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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionaryby Simon Winchester
Synopses & Reviews
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 Herbert Coleridge (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 unexpectedly tricky the dictionary entry for marzipan was, or how fraternity turned out so much longer and monkey so much more ancient that 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 corrugated iron 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, and ultimate 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, the world's unrivalled uber-dictionary.
"Teeming with knowledge and alive with insights. Winchester handles humor and awe with modesty and cunning. His devotion to the story is the more eloquent for the cool-handedness of its telling. His prose is supremely readable, admirable in its lucid handling of lexicographical mire." William F. Buckley, New York Times Book Review
"The extraordinary story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary is a subject perfectly suited to Winchester's magpie mind....Winchester's account is an affectionate and frankly partisan study of the making of a great dictionary. It is also an offbeat portrait of an extraordinary society." Robert McCrumm, Los Angeles Times
"Devastatingly brilliant....Fascinating, witty, extremely well-written....Winchester makes words exciting. He obviously loves them." The Boston Globe
"Winchester has no peer at illuminating massive and complex endeavors through the quirks and foibles of the brilliant and powerful personalities who carry them out." Chicago Sun Times
"A magnificent account, swift and compelling, of obsession, scholarship, and ultimately, philanthropy of the first magnitude." Kirkus Review (starred review)
"An inspired story of conflict, madness, genius, and inspiration so amusing that at times it reads like fiction — but it isn't." Library Journal (starred review)
"Full of engaging characters and incidents." Wall Street Journal
"Entrancing....An engaging read...resonates with all the chauvinism and misgiving, the self-congratulation and self-doubt that emerge when we think about our language." Chicago Tribune
"Fascinatingly told. Winchester brings to life the trials and tribulations of creating the OED, particularly the never-dull personalities of those who were involved. Moreover, he delightfully, admiringly gives us an appreciation of the wonderfully adaptive, ever-expanding English language." Forbes Magazine
The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was a remarkable achievement, the story of which has been aching to be told. Who better to take on the challenge than the talented story-teller Simon Winchester? With his characteristic gift for bringing history alive, in The Meaning of Everything Simon Winchester charts the fascinating life of the OED leading up to the appointment of the first editor, James Murray, in 1879, through to the OED's triumphant publication in 1928 and beyond. The Meaning of Everything is a must for anyone with an interest in language and words.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 251-253) and index.
About the Author
Simon Winchester is the author of the bestsellers The Map That Changed the World, The Madman and the Professor, 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. He lives in Massachusetts, New York, and the Western Isles of Scotland.
Table of Contents
1. Taking the Measure of it All
2. The Construction of the Pigeonholes
3. The General Officer Commanding
4. Battling the Undertow
5. Pushing through the Untrodden Forest
6. So Heavily Goes the Chariot
7. The Hermit and the Murderer - and Hereward Thimbleby Price
8. From Take to Turndown - and then, Triumphal Valediction
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