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

More news and ideas from Erin McKean

Live from TED

The top 10 words of TED2015

March 20, 2015

TED is about ideas worth spreading, and these often come wrapped up in words worth knowing. Here are some of the great words from TED2015: 10. Neurodiversity. From Steve Silberman’s talk on the history of the autism spectrum. It’s a word that began popping up in 1998, and it means “the variety of configurations of the […]

Continue reading

Creative ignition: A recap of the fiery talks in Session 10 of TED2015

March 20, 2015

In a session that honors the “deeply practical and the entirely improbable,” pyromantics and biosynthetic designers meet artists and flag-worshippers. Helen Walters, host of Session 10: Creative Ignition, calls this session a “celebration of the catalytic thinking that reshapes the world around us.” Here’s a recap: How to reboot society. Lewis Dartnell asks us to […]

Continue reading