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

3.98 (3,689 ratings by Goodreads)

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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 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.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 260 pages
  • 134.62 x 200.66 x 15.24mm | 226.8g
  • Oxford University Press, USA
  • Oxford, England, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • Illustrations, black and white
  • 019517500X
  • 9780195175004
  • 231,438

About Author and Historian Simon Winchester

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.show more

Review quote

-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 Tribuneshow more

Rating details

3,689 ratings
3.98 out of 5 stars
5 30% (1,124)
4 43% (1,577)
3 22% (825)
2 4% (135)
1 1% (28)
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