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What does a Lexicographer do?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

A lexicographer is someone who practices lexicography, the science of the design, use, compilation, and evaluation of general dictionaries. A general dictionary is a dictionary that simply aims to describe and define and language as a whole. Special dictionaries, such as legal dictionaries and medical dictionaries, fall under the category of special lexicography. A special lexicographer usually has training both in the field he aims to define and in lexicography.

There are two different areas of interest for a lexicographer to pursue. Practical lexicography is the craft of compiling, writing, and organizing dictionaries. A practical lexicographer is typically involved in either the writing or the editing of a dictionary, which varies widely based on the intended use of the dictionary.

A lexicographer compiles, writes, and organizes dictionaries.
A lexicographer compiles, writes, and organizes dictionaries.

Some lexicographers study theoretical lexicography. Theoretical lexicographers study the relationships between words based on use and meaning. They also study the ways that people access information in dictionaries, whether in print or online form. Sometimes, theoretical lexicography is known as metalexicography.

One of the important tasks of a lexicographer is profiling the intended audience of a dictionary. Massive, unabridged dictionaries may be useful in the classroom, but a college student may find them to be a little too large to be convenient. Pocket dictionaries, on the other hand, may not contain enough information for the scholarly college student. A lexicographer tends to base the organization and format of a dictionary on the intended readers.

General dictionaries aim to describe and define language as a whole.
General dictionaries aim to describe and define language as a whole.

One of the greatest concerns for a lexicographer is the lexicographic information cost of seeking a piece of information in a given dictionary. The lexicographic information cost is the summation of the annoyances and difficulties that one experiences in using a specific dictionary to find an entry and gain the desired information from it. A low lexicographic information cost means that the users of a given dictionary are able to easily access and understand the information they wished to find. A high lexicographic information cost, on the other hand, means that the users of a dictionary find it difficult to access and comprehend the information they were looking for.

Specialized lexicographers compile, organize, and edit dictionaries specific to a wide variety of purposes and professions. As in most other cases, the lexicographers specifically design the dictionaries to keep the lexicographic information cost for those professionals who make use of the specialized dictionaries. As such, other people may find the dictionaries difficult to understand and use. Specialized dictionaries include medical dictionaries, legal dictionaries, and bilingual dictionaries.

Discussion Comments


I wonder if there was a group of radical linguists or lexicographers behind the very fun and informative urban dictionary that is online.

One of my favorites that I gathered from the urban dictionary online is "get an inbox" rather than the typical slang of "get a room" which is used to let couples who are involved in serious displays of public affection to do such actions in public.

"Get an inbox" is used to let people who leave cyber-displays of affection all over social media sites know that they need to start sending private messages to their someone special's inbox because we are tired of seeing it all over the site.

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    • A lexicographer compiles, writes, and organizes dictionaries.
      By: Ben Higham
      A lexicographer compiles, writes, and organizes dictionaries.
    • General dictionaries aim to describe and define language as a whole.
      By: Sebastian Crocker
      General dictionaries aim to describe and define language as a whole.