[This article originally published on Chicago Manual of Style Shop Talk website.]
Peter Sokolowski is editor at large at Merriam-Webster, where he works on the Word of the Day podcast, Ask the Editor videos, and short articles about word trends and etymologies (which he also presents on Twitter). In addition to attending professional and academic conferences to talk about dictionaries, he conducts workshops for teachers of English as a second language, serves as pronouncer for spelling bees around the world, and is a substitute jazz host for New England Public Radio. (We also hear he plays a mean jazz trumpet.)
Here he talks with Shop Talk editor Carol Fisher Saller.
CFS: Recently I was lucky enough to hear you speak about what lexicographers can deduce from the words people look up at Merriam-Webster.com. You gave examples of how a political or celebrity event can cause certain “lookups” to spike—such as the word emaciated when Michael Jackson died. Later I saw your tweet about the spiking of canonize and homily when Pope Francis visited the US. I believe you said that more than a billion words a year are looked up at the M-W Dictionary website and apps. What I’d like to know is, how do you keep an eye on a billion lookups? What kind of tools do you have and how do you use them?
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)