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

Paperback | September 10, 2004

bySimon Winchester

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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 HerbertColeridge (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 unexpectedlytricky 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 corrugatediron 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, andultimate 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, theworld's unrivalled uber-dictionary.

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From the Publisher

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 lang...

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 Nationa...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8.02 × 5.38 × 0.59 inPublished:September 10, 2004Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019517500x

ISBN - 13:9780195175004

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Table of Contents

Prologue1. Taking the Measure of it All2. The Construction of the Pigeonholes3. The General Officer Commanding4. Battling the Undertow5. Pushing through the Untrodden Forest6. So Heavily Goes the Chariot7. The Hermit and the Murderer - and Hereward Thimbleby Price8. From Take to Turndown - and then, Triumphal ValedictionEpilogue

Editorial Reviews

"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