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Home Contact us Help Free delivery worldwide. Now we are preparing the third edition. But, realistically, I think people now find works of reference of that size far more useful in electronic form.
So, at the moment, OED3 is electronic. Is it half a million? The oldest words in the language are the ones that go back to Old English — so whatever the earliest records of English are, maybe 5th or 6th century. You might find them inscribed on an Anglo Saxon tombstone or a sword recovered from a bog.
Since so many English words are foreign in origin, do you have to be good at lots of languages to be a good lexicographer?
I read maths at Cambridge. Family meal times would degenerate into discussions of the semicolon. So I think what you need to be a good lexicographer is sensitivity to nuance in language—really, really fine distinctions—and the ability to write about them clearly. Having said that, on the staff, we do need people who are knowledgeable, very well qualified in Old English, in medieval French, in the languages from which English has borrowed its words.
Then it became the name for the dressing table itself. Then it became a name for what you do at that dressing table. He was just a most amazing man, really. When I started doing research into the history of the dictionary, this was one of the great texts that I knew I could draw on. It portrays him as this most prodigious man with extraordinary abilities.
He never went to university, but he spoke a large number of languages.
He was capable of incredible hard work. Just the passionate sense of vocation, the sense that God had placed him on this earth to do this job, and that all of the skills that he had, had been developed for this specific job. He would work late into the night, late into his 70s.
So his mission was basically to chart the evolution of all the words in the English language? One of the things I really try to get across in my book is just how much of a collective process it is.
I mentioned all the people sending in examples of words. Literally thousands of people worked on the dictionary in that way. By the time James Murray was taken on board as editor, the idea of the dictionary was already well developed.
But it rapidly became apparent that he was the best possible person for the job. His name was on the first title page, but, eventually, there was more than one editor. So Oxford University Press appointed a second editor to work on a different part of the dictionary. That was Henry Bradley, and then he was followed by a third one and a fourth one. So he also spoke lots of languages, and was also self-taught.
One of the things I always like to mention is that he learned to read upside down.
His father read to the family from the Bible on his knees, and young Henry seems to have worked out how to read, and when he was first given a book to read for himself, he held it upside down.
He came from a fairly humble background, worked in a Sheffield cutlery firm for many years and then came to London. He liked to say that James Murray set up the plan, and he carried on the work after Murray died. Is it letters? James Murray had written books before he became the editor of the OED, he wrote an important book on Scottish dialect, for example. But once he became editor of the OED, that was what he did. Somehow Bradley, while he was working on the OED, continued to produce scholarly articles on place names and solving problems in old texts.
These collected papers contain some of those journal articles. How would he have come by the knowledge to make that kind of critique? Just by looking at it really hard. I suppose his reading enabled him to pick up little details. It was just the way he wrote about them.
He showed himself to be very perceptive. This is more of a page-turner, I think: Like the man who only worked on the dictionary for a little while, but then went off and got captured by the Russians on the Eastern Front in the First World War. Get the weekly Five Books newsletter. No, not all of them. The quotations for the dictionary were sent in by members of the public.
Minor was a member of the public, but he just happened to be a murderer who was banged up in Broadmoor. He was an American who had fought in the American Civil War and was traumatised by his experiences. He remained convinced that people were out to kill him, and he shot a man in the street and was put away when Broadmoor was really quite new. The name Broadmoor has such a resonance now, but not then.
Eventually James Murray discovered that actually, no. The crime and the trial had been in the papers, it was well-known in America, and he had heard about it. Dr Minor was clearly insane, and one part of his mind was unhinged. He was convinced that he was being spirited off to Constantinople every night.
But another part of his mind was perfectly capable of reading books and writing out quotations for the dictionary in a useful, intellectual way, and he did that for many years. What kinds of things was he reading in prison that he was able to bring to the attention of the editor of the OED?
He mainly read books from the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries. In those days, if you were well-off—and he came from a well-off family—you could have quite nice rooms in Broadmoor.
I seem to remember he actually had other inmates waiting on him. He played his flute and he had fine books which he would read for the dictionary. Ward Farnsworth. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Robin Devoe. Essential Songwriter's Rhyming Dictionary: Pocket Size Book. Kevin M. Pocket Tagalog Dictionary: Renato Perdon.
Point it: Dieter Graf. Fiftieth Anniversary Printing. Editors of the American Heritage. Noah Webster. Paperback Oxford English Dictionary. Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin. Leo F Stelten. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Kory Stamper.
Princeton Language Institute. Woe is I: I Believe In Miracles: The Miracles Set. Kathryn Kuhlman. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Audible Audiobook. The Million Word Crossword Dictionary. Stanley Newman. Fourth Edition.