A kleptomaniac, the nephew of a French Emperor, the creator of an imaginary land inhabited by small hairy creatures, a homicidal lunatic, an Esperanto enthusiast, the man who introduced the camel to the Wild West, the captain of an all-ladies sculling team, a hermit, and the son of a Scottish draper. Just who were these people and what connected ...
A kleptomaniac, the nephew of a French Emperor, the creator of an imaginary land inhabited by small hairy creatures, a homicidal lunatic, an Esperanto enthusiast, the man who introduced the camel to the Wild West, the captain of an all-ladies sculling team, a hermit, and the son of a Scottish draper. Just who were these people and what connected them to the world's greatest dictionary? It was on New Year's morning, 1928, that an eruption of mad lexical glee from a battered old typewriter on a desk in Baltimore from the hands of Henry Louis Mencken sent news all across the USA of the long-awaited publication of the book that was to crown the English language undisputed monarch of the linguistic kingdom. From the Oxford-based project a total of 414,825 words, ten times as many as had hitherto been suspected of existing, had now been recognized and catalogued, the results of seventy years of Herculean effort by scholars, linguists, and thousands of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people. The Meaning of Everything is a readily accessible historical account of the making of the remarkable Oxford English Dictionary, leading up to the appointment of the first editor, James Murray, in 1879 through to its triumphant publication in 1928 and beyond. Brought to life by Simon Winchester's characteristic talent for story-telling, the achievement of making the dictionary is an unforgettable story, and is further enlivened by portraits of the myriad characters involved in its creation. From the context of early dictionaries and national projects of the Victorian Era, Simon Winchester leads his narrative through early attempts to create what was then expected to be a four-volume dictionary, the appointment of James Murray as editor, the unusual, never-before-attempted way in which the book was constructed, and the people and processes involved in the definition of thousands of words, to the triumphant publication of the dictionary and its adaptation to the age of technology. The profound impact the volumes had when they first appeared, the fame the dictionary has had in the eight decades since, and that it can be expected to have in years to come, receive full and fascinating treatment here at the pen of the best-selling author of The Surgeon of Crowthorne and The Map That Changed The World.
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An excellent book with an incredibly in-depth study of the makings of the OED. I thought it was beautifully written and continually makes you want to read on. It strikes the perfect balance between biographical sections on the key figures and fascinating tracts on etymology. Most enjoyable was Winchester's style of writing which was very fluent, eloquent and introduced the reader to many new words throughout the book. (Ironically, I found it necessary to have a dictionary to hand to find the meaning to some of the words Winchester uses).
Dec 18, 2008
A wonderful behind-the-scenes story of the making of the OED. Mr. Winchester presents this great history in a very enjoyable and interesting manner. Well Done and highly recommended!
Publishers Weekly, 2003-07-14 With his usual winning blend of scholarship and accessible, skillfully paced narrative, Winchester (Krakatoa) returns to the subject of his first bestseller, The Professor and the Madman, to tell the eventful, personality-filled history of the definitive English dictionary. He emphasizes that the OED project began in 1857 as an attempt to correct the deficiencies of existing dictionaries, such as Dr. Samuel Johnson's. Winchester opens with an entertaining and informative examination of the development of the English language and pre-OED efforts. The originators of the OED thought the project would take perhaps a decade; it actually took 71 years, and Winchester explores why. An early editor, Frederick Furnivall, was completely disorganized (one sack of paperwork he shipped to his successor, James Murray, contained a family of mice). Murray in turn faced obstacles from Oxford University Press, which initially wanted to cut costs at the expense of quality. Winchester stresses the immensity and difficulties of the project, which required hundreds of volunteer readers and assistants (including J.R.R. Tolkien) to create and organize millions of documents: the word bondmaid was left out of the first edition because its paperwork was lost. Winchester successfully brings readers inside the day-to-day operations of the massive project and shows us the unrelenting passion of people such as Murray and his overworked, underpaid staff who, in the end, succeeded magnificently. Winchester's book will be required reading for word mavens and anyone interested in the history of our marvelous, ever-changing language. (Oct.) Forecast: Winchester could have a second hardcover bestseller this year with this, boosted by a seven-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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