Wordnik Could Be World's Biggest Online Dictionary

Posted on March 16, 2009

The Christian Science Monitor has a detailed story about a Erin McKean. Ms. McKean plans to launch the largest online dictionary ever. Ms. McKean told the Monitor that her project called Wordnik will "completely revolutionize all of dictionarymaking forever."

Ms. McKean's brainchild is called Wordnik, and it combines the best practices of the old-fashioned desk reference with Internet innovations. Words can be tagged like a blog entry, their pronunciation recorded and replayed like streaming radio, their related words cataloged like a list of books customers also bought at an online book depot. When the paper page gives way to the Web page, everything about the way we think of words will change, McKean says. "This project," she predicts in a quiet voice devoid of bravado, "is going to completely revolutionize all of dictionarymaking forever."

Granted, a dictionary is closer to a database than a mystery thriller, its authors nothing like, say, John Grisham. But to McKean, nothing has ever seemed more fascinating than collecting and organizing American words.

McKean was 8 years old when she decided that when she grew up, she wanted to be a lexicographer - the technical term for a writer or editor of dictionaries. She first found it in her daily scouring of The Wall Street Journal. Her father was a Journal devotee, and McKean liked the human interest stories (but, she jokes, "even then, I knew enough not to read the editorial page.")

Ms. McKean may be on to something. The article says Wordnik's team of seven has built a huge database of 4 billion words. Each word in Wordnik will also have a useful audio file of its pronunciation. Her online dictionary also has a blog.

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