The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester
The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

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Synopsis

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.
 

About Simon Winchester

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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.
 
Published October 29, 2004 by Oxford University Press. 288 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Travel, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Tolkien, who in 1919 had worked on the project and was remembered for his struggles with the difficult word “walrus.” (Later, he would help the OED define “hobbit.”) Winchester pauses for a few chapters to remind us of the story of the English language—remember those pesky Angles, Saxons and Jute...

Aug 01 2003 | Read Full Review of The Meaning of Everything: Th...

Publishers Weekly

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With his usual winning blend of scholarship and accessible, skillfully paced narrative, Winchester (Krakatoa) returns to the subject of his first bestseller, The Professor and the Madman, to tell the eventful, personality-filled history of the definitive English dictionary.

Jul 14 2003 | Read Full Review of The Meaning of Everything: Th...

London Review of Books

It then moves to a review of previous English dictionaries, beginning with Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall of 1604, which explains ‘hard vsuall English wordes’ borrowed from Latin and other languages, some now obsolete, others, such as sacerdotal, now well established despite Winchester’s co...

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ForeWord Reviews

Under the third, a hyperactive near-genius who founded eight scholarly societies, took shop-girls sculling on the Thames (eyeing their wet and clinging blouses), and demonstrated in front of 10 Downing Street, the OED nearly died: vital raw material-the volunteer readers’ innumerable word-usage e...

Oct 02 2003 | Read Full Review of The Meaning of Everything: Th...

The Sunday Times

Available at the Sunday Times Books Direct price of £10.39 plus £1.95 p&p on 0870 165 8585The Department of Energy & Climate Change - England - CompetitiveDepartment of Health - UK - CompetitiveDepartment of Health - UK - Salary - £63,000 per annumDepartment for Work and Pensions (DWP) - England ...

Oct 19 2003 | Read Full Review of The Meaning of Everything: Th...

India Today

The tortuous path that the OED travelled during its creation had much to do with conflicts between personalities, some to do with ego, others because of differences on the meaning and usage of words and even on which words deserved inclusion and which did not.

Feb 02 2004 | Read Full Review of The Meaning of Everything: Th...

The Well-Read Man

War and Peace is a long book.

Aug 13 2012 | Read Full Review of The Meaning of Everything: Th...

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