Katherine Rosman has a piece for the New York Times on the current popularity of dictionaries:
At a time when many are questioning the definition of common words they thought they understood, after years of the English language being degraded by text messages and hashtags, dictionaries have made a surprising comeback in the United States.
On dictionary apps and websites, “lookups” (which, according to Merriam-Webster, is one word) of words or phrases related to news events have precipitously increased. Bibliophiles are becoming social media stars. Sales of print dictionaries remain brisk and are a profit center for some publishers.
“Dictionaries are not regarded as sexy or interesting, but what dictionaries are known for is telling the truth,” said Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer and past president of the American Dialect Society. “Right now there are a lot of questions about what is true. We want clear statements about what things are, and dictionaries provide that.”
The most commonly used dictionaries, whether in print or digital, reflect what is known as “descriptive lexicography,” meaning that editors study the way people use words and determine their meaning based on that evidence.
Social media has been revolutionary in changing the access lexicographers have to the evolution of how words are used. Yet the process of evaluating evidence and writing definitions in a clear and unbiased manner remains the objective, said Katherine Connor Martin, head of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press.
And there’s a great quote from Sheidlower at the end: “In times of stress, people will go to things that will provide answers. The Bible, the dictionary or alcohol.”