The Dictionary as Data: An Alumni Talk with Peter Sokolowski '92, '94G

February 18, 2014
5:30 pm

Commonwealth Honors College Building

Room: Events Hall

Handicap access available
Free admission

What makes a person look up a word? When do you use a dictionary? Looking up a word in the dictionary is an intimate act for each of us as individuals, but the words sought by millions of users put together tell us a surprising story about the English language. By watching trends of lookups on a heavily consulted online dictionary, lexicographers track which entries are being consulted at any given moment. Some words are perennial sources of curiosity, while others show spikes of interest triggered by news from the worlds of politics, entertainment, and sports. Some words express the general mood of the culture; others reflect a poignant specificity. At the same time, this Web traffic tells a story about the changing business of dictionaries -- and what is expected of a dictionary in the 21st century. Peter Sokolowski ’92 and ’94G is the Editor-at-Large for Merriam-Webster.  His talk, “The Dictionary as Data” examines not only the transition of dictionaries from print to digital, but also what we have learned about English from having over a billion words looked up per year on the Merriam-Webster web site.  Food will be provided.