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Empire of Words Hardcover – October 31, 1994
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From Library Journal
Willinsky, a teacher and writer on literacy and the teaching of English, here takes us on a critical tour of the most authoritative of all English dictionaries, the formidable Oxford English Dictionary (OED). He focuses on the source of the OED's authority-its imposing database of over five million examples of words used in context. These dated citations form chronological usage histories of nearly 300,000 English words. After two chapters that describe the dictionary's cultural and philosophical background and its development during three editorial periods, Willinsky proceeds to reveal its selectivity and bias. By scrutinizing OED entries, he exposes ambiguity and contradiction between citations and definitions and shows a nearly complete neglect of women and workers. Replete with statistical content analysis as well as engaging anecdotes, this study will have a limited audience. Recommended for large public and academic libraries.
Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., Maine
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
At first glance, this appears to update Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (1977). Indeed, it does describe how the supplements to and the second edition of the OED were compiled and the ongoing work on the database today. But it is really a scholarly study of the more than two million citations in the dictionary that are used to show shades of meanings of words. Willinsky questions the authority of the OED by demonstrating how idiosyncratic the choice of citations often has been. He describes the shift in citations over time from English literature to American sources. Tables show the leading sources for citations in various editions of the dictionary--it was Shakespeare in the first edition, Shaw in the supplements. Sandy Whiteley
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