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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the…

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (2003)

by Simon Winchester

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Well this one went downhill.

I recommend this book at all solely for its first chapter giving a succinct and entertaining essay on the history of the English language, that's what hooked me into it. I suggest you read that and then put the book back on the store/library shelf. It's not worth taking home.

This book is kind of a sham. The back cover blurb mentions how this book covers such interesting tidbits such as 'bondmaid' being accidentally left out of the first edition, and how words like monkey and marzipan gave the writers so much trouble--but, get this--that's all the book says.

When Winchester reaches that part of the book, he essentially says: "'bondmaid' got left out of the first edition because its slips were lost and forgotten about" and moves on. OK, I got that from the back cover, dude. I've been under the impression that back-cover teasers were supposed to be, you know, teasers.

This book has loads of bits like that, its not so much a history as a collection of anecdotes. Winchester puts in little facts about the major players involved, Furnivall was a womanizer, Murray's kids were overachievers, some other guy liked to swim nude. Nothing really adds up the way it should.

Winchester makes a lot of inferences and statements like "this is what happened, but this is what I like to think is what happened." For instance, referencing the humor that was sometimes put into the dictionary, he points out a definition written by Murray in the 1890s for abbreviator: "An officer of the court of Rome, appointed...to draw up the Pope's briefs." Oh my, how droll. Except Winchester mentions that 'briefs' did not become a term for underwear until 1933. Winchester concedes that nothing untoward was intended, but he "like[s] to wonder." That's not your job, man.

I learned a lot about the making of the O.E.D., yes, but Winchester either didn't have enough proper information or he felt he had to cut it down to the bone to make it marketable--which is ironic considering that this is about one of the most noncommercial of achievements. He's written a whole other book on this subject, focusing on an inmate of an insane asylum who contributed something like 12,000 plus quotations to the dictionary, who had a brief (oh that word again, IT CAN MEAN UNDERWEAR HOHO HAHA) mention in this book. But there are scores of names that he mentions, but doesn't bother to follow up on other than saying little information is readily available. In keeping with his example, I like to think he was just too lazy to follow through on his research. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
A great telling of the story of the development of the Oxford English Dictionary and the people who created it. ( )
  thejohnsmith | Nov 20, 2018 |
Who would have thought that the producing of a dictionary would be so fascinating?

Winchester gives us the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be and the marvelous array of eccentrics involved in its creation and the ongoing work leading to the final release of the OED, some decades later than first expected.

In between we read of surgeons in mental hospitals, the encouragement of women's sculling, philology and words going missing for many years. And the word which went missing for many years. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jul 16, 2018 |
from the Things bookbox last round. I liked this better than The Professor and the Madman. I click on the OED all the time on my kindle and never noticed the nuances in the descriptions. Great book ( )
  nancynova | May 10, 2017 |
Without the same sense of impending menace in THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN -
the 'Oh my God, don't! Please just don't do it!' -
The Meaning of Everything is rewarding for the erudite presentation of Winchester's
exhaustive study of the eventual creation of the OED.

How one may wish to join the men - to sit beside Herbert Coleridge and listen
to his considerations, to hear Richard Chenevix Trench's critical speech
fuming that the existing dictionaries were simply not good enough,
to hear ALL of James Murray's reactions to the developments,
and to go boating with Frederick Furnivall!

The lesser than five stars relates to Winchester's strange
overuse of "niggardly," as well as his bizarre insertion
of the n-word as a footnote.

He knows the immediate negative impact...so why...? ( )
  m.belljackson | Feb 13, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Simon Winchester has previously written a detailed account of one of the foremost contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary, in The surgeon of Crowthorne (OUP, 1988). He writes here that that book was 'essentially a footnote to history', and that in The meaning of everything he is ^writing the history itself. He duly covers in turn the growth of the English language from the first settlers here; early dictionaries; the establishment of the Unregistered Words Committee; the decision to produce 'an inventory of all known English words' giving 'a full-length illustrated biography of every word', its date of birth and 'a register of the ways in which it grew and evolved and changed itself and its meaning over the years'; the appointment of OED staff and establishment of premises, equipment and methods; 'the small army of volunteer readers' who sent in quotation slips, the product of 'reading and scanning and scouring all literature - all journals, magazines, papers, illuminated monastic treatises, and volumes of written and printed publicly accessible works'; the organisation of these; eventual, serial publication ('the longest sensational serial ever written', Arnold Bennett called it) and its reception; subsequent versions: supplements, micrograph, computerization, the second, 20-volume edition; the stunning statistics (414,825 headwords; 1,827,306 illustrative quotations; 15,490 pages; 227,779,589 letters and numbers; 178 miles of type, in the first full edition of 1928).
added by KayCliff | editThe Indexer, Hazel K. Bell (Aug 3, 2009)
IN 1875, more than 15 years after the Philological Society of London had set out to assemble a new English dictionary, the incumbent editor, Frederick Furnivall, acknowledged that he had simply bogged down. New blood was needed. A member of the society came across a 10-year-old application for employment in the British Museum Library. The applicant was one James Murray, son of a linen draper, sometime bank clerk, now 38 years old and seeking extra work to supplement his meager earnings from the Mill Hill School, where he was teaching schoolboys while raising his own 11 children.

The library hadn't hired him -- perhaps because he didn't have a college degree. We get from his application an idea of the range and extent of linguistic learning of a single, modest, semiemployed polymath in mid-19th-century Britain. Murray would be qualified, Furnivall decided, to play a part in the realization of the mind-bending new dictionary. He sent around to his confederates copies of the application letter to the library.

''I possess,'' the schoolteacher had written straightforwardly, ''that general lexical & structural knowledge which makes the intimate knowledge'' of any language ''only a matter of a little application. With several I have a more intimate acquaintance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a less degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal & various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, I am tolerably familiar with Dutch (having at my place of business correspondence to read in Dutch, German, French & occasionally other languages), Flemish, German and Danish. In Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic my studies have been much closer, I having prepared some works for publication upon these languages. I know a little of the Celtic, and am at present engaged with the Sclavonic, having obtained a useful knowledge of Russian. In the Persian, Achaemenian Cuneiform, & Sanscrit branches, I know for the purposes of Comparative Philology. I have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew & Syriac to read at sight the Old Testament and Peshito; to a less degree I know Aramaic Arabic, Coptic and Phenecian to the point where it was left by Gesenius.'' . . .

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Winchester, Simonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Winchester, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In Memory of Jenny McMorris
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The culminating celebrations of what was to be called 'the greatest enterprise of its kind in history' took place in 1928 -- and on Wednesday 6 June of that year, the date when the majestic phrase was first spoken, in England it was Derby Day.
We do not really know why so many people gave so much of their time for so little apparent reward. And this is the abiding and most marvellous mystery of the enormously democratic process that was the Dictionary -- that hundreds upon hundreds of people, for motives known and unknown, for reasons both stated and left unsaid, helped to chronicle the immense complexities of the language that was their own, and that they dedicated in many cases... years upon years of labour to a project of which they all, buoyed by some set of unfathomable and optimistic notions, insisted on becoming a part.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0198607024, Hardcover)

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 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 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 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Traces the history of the Oxford English Dictionary from its earliest inception through its long path to completion, describes the process of creating a dictionary, and includes anecdotes about its creators and their work.

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