Miles Kronby is chief digital product officer at Merriam-Webster, the dictionary maker, so naturally he is steeped in words.
But even he sometimes runs across a term he doesn’t know, such as gnomon, an obscure word for the pin of a sundial.
When he looked it up on the M-W.com website, he checked “Seen & Heard” at the bottom, where readers answer the question, “What made you want to look up gnomon? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).”
They refer to history and mathematics, and cite James Joyce’s Dubliners—”all in all, a really interesting and enriching addition to the definition itself,” he says.
Merriam-Webster is longer content just to tell you what a word means. It has built in social media elements into every word search. Elsewhere on the site, it uses crowdsourcing by asking readers to contribute new words.
“Every definition is fundamentally social,” Kronby says.