Erin McKean

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For the singer/songwriter, see Erin McKeown.
Erin McKean
Erin McKean.jpg
Born 1971
Charlotte, NC[1]
Nationality American
Occupation Lexicographer

Erin McKean (born 1971) is an American lexicographer, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.[2]


McKean graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA/MA in Linguistics. As an undergraduate, she worked in a junior capacity on the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.[3] McKean has also served on the Visiting Committee to the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library and helped organize a dictionary-themed exhibit, The Meaning of Dictionaries, there in 2007.[4][5]


McKean is a founder of Reverb, which makes the online dictionary Wordnik.[6] She was previously the editor in chief of US Dictionaries for Oxford University Press and Principal Editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary, second edition.[7] [8] McKean is the author of seven books:

  1. Weird and Wonderful Words (illustrated by Roz Chast, with an introduction by Simon Winchester, Oxford, 2002)[9]
  2. More Weird and Wonderful Words (illustrated by Danny Shanahan), Oxford, 2003)
  3. Totally Weird and Wonderful Words (Oxford, 2006)
  4. That’s Amore (Walker & Company, 2007)
  5. The Secret Lives of Dresses (Grand Central, 2011)[10]
  6. Aftercrimes, Geoslavery, and Thermogeddon: Plus 157 More Words From a Lexicographer's Notebook (TED Books, 2011)
  7. The Hundred Dresses (illustrated by Donna Mehalko, Bloomsbury, 2013)

McKean is also the editor of VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly, and edited a collection of work from that publication, "Verbatim: From the bawdy to the sublime, the best writing on language for word lovers, grammar mavens, and armchair linguists" (Mariner Books, 2001). McKean's novel The Secret Lives of Dresses was a best-seller in Australia, and has been optioned for film.[11] She writes about dresses in her blog, A Dress A Day.

She wrote frequently for the "The Word" column in The Boston Globe.[12] from 2008 through 2011 and wrote The Week in Words for the Wall Street Journal from 2011 through mid-2013.[13] She has also written for the New York Times On Language column.[14]

She was previously a member of the advisory board of the Wikimedia Foundation[15] and is an advisor to Credo Reference.[16]

McKean's 2007 TED talk, Redefining the Dictionary, was the genesis for the founding of[17] She has also spoken at Pop!Tech, Gel conference, Thinking Digital, and gave a Wordnik demo at the All Things Digital D8 conference in 2010.[18][19][20][21] McKean sews her own clothes and often makes "stunt dresses" for speeches, including the Tetris-themed dress she wore to speak at the Web 2.0 Summit in 2009.[22]

In 2010, McKean was named an honorary fellow of the Society for Technical Communication.[23]

McKean has formulated 'McKean's law', also known as Muphry's law: "Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error."[24]

"Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female'.", a quote from McKean's blog, A Dress A Day, has been widely shared on social media.[25] Since the original post features a large picture of Diana Vreeland, the quote has occasionally been misattributed to her.[26]


  1. ^ "Normblog". 2007-01-19. 
  2. ^ "Erin McKean Biographical Information". 
  3. ^ "University of Chicago Magazine". 2006-10-01. 
  4. ^ "Libra: Library Reports and Announcements". 2006. 
  5. ^ "The Chicago Maroon". 2007-06-01. 
  6. ^ "Xconomy". 2013-03-12. 
  7. ^ "New York Times, "Wordsmiths: They Also Serve Who Only Vote on ‘Ain’t’"". The New York Times. 2006-12-23. 
  8. ^ Erin McKean, ed. (May 2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 2051. ISBN 0-19-517077-6. 
  9. ^ "World Wide Words". 2002-12-14. 
  10. ^ "How Erin McKean Sold Her Blog-Based Book". MediaBistro. 2008-11-07. 
  11. ^ "". 2011-05-12. 
  12. ^ Chillax – If it works like a word, just use it. Boston Globe 2008-08-03
  13. ^ "Wall Street Journal". The Wall Street Journal. 2013-05-24. 
  14. ^ McKean, Erin (2009-12-17). "On Language: Redefining Definition". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Wikimedia Foundation contributors (2009-02-26). "Advisory Board – Wikimedia Foundation". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  16. ^ "Credo Reference". 
  17. ^ "TED blog". 2009-06-08. 
  18. ^ "Pop!Tech". 2006. 
  19. ^ "Erin McKean at GEL 2006". 2006. 
  20. ^ "Erin McKean at Thinking Digital 2011". 2001. 
  21. ^ "D8 Tech Demo: Wordnik". 2010-06-03. 
  22. ^ "Wardrobe Wrap of the Web 2.0 Summit". 2009-10-29. 
  23. ^ "STC Spotlight: Erin McKean, Honorary Fellow and the Summit’s Keynote Speaker". The New York Times. 2010-04-09. 
  24. ^ "A word to the wise". (12 August 2008). The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), pp. A14.
  25. ^ "Erin @ A Dress A Day". 
  26. ^ "You don't owe prettiness to anyone". 2013-08-12. 

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