The Merriam-Webster Lexicographer

kory stamper
“The job of a lexicographer is to explain language to people, and the internet gives you all sorts of new ways to do that. We can talk about the differences between commonly confused words using emoji on Twitter.”

When people learn about Kory Stamper’s job, some respond with confusion. “They ask, Hasn’t the dictionary already been written? I have it right here, I got it when I graduated from high school,” Stamper says. What they don’t understand is that language is always growing and evolving — and so must the dictionary.

Stamper, who has worked at Merriam-Webster for 19 years, still marvels at how the internet has changed her job. She shrugs at complaints about the recent additions of terms like “OMG” or “selfie.”

“We’re always dealing with some kind of blowback because language is so personal. It’s how we communicate,” Stamper says. But the Merriam-Webster staff treats it like any other job, where one would naturally set aside emotion in a business transaction: They dismiss linguistic prejudice and evaluate new words based on a set of three criteria.

One editor specifically handles a word’s first date of written use; one editor handles words’ etymologies; four science editors are divided by specialty; two cross-reference editors make sure definitions only include words already in the dictionary; the pronunciation editor looks at every word, sometimes pulling pronunciations from YouTube. Then, of course, there are proofreaders and copy editors.

But every editor at Merriam-Webster, regardless of title, is involved in the making of dictionaries, Stamper says. Even when that means rejecting countless requests to add “covfefe.”

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The Reindeer Trainer in Santa’s Village

You know Alpi and Aituri and Jukka and Jussi, Kaapo and Laukko and Taisto and Juntti. But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all…

OK, those aren’t the reindeer in the song you grew up with. But in Rovaniemi, Finland, an almost magical city in the Arctic Circle known as “the official hometown of Santa Claus,” those are the reindeer you’ll find.

Janne Körkkö and his family own a farm where they train dozens of reindeer each year to pull sleighs full of giddy tourists in Santa Claus Village during their high season, which lasts from November through February. (Even the summer is mostly preparation for winter.) Working with the fur-covered, 400-pound creatures been his family’s livelihood for generations. “Santa Claus trusts us quite a lot,” Körkkö says. He’s not kidding.

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Janne Körkkö leading the way. A 1000-meter ride (about 0.6 miles) costs $24 for kids and $30 for adults.

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The Latte Artist

Jessica Bertin
Jessica Bertin, the administrator of Joe Ed classes, subsists on just one or two cups of coffee a day – a shot of espresso here, a sip of cappuccino there, to test quality control.

“Skim milk. The bane of our existence.”

Jessica Bertin sits in the corner of the Joe Coffee store she manages on New York City’s Upper East Side, eyeing the Sunday morning crowd as the sun streams in. Every large latte with skim order makes the baristas cringe — the thinness of nonfat milk makes it nearly impossible to create the store’s crisp signature Rosetta design.

Joe Coffee, a family-owned business that opened in 2003, has several branches across New York City and Philadelphia. Bertin trains baristas and runs Joe’s public education program, which includes a smattering of about a dozen classes — ones focused on espresso and manual brewing ($60 for two hours) to lectures on direct trade versus fair trade. Then there are the full-day barista workshops ($225 for seven hours) and 16-hour one-week courses, which never fail to sell out. But one of Bertin’s most impressive areas of expertise is  latte art — which, for the record, is much harder than it looks.

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The Confetti Master of Times Square on New Year’s Eve

"I’ve never had a gig that I’ve done this many years in a row," says Treb Heining (far right, in red). Here, he celebrates the beginning of 2011 with the crowd.
“I’ve never had a gig that I’ve done this many years in a row,” says Treb Heining (far right, in red), who has also orchestrated the balloons at the Academy Awards and many Super Bowls and political conventions.

After the champagne has been chugged and the 6-ton ball has been cleared, millions of tiny flecks of colored paper coat the pavement of Times Square in New York City.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For the past 22 years, precisely 20 seconds before the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, Treb Heining stands perched over the railing outside the Minskoff Theater, ready for go time. He holds a radio close to his lips. “Go confetti,” he declares coolly, just loud enough for the 70 someodd people at eight different buildings towering over the center of Times Square to hear him over the din of the whooping crowds below. Then, for almost 60 seconds straight, Heining and the rest of his confetti dispersal battalion heave 3,000 pounds of confetti out of large brown boxes and into the air. It’s officially New Year’s in Times Square.

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The Top 5 No Joe Schmos of 2012

New years hat2012 has been an exciting year for No Joe Schmo. Most notably, we were featured on Forbes‘ first-ever list of Top 75 Websites For Your Career, and we hit our 100th post here on NoJoeSchmo.com. We’re planning even more exciting things for 2013.

This year-end list does not include viral videos, cats, or fiscal cliff jokes. Rather, it’s a handful of the some of the most cool-and-crazy No Joe Schmos featured this year. From the Naked Cowboy to Santa Claus, these are the stories of individuals that have made a living by finding — or making — work for themselves in unusual places. Happy reading, happy sharing, and happy New Year!

5. The Miniature Food Artist | Shay Aaron began creating miniaturized food sculptures at 1:12 scale that look almost completely edible, and used the hobby to curb his appetite.

4. The Magician Who Lives in the Waldorf Astoria | Steve Cohen brings in about 300 viewers each weekend – including high-profile guests like Martha Stewart, Barry Diller, and David Rockefeller  – and a seven-figure annual income.

3. The Naked Cowboy Reads Nietzsche | Every morning, despite sleet and snow, 41-year-old Robert Burck climbs out of his Escalade, takes off his t-shirt and shorts, and slithers into a pair of tighty-whities. They’re a boys’ size 12.

2. The Mall Santa Who Wears Birkenstocks and Kneepads | Santa “Sid,” who has been working at the Mall of America every holiday season for 16 years, doesn’t wear a coat or hat. “The fur makes kids cry,” he says.

1. The SNL Cue Cards Guy | Wally Feresten was once almost fired for his sloppy handwriting. Now, 22 years later, he owns a successful cue card company that handles Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Have an idea for a No Joe Schmo? Suggest one here.