A lexicographer is a person who writes and edits dictionaries. They work with both online dictionaries and printed dictionaries. This role is constantly evolving as the world becomes more digital.
The human language continues to evolve as well, as new words are invented and used each year. To become a lexicographer, a person must have a bachelor’s degree. They must have a strong command of the English language, reading and writing, and they must enjoy research.
Why Become A Lexicographer
If you have ever wondered who puts together dictionaries, those people are called lexicographers. Lexicographers spend hours upon hours of research, deciding exactly what should go inside of a dictionary. They research and identify new words as they appear and are used within the native lexicon. This is important because language is always evolving and people start using new words.
Lexicographers work in teams to decide which new words to add to their dictionaries. Some famous dictionary publishers even have a Word of the Year promotion, in which they unveil the most important word culturally in that year. In 2017, Merriam-Webster Dictionary unveiled “feminism” as the Word of the Year.
Lexicographers also look back at existing entries within the dictionary. They make sure that word definitions are precise and current. They use accurate and succinct definitions. They decide which meanings for a word are most common, and which are less commonly used. They follow strict writing and editing protocols, according to their publishing guidelines.
Lexicographers must possess the following qualities and skills:
Great at writing and English language skills
Attention to detail
Lexicographer Work Environment
A lexicographer works in an office environment. They often work for a publishing company, which may be large or small in nature. They spend much of their day editing, proofreading, and researching. This job requires an immense amount of attention to detail. Lexicographers typically work on their own while they work, where they can be free of distractions. Sometimes they will spend time in meetings with other parts of their team, collaborating and asking questions about projects.
Many dictionary publishing companies are headquartered in the United Kingdom: Oxford English Dictionary, Macmillan, Cambridge University Press, Collins Dictionary, etc. There are much fewer dictionary publishers within the United States. A person must decide if they are willing to relocate for a position. Those located in the United Kingdom may stand a better chance of earning a position.
The median annual salary for lexicographers was $26,000 in 2017.
There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing this field. For example, education and experience often play a big part in determining salary. In an entry level position, a lexicographer may earn approximately $24,000 annually, as a median salary.
As they promote higher up in the ranks, they will be able to earn a higher salary, due to their education and experience. A senior editor or project manager may be able to earn $58,000 per year, as a median salary.
Lexicographer Career Outlook
Employment for lexicographers is expected to remain stable and not grow very much in the next 10 years between 2016 and 2026.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that there are few companies that actually publish dictionaries. Some of those include Oxford English Dictionary, Macmillan, Merriam-Webster, Pearson, Cambridge University Press, and a few others. Those who want to earn a job at a dictionary press will have to compete for a spot at one of the few dictionary publishers on the market.
Another reason that finding a lexicographer position will remain challenging is that there has been a push towards online media, rather than print. All publishing industry jobs are expected to decline. A person who is interested in the publishing industry will be expected to use their skills to work in traditional as well as online publishing. Those with advanced education and experience stand the best chances of earning a position.
In order to become a lexicographer, you will need a bachelor’s degree. A degree in an area such as English, communications, literature, or a similar field will help you be successful in this field. In college, you will take lecture style classes. These courses will help you determine if this field is the right one for you. It takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Many lexicographers are well skilled in foreign languages. They may work in translation. Lexicographers may study the origins of words, as they are derived from foreign languages. Because of this, it is helpful to take classes in foreign languages. Languages such as Latin, Greek, or other languages are popular. Some lexicographers also choose to obtain English language learning certification.
Here are some of the classes that you might take in an English undergraduate program or a similar program. Keep in mind that a typical English literature program has many different courses to choose from, that can result in a completed degree.
Creative Writing: In this course, students will learn introductory techniques that they can use in the writing of both fiction and poetry. This class is presented in a workshop format. Students will be given writing assignments and share their writings with the class.
Early American Literature: Students will read some of the greatest writers of early American history such as Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, Melville and more. They will study these writers and analyze their most famous works. Students will learn about this period of history and what influenced their writing.
Narrative Analysis: Students will learn how to analyze texts in this course. Analysis helps readers understand what a story means and how a reader can interpret it. They will learn about structure, elements of a story, literary terms and more. Students will read a variety of literary texts and apply their analytical knowledge to the texts.
Lexicographer Career Path
An assistant is an entry-level position into this career path as a lexicographer.
An assistant works with the editorial team to edit existing entries inside the dictionary, check for quality, research, and be sure that the dictionary entries are up to proper standards.
An assistant editor must have a bachelor’s degree in English or a related field.
This is a good way for somebody to get an entry level position into the publishing industry, eventually working up to a more senior role.
Related Lexicographer Careers
A lexicographer is a highly specialized career within the field of publishing. If you are interested in this field, there are probably other careers you might enjoy as well. Below we have listed a few careers which you may also be interested in.
Editor: Editors plan, revise and review content for publication. They may work in a variety of different industries, such as newspapers, book publishing houses, or magazines.
Writer: A writer develops written publications. They may be involved in writing articles, books, poems, blogs, or any other number of different forms of writing.
Technical Writer: A technical writer is a specialized form of writer. They write instruction manuals, text books, practical guides, and other information for companies. They create documents to help people understand complex technical information.