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

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

  • Title: The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Author: Simon Winchester
  • ISBN: 9780195175004
  • Page: 275
  • Format: Paperback
  • 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 wonderfullyFrom 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 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.

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    One thought on “The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary”

    1. I can't recommend this enough. Fascinating, humor-full and very readable. You wouldn't think this would be funny, but it is. I mean laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe I'm a complete nerd but this is fascinating and fun and full of things you don't need to know! The people who contributed to the dictionary are truly interesting. I loved hearing about word origins and how they fit into the dictionary -- I wish Winchester would write more on this topic. I've fallen in love with his writing style which sou [...]

    2. Simon Winchester's wonderful book on the making of the most venerable authority on the English language is a delightful story. I have enjoyed both the hard copy and the CD read by the author.

    3. I would have liked to have given this a better rating, but at times the book was just so dull. Winchester wrote another book about the making of the OED and perhaps all of his passion was put into that one. See: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English DictionaryNear the end, chapter 7 Winchester explores why so many people helped out with the making of the OED when their only reward was perhaps footnotes in the dictionary. Since he wrote this [...]

    4. A few years ago I read the The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and through the first few chapters of this book I was like, "Is this by the same guy? I'm sure that was by Simon Winchester too (it was). This book is the whole story - the big picture of the creation of the OED, a project that was much bigger than the professor or the madman, and outlived them both. It is a grand tale of a grand dream, conceived in an era of wide [...]

    5. 2 1/2 stars, really. There’s a reason I’ve taken at least a week to get to this summary. It’s been hard to bring myself to find something to say about it beyond a resounding ‘meh.’ It’s sad that this book hasn’t much to recommend itself as a standalone history of the Oxford English Dictionary or as a complement to Winchester’s earlier The Professor and the Madman, parts of which this book reuses and the whole of which it takes a short seven pages to recap. But then, this is a sho [...]

    6. I read this in airports and airplanes, while exhausted beyond words, so my thoughts are not in order. Sue me.Maybe 3.5 stars. I found this a little dry at first, but warmed up to it about halfway through. The Oxford English Dictionary truly is an amazing achievement, and the 70 year history of its first incarnation is astonishing. This book renewed my admiration for the OED, and made me wish all the more strongly that I owned a copy. Many fascinating anecdotes to be found here. My favorite being [...]

    7. In The Surgeon of Crawthorne, or The Professor and the Madman as it is more sensationally titled in the States, Winchester makes the point that the book has two protagonists. However, any fair reading of that book would have to say that really there is only one protagonist and that is Dr Minor. The other protagonist that Winchester alludes to is James Murray – the man, more than anyone else, responsible for the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary.This book has only one protagonist – [...]

    8. After I told my husband that I finished this book, he asked how it was. I said "It was kind of boring." And he looked at me and said, "Annette, it was a history of the dictionary. What did you expect." So um. Yeah.Moral of the story: You can stab women and still have a big vocabulary.

    9. This is a most enjoyable book. The making of the first edition of the OED is surprisingly filled with event. The gigantic task took a lifetime and survived four editors before it was finally concluded. The first editor, Herbert Coleridge a grandson of the poet died just after he took up the position. He was followed by Fredrick Furnivall who took up the job with intense enthusiasm and then lost interest--neglecting the task to such an extent that the project was nearly cancelled. Fortunately h [...]

    10. I'm disturbed by the current trend of history authors focusing more on the biographies of the inviduals involved in a project rather than the ideas behind it. Have we as readers convinced them we are that voyeuristic? Is the People magazine approach to intellectual history the only thing that sells these days? Or do hardcore fans simply become so enamored of the figures who made it all possible that they cannot resist the urge to delve into the personal? This would be understandable if an author [...]

    11. This is exactly the kind of thing I love. You have a grand story of real human endeavor and achievement--the inception and construction of the first Oxford English Dictionary--filtered through the lens of the very human characters involved in its construction and the outrageously difficult, outlandishly remarkable (one man contributed enormous amounts from inside an insane asylum), and everything in between. You get huge doses of history (of language, of dictionaries, of England itself) and larg [...]

    12. I read this book for a class on the history and development of the English language. Fascinating story of the creation of the O.E.D. Have you ever wondered why we have dictionaries and who decides what goes in them? What about which dictionary to use--what does that say about you? This book sparked an interest in dictionaries in America (to be clear, the book is centered on England) and how the American English variant was legitimized by the Webster's dictionary. I ended up presenting my researc [...]

    13. Not for everyone, but word nerds will enjoy. It reads more like a 700 page book so at points I just had to skim-too many lists. It does make me more curious about "The Professor and the Madman" which sounds like it may be a much more interesting read. Filled with truly gem-like details-my favorite-that Julian Barnes was one of the "unsung" wordsmiths who worked on the editing of the revised edition.

    14. How embarrassing. I recommended this for our book club based on its reviews, and the fact that it's about the dictionary. We're all word lovers, of course we're going to love this book! Right? No one liked it. The words most often used were "boring" and "dry." Very disappointing! (I yelled this like Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, when he finds no diamonds in the safe. Then I threw the book across the room.)

    15. A quite lovely little dip into OED history. This is one of Winchester's more enjoyable books, probably because it's shorter and less long-winded. But I did find gaps in some of his historical descriptions of people and events surrounding the OED, and thought he could have fleshed out and organized things just a bit better. Still, quite a fun read and I'd recommend it.

    16. This was fun and readable despite (partly because of?) a writing style appropriately stuffy for the topic at hand. I enjoyed the first couple of chapters the most, especially the parts on the history of dictionaries and lexicography in general. The daunting logistical issues posed by the project were also fascinating — so many problems that simply don't exist any more, like "how do I organise these millions of little handwritten slips" or "how do I keep copies (and keep track) of all this volu [...]

    17. I've always wondered what some of the first 'crowd-sourced' (add that word to the OED please) efforts were in the world. Though not completely open like , the OED must be one of the first due to the efforts of thousands worldwide contributors. Yet, the words of the English language were funneled through the OED editors -- but, it couldn't have been produced without the world's help. This was an enjoyable ride into the history of the Oxford English Dictionary from beginning to end. Winchester rea [...]

    18. bookslifewine/r-the-meaninFor English is a language that simply cannot be fixed, nor can it ever be absolutely laid down. It changes constantly; it grows with an almost exponential joy. It evolves eternally; its words alter their senses and their meanings subtly, slowly, or speedily according to fashion and need. Dictionaries that record and catalog the language cannot ever be prescriptive; they must always be entirely descriptive, telling of the language as it is, not as it should be. -P29I lov [...]

    19. Thoroughly loved this book for the most part. It was written with Simon's unique ability to make mundane information interesting and fresh. I do admit that I enjoyed the other book by him on this subject, "The Professor & the Madman". I'm glad to have read both though since they cover multiple topics and bring the story together. When I read a book like this it makes me wish that I had a love of words and the mind to learn multiple languages easily as so many people involved in the OED were. [...]

    20. I did really enjoy the subject matter of this book, but the writing was too dry, it felt like I was reading . If you are interested in the subject I still recommend The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way and maybe The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

    21. I have always loved dictionaries! I could not keep track of the names/people in this book but continued reading without really caring. It is so beautifully written; it is clear the author loves the English language. If you have any interest in the OED or how the first dictionary was compiled, I recommend this book!

    22. Amazing to think of putting together the OED in the days before computers. SW obviously loved his topic and loved big words; I felt I needed the dictionary on hand to look up several words per page. It was accessible but still very academic and I could only read a few pages at a time.

    23. “Our histories, our novels, our poems, our plays—they are all in this one book.” The OED or The Oxford English Dictionary is one of the great works of the literary world. To catalog and define the largest language that has ever existed was no mere trifling. Work began in 1857 and completed in 1928. Tracing the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout [...]

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