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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"If you liked The Professor and the Madman, here's more. Fans and acquaintances of the OED will certainly enjoy this book, as will anyone who enjoys words. For instance, did you know that the combination of question mark and exclamation point is called an "interrobang"? Once more Winchester has taken a subject that might appear dry and breathed life into it." Doug Brown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)

Synopsis:

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.

Synopsis:

No, nothing that had so far been made was good enough. What was needed was a brand-new dictionary. A dictionary of the English language in its totality. Not a re-working of the existing, misformed and incomplete works; not a further attempt to make any one of the past creations somehow better or more complete; not a supplement, as the Unregistered Words Committee planned to publish. No, from a fresh start, from a "tabula rasa, there should be constructed now a wholly new dictionary that would give, in essence and in fact, the meaning of "everything. Whatever this was, it had to be a book--an enormous book, quite probably, though not even Dean Trench was bold enough to hazard a guess as to how enormous--that did its level best to include the totality of the language. And by that it meant the discovery and the inclusion every single word, every sense, every meaning. The book had to present a complete inventory of the language--such that anyone who wanted to took up the meaning of any word had to be confident of finding it there, without possibility of a scintilla of doubt.... The "OED was finally and fully made. The English language, in what was at the time believed to be its entirety, had at long last been fixed between the hard covers of--at first ten and then after a reprinting a dozen--tombstone-sized volumes, and the labor of making it all, the work of the seventy-one years that had been taken up by this most magnificent and romantic of enterprises, was now all done. The triumphant moment that Trench and Coleridge and Furnivall and Murray--and Gell and Hart and Minor and Fitzedward Hall and the Thompson sisters besides--had all so longed for, had been well and truly reached.

Synopsis:

The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was a remarkable achievement, the story of which has been aching to be told. 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.

Synopsis:

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 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 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.

Synopsis:

Includes bibliographical references (p. 251-253) and index.

About the Author

"Winchester's book is a wonderfully thorough account of the mechanics of dictionary compilation, the tribulations of a project of this scale, and the array of brilliant and often eccentric characters who brought it to completion."--The Dallas Morning News

"Full of engaging characters and incidents."--Wall Street Journal

"As inspiring as it is informative. A dazzling detective story and a poignant group portrait. A must-read for every language lover."--Seattle Times

"Devastatingly brilliant.... Fascinating, witty, extremely well-written.... Winchester makes words exciting. He obviously loves them."--The Boston Globe

"The extraordinary story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary is a subject perfectly suited to Winchester's magpie mind.... It can be recommended in all seriousness to committed Scrabble players. Here, for instance, you will learn that the first edition closed with the definition of 'zyxt,' a Kentish dialect word for the past participle of the verb 'to see.' Here, too, you will find words like 'aa,' an obsolete term for a stream or watercourse. An affectionate and frankly partisan study of the making of a great dictionary."--Robert McCrumm, Los Angeles Times

"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

"Winchester tells the story with great verve in an easy-going, anecdotal style that's delectably readable."--Christian Science Monitor

"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

"Supremely readable. Teeming with knowledge and alive with insights."--William F. Buckley, The New York Times Book Review

"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

Table of Contents

Prologue
Acknowledgements
List of Illustrations
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
Epilogue
Bibliography

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Shoshana, June 25, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
A pleasing history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary by the author of the related The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, also a delightful read. It used to be that one could get a copy of the Compact OED by joining a book club, and used copies were easy to find as well. When I went to college, I schlepped my Compact OED to school, home, and to school again each year. I still enjoy reading dictionaries (whether monolingual or translating) and thesauri about as much as I enjoy reading books with plots or narratives, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed the work of the Unregistered Words Committee (which, alas, quickly found its task subsumed in the grander and more ambitious project the OED soon became).

Winchester is a fine writer with an enjoyably large vocabulary. This book has somewhat uneven pacing, with some chapters lagging a bit while others move quickly. The conclusion seemed somewhat rushed; I'd have liked more discussion of the OED's reception when the series was finally complete. The sections on internal disputes, lexicographic standards, and the volunteers who provided illustrative quotations are all very pleasant reading.

A few nitpicks:

Page 8: Though borrowed through Latin, at least three on his list of "Latin-originated words" (idol, martyr, psalm) are actually Greek-originated words.

Page 22: "sacerdotall" is not "now mercifully gone" but alive and well and spelled "sacerdotal."

Though the promotional material says that "Winchester lovingly describes the nuts-and-bolts of dictionary making ? how unexpectedly tricky the dictionary entry for marzipan was," this is somewhat misleading, as Winchester disappointingly references the same datum--that "marzipan" was difficult--but does not tell us why.

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Product Details

ISBN:
9780198607021
Subtitle:
The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
Author:
Winchester, Simon
Author:
null, Simon
Author:
chester, Simon
Author:
Win
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Location:
New York
Subject:
Great britain
Subject:
History, World | British | 19th C
Subject:
English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Copyright:
Edition Number:
4
Edition Description:
Includes bibliographical references (p. 269-271)
Series Volume:
16
Publication Date:
September 2003
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
30 b/w illus.
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
5.300 x 7.900 in 0.488 lb

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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary Used Hardcover
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Product details 256 pages Oxford University Press - English 9780198607021 Reviews:
"Review" by , "If you liked The Professor and the Madman, here's more. Fans and acquaintances of the OED will certainly enjoy this book, as will anyone who enjoys words. For instance, did you know that the combination of question mark and exclamation point is called an "interrobang"? Once more Winchester has taken a subject that might appear dry and breathed life into it." (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by , No, nothing that had so far been made was good enough. What was needed was a brand-new dictionary. A dictionary of the English language in its totality. Not a re-working of the existing, misformed and incomplete works; not a further attempt to make any one of the past creations somehow better or more complete; not a supplement, as the Unregistered Words Committee planned to publish. No, from a fresh start, from a "tabula rasa, there should be constructed now a wholly new dictionary that would give, in essence and in fact, the meaning of "everything. Whatever this was, it had to be a book--an enormous book, quite probably, though not even Dean Trench was bold enough to hazard a guess as to how enormous--that did its level best to include the totality of the language. And by that it meant the discovery and the inclusion every single word, every sense, every meaning. The book had to present a complete inventory of the language--such that anyone who wanted to took up the meaning of any word had to be confident of finding it there, without possibility of a scintilla of doubt.... The "OED was finally and fully made. The English language, in what was at the time believed to be its entirety, had at long last been fixed between the hard covers of--at first ten and then after a reprinting a dozen--tombstone-sized volumes, and the labor of making it all, the work of the seventy-one years that had been taken up by this most magnificent and romantic of enterprises, was now all done. The triumphant moment that Trench and Coleridge and Furnivall and Murray--and Gell and Hart and Minor and Fitzedward Hall and the Thompson sisters besides--had all so longed for, had been well and truly reached.
"Synopsis" by , The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was a remarkable achievement, the story of which has been aching to be told. 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.
"Synopsis" by , 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 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 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.

"Synopsis" by , Includes bibliographical references (p. 251-253) and index.
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