Words are the most powerful force on earth. Words impact the human experience and ignite the human spirit, evoking our inner passions and exciting our audio-visual senses. They inspire, inform, and incite action. And when they are used wisely, at the right time and in the right place, the entire world changes.
In spite of the obvious power of words, the field of lexicography is quite small, and few individuals take the time to study these powerful weapons. One rising star in this field, however, is Steve Kleinedler, who has dedicated his life to linguistics, the study of the nature and structure of language. In fact, he has offered his body as a living sacrifice to his work: a phonetic vowel chart has been tattooed on his back.
As the supervising editor of the American Heritage® Dictionary, Steve Kleinedler assisted the development of the best-selling 100 Words series. Upon publication of 100 Words to Make You Sound Great, Steve Kleinedler managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry— reflecting on life, lexicography, and, of course, the power of words.
How did the 100 Words series begin?
In 2002, to help publicize our fourth edition of the American Heritage® College Dictionary, we came up with a poster of a hundred words we thought high school graduates should know. It proved to be really popular. So we thought, what if we put these words into a book format? So we listed the words and their definitions and etymologies in 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know. It was very successful, and laid the foundation for the best-selling 100 Words series. 100 Words to Make You Sound Great is the seventh of the series. Collectively, these books have sold over 500,000 copies, which is really something else. It speaks that people really like this. A hundred items is easy to for people to digest.
Yes, indeed. I found it very easy to approach 100 Words. Dictionaries can be such daunting things—and quite heavy too!
Since most people use dictionaries online these days, we’re losing the art of thumbing through dictionaries and getting lost in them, reading about other words that fall on the page of the word that you’re looking up. What the 100 Words books do is browse the dictionary for you. They give you a bite-size sample and you get to learn interesting things about words that you might not have known before.