicographers struck me today when I watched a video in my Facebook news feed about the difficulty of defining millennials’ usage of “basic” from the point of view of a lexicographer. I started to wonder, “How does someone become a lexicographer? Maybe this something I can do?!” But after reading this very interesting post, I think I will just admire this calling from afar.

harm·less drudg·ery

We regularly receive letters from people who want an editorial job at M-W and ask for more information on lexicography. It’s my job to answer those letters. Here is the response I wish I could send.

Thank you for your interest in becoming an editor at Merriam-Webster.  I am happy to share some information on the field of lexicography with you.

There are only three formal requirements for becoming a Merriam-Webster editor. First, we respectfully ask that you be a native speaker of English. I think I should break this to you now, before you begin shopping for tweeds and practicing your “tally ho what”: we focus primarily on American English. It’s not that we don’t like British English and its speakers. Indeed, we have an instinctual, deep love for any people who, upon encountering a steamed pudding with currants in it for the first time, thought, “The name of…

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