Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Meaning of Everything

A couple of days ago I finished reading "The Meaning of Everything" by Simon Winchester:

It's the story of the Oxford English Dictionary - how it began, why it differs from all other dictionaries, and most importantly, how it is ranks as one of the best philological works. 

Read it! It brings you back to a more erudite time (in a classical way, at least) - a time when, as teenagers, people spoke twenty languages, read physics for fun, knew why this octave of X symphony was, based on the Y musical theory, a work of genius, drew astronomical maps in their free time and volunteered at archaeological diggings. (When I was a teenager...)

I want the full set of the Oxford English Dictionary for my birthday!

A bit of trivia: creating the dictionary required thousands of people, mostly volunteers, to read through every work of literature written in English as of the late nineteenth century. To ensure that the word was truly used in the language, a particular word had to be cited in at least several written works. Among the many attributes that makes Shakespeare great is that he was the first to imbue words with certain meanings which have since then become mainstream (such as "laughable", first used in the The Merchant of Venice). However, some of his words were never employed by any other author the same way he did (e.g. "soilure" and "tortive").

1 comment:

Jona said...

Meanwhile, I am reading Sofie Kinsela.