As the co-founder of Reverb Technologies, the maker of the online dictionary Wordnik, Erin McKean is reshaping how we interact with language itself.

Why you should listen

Erin McKean's job as a lexicographer involves living in a constant state of research. She searches high and low -- from books to blogs, newspapers to cocktail parties -- for new words, new meanings for old words, or signs that old words have fallen out of use. In June of this year, she involved us all in the search by launching Wordnik, an online dictionary that houses all the traditionally accepted words and definitions, but also asks users to contribute new words and new uses for old words. Wordnik pulls real-time examples of word usage from Twitter, image representations from Flickr along with many more non-traditional, and highly useful, features. 

Before Wordnik, McKean was one of the youngest editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary . She continues to serve as the editor of the language quarterly  Verbatim ("language and linguistics for the layperson since 1974") and is the author of multiple books, including That's Amore and the entire Weird and Wonderful Words series. All that, and she maintains multiple blogs, too: McKean is the keen observationalist behind A Dress a Day and Dictionary Evangelist. Is there anything she can't do? Surprisingly, she is notoriously bad at Scrabble.  



What others say

“Ms. McKean is part of the next wave of top lexicographers who have already or may soon take over guardianship of the nation's language, and who disprove Samuel Johnson's definition of a lexicographer as 'a harmless drudge.'” — The New York Times

Erin McKean’s TED talks

Erin McKean on the TED Blog
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Live from TED2014

The top 10 words of TED2014, according to Erin McKean

March 21, 2014

A surprise superquick talk from wordnik Erin McKean, who reads from her magic notebook the top 10 words of this TED. The full list follows; here are four highlights: tokamak, a doughnut-shaped fusion reactor whose name comes from a transliteration of the Russian токамак. rockism, which Mark Ronson describes as “like racism, but for rock music.” […]

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New TED Book: Erin McKean’s “Aftercrimes, Geoslavery, and Thermogeddon”

July 20, 2011

Ever been brainjacked? Or Breitbarted? Perhaps you’re a kangatarian or a newpreneur. If not, you can still be a wordnik. Come with us as we peek into the notebook of lexicographer Erin McKean in Aftercrimes, Geoslavery, and Thermogeddon: Thought-Provoking Words from a Lexicographer’s Notebook, her revealing look at a torrent of new words and phrases—in […]

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Quotes from Erin McKean

People say to me, ‘How do I know if a word is real?’ You know, anybody who’s read a children’s book knows that love makes things real. If you love a word, use it. That makes it real.
Erin McKean
TED2007 • 726K views Aug 2007
Funny, Informative