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The meaning of everything : the story of the Oxford English dictionary

by Simon Winchester

  Print book : Biography

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The madman, revisited. . .    (2007-09-30)

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by heidicard

Journalist Simon Winchester returns to the subject of his bestseller, The Professor and the Madman, to further expound on the making of the English language’s definitive dictionary. The story begins with a lucid journey through the history of the English language, setting the foundation for a group of intellectuals in 1860, who decide to undertake the monumentous task of correcting the attempts of previous lexicographers. The project continues over the next 70 years, with an intriguing cast of colorful editors, publishers, and hundreds of volunteer readers who mailed in quotations from books on half-sheets of writing paper. The “slips” came in at the rate of 1,000 per day, sorted by assistants and even the children of one editor (to earn pocket money). Winchester’s rich, dexterous prose details the daily workings of the project, providing personal accounts of key participants, including some of the volunteers: the “Madman,” American soldier Dr. W. C. Minor, confined to a lunatic asylum for murder, and Fitzedward Hall, a self-taught philologist-turned-hermit in self-exile after a heated row with an academic rival.

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