2008: 64. The Meaning of Everything

“The culminating celebrations of what was to be called ‘the greatest enterprise of its kind in history’ took place in 1928 - and on Wednesday 6 June of that year, the date when this majestic phrase was first spoken, in England it was Derby Day.”

The Meaning of Everything, Simon Winchester

This was my 400 book, a story of the history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.  It covers some ground of another Winchester book, The Professor and the Madman,* but that was more about one tiny scandalous aspect of a major undertaking, the likes of which are sort of unfathomable.  The OED took more than seventy years to write, and involved the works of thousands of volunteers, as well as the life time dedication of a number of men.  It was the kind of project that only the Victorians would have dared do - so difficult and time intensive that it requires that Victorian hubris to dare even start (the book has a great bit about how no matter how sexists and imperialist we might think of them being, the Victorians got stuff done).   The story is amazing - people poured over every book published, looking for every use of every word, trying to get the earliest version, the shades of meaning, the nuances of definition, and a few men (and some women) had to sort through it all to created the greatest dictionary in the English language - while overcoming skepticism over the cost, the difficulty, the length of it took to create - and it continues on to this day, though now they think it might be too long to even publish, and that it only makes sense to publish electronically!! A great book for a word nerd, or anyone interested in the nature of great human endeavors.


* Which I then re-read, as soon as I finished this book, but won’t blog about for a bit, because I am so far behind in my blogging that I had to sneak these library books in, in order to be able to return them.


Date/Place Completed: 5/12/08; D.C.

Categories:  Non-Fiction, Library, Dewey Decimal Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017