Whether dictionaries should be descriptive or prescriptive is one of the questions that Stamper addresses. While that might have been decided already, there are still many who believe they should be prescriptive, that is, telling readers how to use words, rather than descriptive, telling them how words are used. I can understand the viewpoint of the Prescriptivists, as I have my own pet peeve that I wish the dictionary could validate (reticent vs. reluctant), but in the end the Descriptivists win out. Language is always changing, and as use changes, what's acceptable eventually follows. Sometimes, as in the case of "irregardless," the dictionary notes its common usage but relies upon usage notes and the use of "nonstandard" to indicate its lack of correctness.
This book will be a fun, entertaining, and enlightening read for anyone who loves words, language, and grammar. It includes an index and a bibliography including several books that I'd like to read:
- Simon Winchester. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.
- Herbert Charles Morton. The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove’s controversial dictionary and its critics.
- David Skinner. The Story of Ain't: America, its Language and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.
Kory Stamper. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. New York: Pantheon Books, 2017. 296 pages. ISBN 9781101870946.