Discover your career path

Lexicographer

Help update or create new dictionaries.

What does a Lexicographer do?

Atribilious. Delitescent. Salubrious. Obscure adjectives that mean “grumpy,” “latent” and “healthy,” respectively, these aren’t just highfalutin vocabulary words for ambitious SAT test-takers. When you’re a Lexicographer, they’re also co-workers.

That’s because words are your work when you’re a Lexicographer. As someone who specializes in “lexicography” — the practice of producing dictionaries — your job as a Lexicographer is compiling, writing, editing and organizing definitions for use in dictionaries, lists, lexicons and encyclopedias. Although that might include massive, unabridged versions of reference books, it also might include specialized texts, such as medical dictionaries, or abridged dictionaries designed for specific audiences, such as children or college students.

Speaking of audiences, your job isn’t just writing definitions; it’s writing the right definitions for the right people. Take a scientific word, for instance, which you’ll define differently for students and Scientists. The former require a simple, easy-to-understand definition while the latter will appreciate a thorough, more technical explanation. It’s your job to know the difference.

Because they have a language of their own, you must be familiar with dictionaries’ style, as well as their mechanics, including common symbols and abbreviations. You also must be a superior researcher, as you’ll have to scour the Internet and popular culture for new words, and consult existing references to make sure you spell and define words correctly.

A Gatekeeper of language, every day for you is a new adventure in words. There are pitfalls — you’ll probably develop an annoying habit of correcting other people’s vocabulary, for instance — but there also are rewards: At cocktail parties, you get to say, “I wrote the dictionary.”