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

By Simon Winchester

$15.00

A kleptomaniac, the nephew of a French Emperor, the creator of an imaginary land inhabited by small hairy creatures, a homicidal lunatic, an Esperanto enthusiast, the man who introduced the camel to the Wild West, the captain of an all-ladies sculling team, a hermit, and the son of a Scottish draper.

Just who were these people and what connected them to the world’s greatest dictionary? It was on New Year’s morning, 1928, that an eruption of mad lexical glee from a battered old typewriter on a desk in Baltimore from the hands of Henry Louis Mencken sent news all across the USA of the long-awaited publication of the book that was to crown the English language undisputed monarch of the linguistic kingdom. From the Oxford-based project a total of 414,825 words, ten times as many as had hitherto been suspected of existing, had now been recognised and catalogued, the results of seventy years of Herculean effort by scholars, linguists, and thousands of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people.

The Meaning of Everything is a readily accessible historical account of the making of the remarkable Oxford English Dictionary, leading up to the appointment of the first editor, James Murray, in 1879 through to its triumphant publication in 1928 and beyond. Brought to life by Simon Winchester’s characteristic talent for story-telling, the achievement of making the dictionary is an unforgettable story, and is further enlivened by portraits of the myriad characters involved in its creation. From the context of early dictionaries and national projects of the Victorian Era, Simon Winchester leads his narrative through early attempts to create what was then expected to be a four-volume dictionary, the appointment of James Murray as editor, the unusual, never-before-attempted way in which the book was constructed, and the people and processes involved in the definition of thousands of words, to the triumphant publication of the dictionary and its adaptation to the age of technology.

The profound impact the volumes had when they first appeared, the fame the dictionary has had in the eight decades since, and that it can be expected to have in years to come, receive full and fascinating treatment here at the pen of the best-selling author of The Surgeon of Crowthorne and The Map That Changed The World.

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