Issuu on Google+

S E C T I O N 2 Word power Cover Story Michele Turner the world of words helps navigate as CEO Story by Renee Batti Michelle Le Photos by S ports talk for Michele and Brad Turner can take an odd turn on occasion. For example, picture the couple sitting in their Portola Valley home, watching the recent NBA finals on TV. The conversation might have gone something like this: Brad: “Look at that — they’re carrying him to the bench. He’s such a flopper!” Michele: “A what?” Brad: “A flopper. You haven’t heard that word before? Even our 13-year-old and his buddies are using it these days. It means pretending you’ve been hit or hurt so the ref will call a foul on your opponent.” Michele (excitedly scribbling in a notebook): “Sounds like time for my Super Star Word Team to grab this ball and score 3 points for the language!” Though exaggerated for narrative appeal, this scenario isn’t total make-believe. The Turners did have a similar exchange one warm June evening during the basketball finals, and as a result, users of the popular language resource will someday soon be able to look up “flop” and see among the definitions a reference to its new usage in the basketball world. That’s because last September, Michele Turner took the helm of the Oakland-based online dictionary, and has since trained her spyglass full time on the ever-changing horizon of English language and usage. New words, old words, shifting definitions and etymology are all on the menu of, which attracts some 70 million users each month. The site also offers a Word of the Day feature, to which some 20 million people subscribe, a thesaurus, and commentaries on language and its evolving usage. Ms. Turner came to the company’s CEO post from the world of high-tech product development, and a primary focus for her has been to refresh the 19-yearold site, she says. One of the technological changes now in the works will allow the lexicography team to add words to the online dictionary “as often as needed,” instead of quarterly. But even though the updates are too infrequent for her taste at this point, the site adds some 800 new words and revised definitions every three months, she says. After the recent exchange with her husband about “flopping,” Ms. Turner began her quest for past references of the word. Among her finds: an online ESPN article, which she sent to staff lexicographer Jane Solomon, “who then flagged the definition to be updated in order to cover the sports terminology,” she explains in an email. It’s an example, she says, “of how we’re constantly watching for how words evolve and work to stay up with definitions.” Changing language, changing site has its roots in the Random House Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus, and an in-house team of lexicographers is supplemented by an East Coast group formerly affiliated with Random House, according to Ms. Turner. The technological updates soon to be put in place at will boost the site’s ability “to be vibrant and bold” while maintaining its status as an “authoritative and credible source” for word lovers CEO Michele Turner, in her Oakland office, reminisces as she looks through her middle school graduation gift, The Random House College Dictionary. and language learners, Ms. Turner says during a recent interview at Konditorei cafe in Ladera. “We want to bring words to life.” Asked how that might be done, she describes strategies designed to appeal to a range of users — from elementary, middle school, high school and college students, to adult English learners, to the rest of us, who just want to know what on earth hibernaculum means and how to use it in a sentence. Ms. Turner says one technique to make words come alive is one not available to print dictionaries: sound. “The audio pronunciation function is the most highly used feature on the site,” she notes, adding that it’s one indication of how many Englishlanguage learners turn to Enlivening the language for young students is also a key goal — use of the site soars during school days, Ms. Turner notes, and she is looking for ways to improve the experience for those users. For example, the site has a Flashcards app “that’s great for teaching kids in grades 4-8 vocabulary and roots,” she says. But she recently spoke with Corte Madera School English teachers Jeff Mead (Grade 8) and Donna Kasprowicz (Grade 7) to get their perspective on how the state’s new Common Core See page 23 June 18, 2014 NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN21

Almanac June 18, 2014 section2

Related publications