Wordnik News & Reminders

Happy New Year, everyone! We wanted to give you a roundup of the latest Wordnik news and reminders about some of our fun features and products.

We rang in 2012 with a profile in The New York Times, Wordnik’s Online Dictionary, No Arbiters Please, while our President and CEO, Joe Hyrkin, was interviewed by IdeaMensch. Last month we launched the Wordnik-powered financial dictionary for SmartMoney.com of The Wall Street Journal (check out our blog post for more details).

Wordnik was highlighted in GigaOM’s NoSQL’s great, but bring your A game, while our special all-Glee edition of Word Soup, was featured at WetPaint.

Also, Wordnik is still hiring! Check out our jobs page for open positions and to apply.

To remind you, every weekend Erin McKean pens The Wall Street Journal feature, “The Week in Words,” a field guide to unusual words in that week’s WSJ issue. The latest installment rounds up 2011’s most interesting linguistic trends.

Did you get a Nook over the holidays? If so, you might be interested in their Word of the Day app, powered by Wordnik. And if your word nerd wishlist went unfulfilled, treat yourself to these Pocket Posh Word Power dictionaries.

Wordnik Now Makes SmartMoney Smarter (Wordnik Means Business)

Wordnik means business — we’re happy to announce today that Wordnik is powering SmartMoney.com’s new financial terms glossary!

SmartMoney Glossary

The New SmartMoney Glossary

With more than 4000 words and phrases, SmartMoney’s new glossary is the place to go to make sense of the words that matter in your financial life. Keeping track of your finances is difficult enough, without the added hurdle of wading through financial jargon, too. Wordnik helps demystify opaque terms such as recission, dilution, and butterfly spread, making it easier for you to make meaningful choices about how you live your financial life. In addition to traditional definitions and explanatory notes, the new SmartMoney glossary also includes helpful example sentences showing the terms in real-world contexts, from up-to-date articles from across the The Wall Street Journal Digital Network.

flight to quality at SmartMoney.com

Alongside the stand-alone glossary, selected articles in the The Wall Street Journal Digital Network will also have a useful footer line to highlight important terms you may want to look up.

SmartMoney Glossary

To provide the example sentences, Wordnik has analyzed thousands of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network articles (from SmartMoney, The Wall Street Journal, and MarketWatch) to show the most explanatory and illuminating content for the most important words and concepts, leading readers to current trending articles as well as rich archival information. Taken together, these enhancements will not only allow SmartMoney readers to understand the traditional meanings of important financial terms, but will also let them interact with news content in ways that provide fresh discovery of words, phrases, concepts, and entire articles.

Wordnik News

Just wanted to give everyone a heads up on the latest in Wordnik news.

First up, this Sunday morning Wordnik founder Erin McKean will be appearing on Press:Here, an NBC show broadcast in the San Francisco Bay Area which features stories on Silicon Valley’s technology industry.  Erin will be talking about redefining the dictionary, “good” and “bad” words, what makes a word, and (of course) Wordnik. Can’t wait till Sunday or not in the Bay Area? Watch the clip here.

Next up, Erin’s TED book, Aftercrimes, Geoslavery, and Thermogeddon: Thought-Provoking Words from a Lexicographer’s Notebook, is now available.  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and is “a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.”  Erin’s book takes a “revealing look at a torrent of new words and phrases—in science, politics, social life—that reveal our changing societies.”  It’s available on Amazon for the Kindle, and on iBooks.

Finally, Wordnik is powering a new weekend feature in The Wall Street Journal, “The Week in Words,” a field guide to unusual words in that week’s WSJ issue.  Here’s last week’s column and this week’s.

The New York Times Should Be a Social Network

The New York Times web site has gotten much better in the past year, but that hasn’t stopped their stock price from sinking like they have rocks in their pockets. And the sale of the Wall Street Journal shows that family ownership is no bulwark against predatory forces.

To survive in recognizable form the Times needs to accelerate their transition from a newspaper company to an information company. They need to find a sustainable business model before someone buys them and either remakes the company in their own image, or bleeds it dry.

One important step they should take: become a social network.

Social networks benefit from an organizing principle. MySpace sprang from the natural aggregators of bands and music, Facebook from academic communities. News as an organizing principle is potentially larger and stickier than either of those, and has the potential to foster a more engaged, less inane community, a social network for adults. In the real world the Times already facilitates social networking: people talk about what’s in the news, and they especially talk about what’s in the Times.

There has been an enormous amount of me-too bandwagoneering around social networks, but in the case of the Times this move makes strategic sense, and can be accomplished gracefully and incrementally. First, allow users to create public profiles, tied to their comments and other site activities. Allow comments on news stories as well as blog posts. Let readers vote up good comments, à la Amazon (and USA Today). Let readers create and join interest groups, and talk to each other.

In practice the Times would be a confederacy of networks. The people talking about books on Paper Cuts and about parenting on Judith Warner’s blog would not be the same polemicists attacking each other on the op-ed pages. This is a good thing. With the depth of content on the Times, there’s something for everyone.

Two things they should not change: the requirement that commenters register, and editorial oversight of comments. The air of gravitas that hangs over the Times is a feature, not a bug, and high standards are and should remain a positive differentiator.

How does journalism fit into this? As it always has: professional journalism should remain the heart of the Times endeavor. But creating an ecology of engaged readers around the professional content could significantly extend the Times reach, raise traffic levels, and create the possibility for significant new revenue streams. A social networking strategy works hand in hand with the Times historic mission of democratizing information, and it would dovetail nicely with recent experiments like My Times.

Other changes that should accompany this shift:

  • Nix mandatory registration. The slight benefit it offers (to advertisers; it doesn’t benefit readers at all) is far outweighed by the downsides. Create an engaging network and people will register on their own.
  • Get people who have led successful Internet companies on the board and in senior management. See my previous post on Marc Andreessen’s piece (which is what got me thinking about all this in the first place).
  • Enter the local news arena. Partner with the likes of Outside.in, EveryBlock, or my employer, Curbed.com. The web excels at local and neighborhood information, and there are ad dollars to be had. Again this would work nicely with My Times.
  • Seriously improve search. Partner with Google.

Right now NYTimes.com traffic is dwarfed by MySpace and Facebook. The Times has national and international reach, fantastic content, and an incredible brand. It can and should be one of the most popular sites on the web, rather than the 201st, which is where Alexa ranks it today.

There is a way out of the morass of the past year, and social networking, with the benefits it would bring to both readers and the company, is one step towards it.

Judge Selya, we salute you

If Wordie is ever sued (for libel?), I hope it’s in Judge Bruce Selya’s court. When he throws the book at you, it’s a dictionary.

Frederick Brodie had a lovely bit in last week’s National Law Journal (found via Dan Slater’s post in the WSJ Law Blog) about the linguistic proclivities of the good judge, which seem so straight-up Wordie that I had to turn them into a list. Selya loves ten-cent words (Law Blog, adjusting for inflation, calls them five-dollar words), and has managed to work doozies like philotheoparoptesism, repastinate, sockdolager, and thaumaturgical, among others, into his opinions.

Not exactly plain English, and I can’t help but wonder if a more straightforward style would also be more democratic. But c’mon, sockdolager? Makes me smile.

The Salad Dodger

Wordie’s mole at the The Wall Street Journal has forwarded another worthwhile post, this one from the WSJ Health Blog. The WotY is a global phenomenon*, and Heather Won Tesoriero posts about some gems in the ‘health’ category of the Word of the Year contest sponsored by the Macquarie Dictionary in Australia.

My favorite by far is “salad dodger,” defined as an overweight person. I envision an Artful Dodger focused solely on junk food, quietly pocketing moon pies while avoiding the soy police.

* And an exhausting one. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t even blogged about the American Dialect Society’s recently annointed WotY. I very much like their choices and their attitude, both of which are better than most of the commercial WotY offerings. But I’m suffering a bit of WotY fatigue**. I’ll try to get fired up, as Obama (and Hillary) would say, this weekend.

** Doubly embarrassing is that I have given short shrift to Wordie’s own grassroots WotY movement, which has been great fun to watch from the sidelines. Though part of me thinks it might function best as a phantom WotY, forever discussed but never announced.


While the language of law can reach tremendous heights, legalese is more often painfully, agonizingly dull.

So kudos to WSJ Law Blogger Peter Lattman for taking such unabashed delight in a word found in the austere setting of a legal opinion. And kudos to Judge Rosenbaum for dropping the hammer on the bad guys and showing off his mad vocabulary skills at the same time. High fives all around.