Wordniks, Unite!

I confess. I am a word dork. I don’t have a stellar GRE vocabulary, and I try to steer away from using big words to sound smart, but when I was a kid, I enjoyed reading the dictionary (yes, let me repeat: reading the dictionary. I told you I was a word dork), and when I was in college I was introduced to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and made a trip to the library a few times a week just to look up the etymology of some words.

What does etymology mean? Here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:

Main Entry: et·y·mol·o·gy
Pronunciation: \-jē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural et·y·mol·o·gies
Etymology: Middle English ethimologie, from Anglo-French, from Latin etymologia, from Greek, from etymon + -logia -logy
Date: 14th century
1 : the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language 2 : a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies.

But I digress. I wanted to share a new site that I found – it’s called Wordnik. I’ve taken the liberty of copying and pasting the FAQs for you here:

How does Wordnik work?
Wordnik is based on the principle that people learn words best by seeing them in context. We’ve collected more than 4 billion words of text (web pages, books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) and have mined them exhaustively to show you example sentences for any word you’re interested in.

At Wordnik, we also believe that some information about a word is always better than no information, so we’ll show you whatever we’ve found, for any word you look up.

How is Wordnik different from other online dictionaries?
At Wordnik, you get:
*real example sentences to show words in context
*meaningful information about your word’s frequency and use patterns
*related words—not just synonyms and antonyms, but words that behave in similar ways
*the chance to contribute to our knowledge of English through recording pronunciations, pointing us towards new words, adding tags and related words, and leaving your notes

So this is pretty interesting to me – and what is most interesting is that we can contribute to it. It’s a Wikipedia for word dorks!

This technology / service / website will also reveal to us what the OED has shown for a long time: that language is dynamic, that it’s contextual and situational, that it is created and modified by its users, and that as users of a language, we have input into its evolution. Ultimately, it reveals the social construction of knowledge. That may not help us on our GRE scores (don’t get me started on this topic), but it’s reassuring. I like the idea of having input.

So in a nutshell, I think that Wordnik is “fab.” It’s a PrattleNogly [sic] great idea!


2 thoughts on “Wordniks, Unite!

  1. Pingback: Vanity Books « PrattleNog

  2. Pingback: Off Kilter « PrattleNog

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