Friday, September 19, 2003

Here's another review of "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary," this one by the Christian Science Monitor.

It offers more examples of shortcoming in Samuel Johnson's masterpiece — such as oats, defined as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but which in Scotland feeds the people."

The review says
Colorful as this undoubtedly is, Winchester also has a knack for making the less sensationalistic elements of lexicography just as engrossing, whether he's describing what to look for in a good definition, discussing the tedious but essential labors of the copy editor, or explaining why Murray and his team found that words beginning with the letter B were much more difficult to define than words beginning with A.
One thing sure to be fascinating about the book, in addition to the window it opens into a language's evolution, is that it points out some of the perils of descriptive dictionaries vs. prescriptive dictionaries. (Are you listening, Merriam-Webster?)

"The meaning of everything" is written by the author of "The Professor and the Madman," another book about the OED that looks at one of the main contributors: a Civil War vet who contributed thousands of entries from his home in an English asylum.


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