9780195175004

The Meaning of Everything The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780195175004

  • ISBN10:

    019517500X

  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2004-10-14
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Summary

From the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa comes a truly wonderful celebration of the English language and of its unrivaled treasure house, the Oxford English Dictionary. Writing with marvelous brio, Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language--"so vast, so sprawling, so wonderfully unwieldy"--and pays homage to the great dictionary makers, from "the irredeemably famous" Samuel Johnson to the "short, pale, smug and boastful"schoolmaster from New Hartford, Noah Webster. He then turns his unmatched talent for story-telling to the making of this most venerable of dictionaries. In this fast-paced narrative, the reader will discover lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but tubercular first editor HerbertColeridge (grandson of the poet), the colorful, boisterous Frederick Furnivall (who left the project in a shambles), and James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent a half-century bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the nuts-and-bolts of dictionary making--how unexpectedlytricky the dictionary entry for marzipan was, or how fraternity turned out so much longer and monkey so much more ancient than anticipated--and how bondmaid was left out completely, its slips found lurking under a pile of books long after the B-volume had gone to press. We visit the ugly corrugatediron structure that Murray grandly dubbed the Scriptorium--the Scrippy or the Shed, as locals called it--and meet some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, andultimate redemption. The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument ever erected to a living language. Simon Winchester's supple, vigorous prose illuminates this dauntingly ambitious project--a seventy-year odyssey to create the grandfather of all word-books, theworld's unrivalled uber-dictionary.

Author Biography


Simon Winchester is the author of the bestsellers The Map That Changed the World, The Professor and the Madman, and Krakatoa. He was a foreign correspondent for The Guardian and The Sunday Times and was based in Belfast, New Delhi, New York, London and Hong Kong. Winchester has written for Conde Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, and National Geographic.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xi
List of Illustrations xiv
Prologue xvii
1. Taking the Measure of It All 1(45)
2. The Construction of the Pigeon-Holes 46(26)
3. The General Officer Commanding 72(25)
4. Battling with the Undertow 97(37)
5. Pushing through the Untrodden Forest 134(26)
6. So Heavily Goes the Chariot 160(26)
7. The Hermit and the Murderer-and Hereward Thimbleby Price 186(30)
8. From Take to Turn-down-and then, Triumphal Valediction 216(22)
Epilogue: And Always Beginning Again 238(13)
Bibliography and Further Reading 251(3)
Index 254(6)
Picture Acknowledgements 260

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