Erin McKean

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Erin McKean
Born1971 (age 51–52)
EducationUniversity of Chicago (BA, MA)

Erin McKean (born 1971) is an American lexicographer.

Early life and education[edit]

McKean was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.[1] She 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.[2] She has since served on the Visiting Committee to the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library, and she helped organize a dictionary-themed exhibit, The Meaning of Dictionaries, there in 2007.[3][4]


McKean is a founder of Reverb, which makes the online dictionary Wordnik.[5] 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.[6] [7]

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.[8][9] She writes about dresses in her blog, A Dress A Day.

She wrote frequently for "The Word" column in The Boston Globe.[10] from 2008 through 2011 and wrote "The Week in Words" for The Wall Street Journal from 2011 through mid-2013.[11] She has also written for The New York Times On Language column.[12]

She was previously a member of the advisory board of the Wikimedia Foundation[13] and is an advisor to Credo Reference.[14]

McKean's 2007 TED talk, "Redefining the Dictionary", was the genesis for the founding of[15] She has also spoken at Pop!Tech, Mark Hurst's third annual Gel conference, and Thinking Digital, and gave a Wordnik demo at the All Things Digital D8 conference in 2010.[16][17][18][19] 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.[20]

In 2010, McKean was named an honorary fellow of the Society for Technical Communication.[21]

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."[22]

"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.[23] Since the original post features a large picture of Diana Vreeland, the quote has occasionally been misattributed to her.[24]


  • Weird and Wonderful Words (illustrated by Roz Chast, with an introduction by Simon Winchester, Oxford, 2002)[25]
  • More Weird and Wonderful Words (illustrated by Danny Shanahan), Oxford, 2003)
  • Totally Weird and Wonderful Words (Oxford, 2006)
  • That’s Amore (Walker & Company, 2007)
  • The Secret Lives of Dresses (Grand Central, 2011)[26]
  • Aftercrimes, Geoslavery, and Thermogeddon: Plus 157 More Words From a Lexicographer's Notebook (TED Books, 2011)
  • The Hundred Dresses (illustrated by Donna Mehalko, Bloomsbury, 2013)


  1. ^ "Normblog". January 19, 2007.
  2. ^ "University of Chicago Magazine". October 1, 2006.
  3. ^ "Libra: Library Reports and Announcements" (PDF). 2006.
  4. ^ "The Chicago Maroon". June 1, 2007.
  5. ^ "Xconomy". March 12, 2013.
  6. ^ "New York Times, "Wordsmiths: They Also Serve Who Only Vote on 'Ain't'"". The New York Times. December 23, 2006.
  7. ^ Erin McKean, ed. (May 2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 2051. ISBN 0-19-517077-6.
  8. ^ "". May 12, 2011. Archived from the original on April 24, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  9. ^ Caceda, Eden (February 2, 2015). "In Development". Filmink.
  10. ^ Chillax – If it works like a word, just use it. Boston Globe August 3, 2008
  11. ^ "Wall Street Journal". May 24, 2013.
  12. ^ McKean, Erin (December 17, 2009). "On Language: Redefining Definition". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Wikimedia Foundation contributors (February 26, 2009). "Advisory Board – Wikimedia Foundation". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved March 20, 2009. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  14. ^ "Credo Reference".
  15. ^ "TED blog". June 8, 2009.
  16. ^ "Pop!Tech". 2006.
  17. ^ "Erin McKean at GEL 2006". 2006.
  18. ^ "Erin McKean at Thinking Digital 2011". 2001.
  19. ^ "D8 Tech Demo: Wordnik". June 3, 2010.
  20. ^ "Wardrobe Wrap of the Web 2.0 Summit". October 29, 2009.
  21. ^ "STC Spotlight: Erin McKean, Honorary Fellow and the Summit's Keynote Speaker". The New York Times. April 9, 2010.
  22. ^ "A word to the wise". (August 12, 2008). The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), pp. A14.
  23. ^ "Erin @ A Dress A Day".
  24. ^ "You don't owe prettiness to anyone". August 12, 2013.
  25. ^ "World Wide Words". December 14, 2002.
  26. ^ "How Erin McKean Sold Her Blog-Based Book". MediaBistro. November 7, 2008. Archived from the original on September 13, 2009. Retrieved May 19, 2009.

External links[edit]