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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary Paperback – October 14, 2004
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"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
About the Author
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.
Top customer reviews
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The story of the Oxford English Dictionary is certainly unique. In many ways the approach, asking thousands of people to read books and submit quotes over a period of years, is far before its time and is right along the line of the crowd-sourcing now being used for things like Wikipedia. The story presents some interesting lessons on what to expect from the human nature of people involved in this sort of venture and is worth reading for that aspect alone.
In the end, it just seemed that there was not quite enough material to make this story as interesting as it could have been. I learned something, but was not inspired. I would definitely recommend The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa over this book.
Perhaps the greatest strength of English is that it is constantly evolving. New words and expressions come and go at a rate of knots. There is no equivalent of the Academie Francaise monitoring matters and trying to guide the language is certain directions. English is wonderfully malleable.
Yet for all its flexibility, every modern language needs certain basic rules or understandings in order that we can communicate in some common manner. To a large extent, these "rules" were laid out by the creators of the Oxford English Dictionary. In this regard, the chief driving force was James Murray who supervised the dictionary's first edition.
Simon Winchester has done a terrific job in covering the history of Murray's efforts and the trials and tribulations of the dictionary's creation. I can appreciate that many might think that a book about a dictionary could be overly dry. Do not be concerned. The book is interesting, sometimes whimsical and always fascinating. To all lovers of the English language, read this book.