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The Meaning of Everything

Cover of The Meaning of Everything

The Meaning of Everything

The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
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From the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa.

Writing with marvelous brio, Simon Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language and pays homage to the great dictionary makers from Samuel Johnson to Noah Webster before turning his unmatched talent for storytelling to the making of the most venerable of dictionaries – The Oxford English Dictionary. Here the listener is presented with lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but sickly first editor Herbert Coleridge, the colorful, wildly eccentric Frederick Furnivall, and the incomparable James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent half a century as editor bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the minutiae of dictionary making, brings us to visit the unseemly corrugated iron shed that Murray grandly dubbed The Scriptorium, and introduces some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to the murderous W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption.

The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument erected to a living language.

From the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa.

Writing with marvelous brio, Simon Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language and pays homage to the great dictionary makers from Samuel Johnson to Noah Webster before turning his unmatched talent for storytelling to the making of the most venerable of dictionaries – The Oxford English Dictionary. Here the listener is presented with lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but sickly first editor Herbert Coleridge, the colorful, wildly eccentric Frederick Furnivall, and the incomparable James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent half a century as editor bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the minutiae of dictionary making, brings us to visit the unseemly corrugated iron shed that Murray grandly dubbed The Scriptorium, and introduces some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to the murderous W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption.

The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument erected to a living language.

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About the Author-
  • Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine The amazing history of the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY is recounted by its author, and it's a rousing listen. Rife with wit, anecdotes galore, and entertaining wordplay, this audiobook is a must for lovers of the English language. A worthy follow-up to Winchester's THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, this telling of the creation of the OED reminds one of a decades-long climb up a lexicographer's Everest, with much struggle, infighting, and politics determining the success of the endeavor. Winchester reads crisply, suavely, and convincingly, revealing himself to be an author completely at ease with both the microphone and his material, a rarity in audiobooks. The OED is a monumental achievement, and its history as told by Winchester is a milestone in the epic journey of our language. D.J.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2004, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 14, 2003
    With his usual winning blend of scholarship and accessible, skillfully paced narrative, Winchester (Krakatoa) returns to the subject of his first bestseller, The Professor and the Madman,
    to tell the eventful, personality-filled history of the definitive English dictionary. He emphasizes that the OED project began in 1857 as an attempt to correct the deficiencies of existing dictionaries, such as Dr. Samuel Johnson's. Winchester opens with an entertaining and informative examination of the development of the English language and pre-OED efforts. The originators of the OED thought the project would take perhaps a decade; it actually took 71 years, and Winchester explores why. An early editor, Frederick Furnivall, was completely disorganized (one sack of paperwork he shipped to his successor, James Murray, contained a family of mice). Murray in turn faced obstacles from Oxford University Press, which initially wanted to cut costs at the expense of quality. Winchester stresses the immensity and difficulties of the project, which required hundreds of volunteer readers and assistants (including J.R.R. Tolkien) to create and organize millions of documents: the word bondmaid
    was left out of the first edition because its paperwork was lost. Winchester successfully brings readers inside the day-to-day operations of the massive project and shows us the unrelenting passion of people such as Murray and his overworked, underpaid staff who, in the end, succeeded magnificently. Winchester's book will be required reading for word mavens and anyone interested in the history of our marvelous, ever-changing language. (Oct.)Forecast: Winchester could have a second hardcover bestseller this year with this, boosted by a seven-city author tour.

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The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
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