The year is 2017, and the resistance is being led by a dictionary.
Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account has become a delight in the months leading up to and following the election. It subtweets Donald Trump and his administration; it wryly speaks truth to power through cold, hard vocabulary.
For example, when Trump aide Kellyanne Conway mentioned “alternative facts,” it tweeted this:
*whispers into the void* In contemporary use, fact is understood to refer to something with actual existence. https://t.co/gCKRZZm23c
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) January 24, 2017
But the woman behind the account — content and social media manager Lauren Naturale — insists she’s not being overtly political. While the new attention is strange, it’s also exciting. But, she said, “We’ve been doing a lot of interesting things for a while. And we’re not political, so I hope people don’t hang around and just get disappointed after.”
Naturale does more than tweet; she also manages content for the dictionary’s website, which publishes over 500 articles a year, all about words. On the site, there are quizzes, short podcasts and and articles explaining words that are trending, such as “emoluments.”
But it’s the account’s attention to words that happen to be trending — that is, words that see a spike in searches — that has gotten it attention.
It may seem like there are more political tweets, but it’s not by design; it’s because people are just looking up more words Trump or people in the news like Conway use. But it’s hard not to think the account is making a statement, especially when it tweets things like this:
📈A ‘claque’ is a group hired to applaud. https://t.co/EX96vGLGDz
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) January 24, 2017
But Naturale said there’s nothing ulterior to it. “We’re a dictionary.”
Here’s a diary in her life, edited for clarity.
7:00 am: I have a wife who brings me coffee in bed. I’m not sure how I got this lucky. I don’t ask
questions. While I’m caffeinating, I check Twitter to make sure nothing exploded overnight and see how the previous night’s posts did.
7:20 am: The word “commute” is trending, from the news about Chelsea Manning, and so we posted about it as part of our daily series “Trend Watch.” Some people are wondering if it’s the same word as the “commute” meaning “to travel back and forth.” We answer this in the article, but I answer one of the Twitter questions anyway; it’s a chance to link to the piece again.
7:30 a.m.: Post the Word of the Day to Twitter and Facebook. We typically do this two or three times a day; the first post is just a regular share, and then as the day goes on, I’ll look for GIFs to illustrate it. A lot of people think I pick the Word of the Day, but we have a whole team that selects those. My job is just to try to make it interesting. Today, the word is “raiment.”
7:45 a.m.: Try to put off checking Slack for as long as possible. Catch up on the news. Catch up on the people I follow on my personal Twitter, though I hardly ever seem to post anything there anymore.
8:30 a.m.: Check Slack, finally. One of our writers, Ammon Shea, starts his day ludicrously early; he’ll often have a “Trend Watch” piece written and ready to go before most people are at their desks. There aren’t any new lookup trends yet today, though: “Commute” is still trending from the previous night, plus some other long-running trends we’ve already written about: “emolument,” “fascism,” “culture.” Some words are always high — “sex,” “love,” “serendipity” — but there’s no point writing trend watches about them; that’s not a trend, that’s a baseline.
9:00 a.m.: Since there isn’t a new trend watch, I publish the first article of the day instead: Deep-seated vs. Deep-seeded. Choose a stock photo of an armchair covered with books for the image; there’s no point agonizing over this.
10:00 a.m.: Arrive at the office. The New York team is fairly small, and Lisa Schneider, our chief digital officer and publisher, runs a results-oriented office, so we have some flexibility around our schedules. It’s great for me, since I live an hour away, and I know my coworkers who live even farther away or have kids appreciate it too. I think we all end up working harder than we’d work in a more old-fashioned office, since we can literally work from anywhere.
10:30 a.m.: Content meeting. We do this once every other week, and I really look forward to it, because it’s one of the few times I get to talk to the content writers as opposed to typing at them. Our writers are all lexicographers — dictionary editors — and most of them work out of the Springfield, Massachusetts, office, though they do visit New York occasionally and vice versa. We take about an hour to go through the writers’ pitches and discuss anything else that might be happening that week. I always come out of the pitch meeting having learned something. Today it’s that “hirsute” comes from the word “horror.” I promise that I will put “Eight Words For Drunkards” on the calendar at the earliest opportunity.
11:30 a.m.: Add the new pitches from the meeting to our content calendar; we tend to schedule our pieces about two weeks in advance. Catch up on Twitter. Post a Young Pope GIF with the Word of the Day, because it works for “raiment” and because I’ve been desperately looking for an excuse to post a Young Pope GIF.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) January 18, 2017
12:35 p.m.: People like the Young Pope GIF.
1:00 pm: Catch up with my boss about our 2017 product goals while checking Twitter. I can’t tell you about any of them, but they are great! Promise.
2:00 p.m.: Since nothing seems to be trending or exploding, revise and publish an article on semantic bleaching that’s been sitting in our backlog. This was something that was scheduled for the previous week but got preempted for a trend watch; it needed more editing than we had time for. It gets more editing. It is a huge hit.
3:00 p.m.: Visit the New York Twitter office for an informal meeting to learn more about some things they’re working on. Try not to be jealous of the fact that Twitter has its own coffee shop.
4:15 p.m: Come back to the office to find out that lookups for “sycophant” are trending from Obama’s last press conference. Two of our writers decide to write the “Trend Watch” together to save time; I put a photo in the CMS, and we get it published within the hour.
5:00 p.m.: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Schedule social posts for later in the evening so I don’t spend the whole night on the computer. Publish one more article, on happy words, and head home.
11:00 p.m.: Check Twitter. Just in case.