March 06, 2004


I just finished reading The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester (see the list of readings on the sidebar and this previous posting). As I noted earlier, this is a book about the history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and, as someone who has previously worked at a dictionary (the Dictionary of Old English), I found this book to be particularly congenial. The book is well written and quite interesting; in fact, it has certainly made me want to read Simon Winchester’s previous book on the OED called The Professor and the Madman.

There are a lot of interesting facts in this book that I didn’t know, such as the fact that Henry Sweet, whom I’m familiar with as an important Old English scholar who wrote various OE textbooks, a student’s OE dictionary, and editions of OE texts, was the model for Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Indeed, having read the prefaces to his Early English Text Society edition of King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care and The Student’s Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon, where he comes across as a fairly ornery fellow, I am not entirely surprised by this revelation. There are also many wonderfully interesting bits of trivia contained in his very entertaining footnotes.

I’m quite the dictionary fanatic and never pass up the opportunity to acquire another. And I find it fascinating to read the history of all these linguistic tools that I use constantly, such as the OED and the editions of the Early English Text Society, a society which was created to supply reliable editions for the OED, and of which I am a member. I really should have been a nineteenth century scholar of language and Old English. In any case, reading The Meaning of Everything has put me in a non-fiction state of mind, so next up is Colin Peter Field’s The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris.

Posted by Mark at March 6, 2004 12:32 PM