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4.0 out of 5 starsFascinating history of a reference book that everyone knows but no one actually reads
Reviewed in the United States on November 3, 2018
This is a fascinating story of the decades-long work to complete the most comprehensive ever dictionary of the English language--from the time of its beginning to the present day. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, teams of scholars from varied backgrounds collected two million quotations from around the English-speaking world that detailed the etymology, uses, and pronunciation of 100,000's of words and idiomatic expressions. The result was, arguably, the most comprehensive and authoritative reference work ever published on any language in the history of the world, one that has become instantly recognizable merely by its initials--the OED. From the beginning of the undertaking, however, its successful outcome was often in doubt because of intrateam rivalries and squabbles, and, equally important, because nearly all involved in the enterprise seriously underestimated the time and money that would be required to assemble a dictionary with the stated intent of collecting literally an entire language encompassing the evolution of every word ever used. I would have given this 5 stars except for the poor editing. Every 'tl', for example, was transposed to a lower-case 'd'. At times I wondered if the Kindle version of the book was published by scanning a hard copy and running an OCR program.
1.0 out of 5 starsAn embarrassment for OED and Simon Winchester
Reviewed in the United States on July 21, 2018
Being a lover of words, their derivation, and their definitions, I was excited to read about this book in the recent Mensa journal. I immediately ordered the Kindle version and set about reading, only to discover that the missive has the dubious distinction of containing, by far, the most misspelled words I’ve ever encountered in one book. Three errors in the Acknowledgements, twelve in the Prologue, thirty-seven in the first chapter, entitled Taking the Measure of It All, and forty-three in the second chapter, The Construction of the Pigeon-Holes. I quit reading at this point. It is almost palpably ironic that this book was about words, and about the protracted care given to their study and inclusion in the OED. Did anyone ever give even one glance at the digital draft before pronouncing it finished? Does Oxford University Press not even care that its works are so shoddy? Worse yet, this review is of the Second Edition, where one could reasonably expect the mess to have been cleaned up. Shame on you, Simon Winchester and OUP, shame on you both!
5.0 out of 5 starsI'm a retired English professor, so this book about ...
Reviewed in the United States on August 3, 2018
I'm a retired English professor, so this book about the creation of the Oxford English dictionary interested me. It's not everyone's cup of tea -- definitely not an exciting summer read. However, if you are interested in the history of English and how English as we know it evolved, this is a fascinating book.
1.0 out of 5 starsThe Kindle edition isn’t worth a penny.
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2018
The Kindle edition is a disgrace to sub-editors everywhere. Whatever software was used to create it, the result is a garbage bag full of error. Should Simon Winchester care? I hope that he does, and that we may get a re-issue of what could have been an entertaining book. But I don’t want to be told that a man called Gaxton invented printing.
Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2015
An utter delight, if you love languages and linguistics and the often quirky personalities and strange behaviors of the uncommonly intelligent and life-long academic. If you don't find fascinating the study of the first nor yourself readily bemused by the second, you probably won't enjoy this book. Simply, it is the story of the conception and completion of what was and is, in all likelihood, the greatest lexicographical project ever undertaken and of the uncommon individuals who played major roles in it. I found it utterly fascinating and, at times, roll-on-the-floor funny, all told in style and tone perfectly suited to the tale. Well and delightfully done, Winchester!
Reviewed in the United States on September 15, 2017
I absolutely loved this book. If you are a reader who cares about language you will love it as well. Be sure to watch the Toronto public television broadcast of the author presenting the book 0n YouTube. He's delightful and will add to your pleasure in reading the book. Our book club was divided about 60/40 on enjoying the book, with the larger percentage adored the book and the smaller simply finding it a little boring. It definitely is a book lovers book.
Simon Winchester did an incredible job in
The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (P.S.)
of using a lively narrative to educate us on the relevance of a formerly unknown historical event. The Meaning of Everything seems to promise the same thing but ultimately did not deliver. I enjoyed the book and learned plenty about the Oxford English Dictionary and, for that matter, the English Language but it certainly was not as engaging as Winchester's other books.
The story of the Oxford English Dictionary is certainly unique. In many ways the approach, asking thousands of people to read books and submit quotes over a period of years, is far before its time and is right along the line of the crowd-sourcing now being used for things like Wikipedia. The story presents some interesting lessons on what to expect from the human nature of people involved in this sort of venture and is worth reading for that aspect alone.
In the end, it just seemed that there was not quite enough material to make this story as interesting as it could have been. I learned something, but was not inspired. I would definitely recommend The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa over this book.
5.0 out of 5 starsExcellent book, full of fascinating information
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 7, 2020
A truly excellent book about the work that went into producing the OED. Having read Surgeon of Crowthorne years ago I knew I was in for a good read when a friend mentioned this book to me recently. I read a paperback and I am pleased I did so as there are many photographs and images that are better on paper than digital.
IT IS INDEED A PLEASURABLE READ CONSIDERING THE STYLE ADOPTED BY WINCHESTER IN WEAVING THE PLOT OF HOW THE OXFORD DICTIONARY WAS BUILT BRICK BY BRICK WITH THE HELP OF SO MANY READERS AND TO SAY THE LEAST TO SOME EXTENT HELPED BY CONTRIBUTIONS FROM A LUNATIC MURDERER. THE BOOK INTERSPERSED WITH OLD PHOTOGRAPHS IS A VERITABLE STOREHOUSE OF INFORMATION AND THE CULMINATION OF LONG AND ASSIDUOUS RESEARCH INTO THE ARCHIVES OF OXFORD AND OTHER ENGLISH INSTITUTIONS BY THE AUTHOR.
WINCHESTER WHO HAS EARLIER WRITTEN A FOREWORD TO MODERN ENGLISH USASGE BY FOWLER IS INDEED THE SUITABLE AUTHOR FOR THIS MINI-HISTORY OF OXFORD UNIVERSITY.
FOWLER FOR WHOSE BOOK WINCHESTER HAS WRITTEN A FOREWORD RAISED EYEBROWS ON THE USAGE OF DASHES IN HIS SECTION DEALING WITH PUNCTUATIONS. FOWLER USED TO ASSOCIATE DASH MARK WITH AFTERTHOUGHTS OF THE AUTHOR WHILE COMMUNICATING HIS IDEAS TO THE READERS. HE EXHORTED HIS COUNTRY MEN TO AVOID USING DASHES BY CITING THE INDISCRIMINATE USE OF THE SAME BY LAURANCE STERNE IN HIS TRISTAM SHANDY. I AM BRINGING THIS FACTOR ONLY BECAUSE WINCHESTER ALSO REVELLED IN USING DASHES TO A MAXIMUM EXTENT IN HIS PRESENT WORK. NOTWITHSTANDING THE USAGE OF DASHES THE SENTENCES WERE FULLY BALANCED AND CONVEYED CLEAR SENSE TO THE READER WHEN COMPARED TO THE CLUMSY RENDITION OF LAURANCE STERNE IN TRISTAM SHANDY WHICH FOWLER FROWNED
This book could be considered to be a sequel to Winchester's previous work on the formation of the OED, "The Professor and the Madman". Like the previous book on Professor Murray's magnum opus, this one is written in the author's usual erudite and highly-readable style. Who would have thought that words and dictionaries could have so much intrigue in them? This book is the perfect gift for any person who values the English language and its correct usage and will give hours of enjoyable reading. I read it in one night and the time seemed to fly. There are some unusual and very interesting photographs and the book is admirably printed on acid-free paper; every book of any lasting merit should be published on similar paper. The book contains a card to get the 75th anniversary edition of the OED in 20 volumes for a "lowest price ever" of $1399 and for lovers of the language it would seem a bargain at the price. Timothy Wingate of Ottawa, Canada
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 25, 2011
There are very few authors who would have attempted this task and made such a success as Simon Winchester.He has the knack of talking through words to the man in the street of which I am one and a very grateful one at that. He appreciates his assistants and always goes to great lenghths to acknowledge them in his work(s). The book is a thriller and weaves it's way through the tortuous by-ways of what nearly didn't happen because of eltism , small mindedness and snobbery and a total preoccupation with the cost of production.Thank goodness for common sense and dogged perseverance. I will never be able to afford the full dictionary but so what? I couldn't afford a ride on Concorde but it too was magnificent. Thank you SW for revealing a very interesting history of how we ended up with the greatest dictionary of all time - well done you.