Read an article, felt proud of myself – Lexicography

Falling in Love with Words: The Secret Life of a Lexicographer –

An excerpt from Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper

Some other time I will detail the many heretofore considered useless talents that I possess and have no way to profit from. (Or the talents that I possess that I didn’t know you could get paid for until now).

But right now I found a word for one of them.

I’ve always been precise with my language because I naturally know a words definition. (Grammar though, especially punctuation, kicks my ass, and can suck it). It’s just the way my brain works and the way I’ve always been.

Sounds unlikely right?

Not so.

I have a Traumatic Brain Injury, history of concussions and cognitive impairment which keeps my brain functioning at about 25 – 50% its previous capacity. My doctor likes to say my mind is a race car with a Geo Metro engine.

Despite these shortcomings, when I do my yearly neuropsychological testing, there is one area in which I pass with flying colors.

I can define anything.* And I usually score in the high 90th percentile. It literally astonishes my doctor.

I am quite pleased by this as it backs up my claim of having this (I think) awesome but fundamentally useless  (I thought) talent. 

So reading this article written by a Definer who works for Merriam-Webster, I read the following passage. 

Your job as a definer is to find the exact right words to describe a word’s meaning, and that takes some serious brain wringing. “Measly,” for example, is often used to mean “small,” and you could get away with simply defining it as such and moving on.

Well, I like a challenge, so I closed my eyes and thought to myself for about 5 seconds and came up with my definition.

Pathetically small.

I opened my eyes and continued on.

But there’s a particular kind of smallness to “measly” that isn’t the same sort of smallness associated with the word “teeny”—“measly” implies a sort of grudging, grubbing smallness, a miserly meagerness, and so as a definer you begin wandering the highways and byways of English looking for the right word to describe the peculiar smallness of “measly.”

And then.

 * “Measly” is defined in the Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, as “contemptibly small.” Emily Brewster thinks it might be the best definition in the whole book.

I feel like I nailed it.

There is a bit of difference between pathetic and contemptible but the fact that they both mean the inspiration of a disgusted kind of emotion, I feel like my definition is pretty dang close.

I’m quite proud of myself for this. It might be measly* to some but in the small sphere that my life has become since disability, for me, this goes in the “Damn Right, Hell Yeah, Good Job” column.

In any case, I’m gonna have to check out this book.


*As long as I am at least familiar with the word, and sometimes I’m awesome at guessing even if I’ve never heard it before.

*Ha. See what I did there?


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