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Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  1,348 Ratings  ·  309 Reviews
An obsessive word lover's account of reading the entire "Oxford English Dictionary," hailed as "the "Super Size Me" of lexicography." "I'm reading the "OED" so you don't have to," says Ammon Shea on his slightly masochistic journey to scale the word lover's Mount Everest: the "Oxford English Dictionary." In 26 chapters filled with sharp wit, sheer delight, and a documentar ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Perigee Trade (first published 2008)
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Jan 23, 2013 Manny marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
- Have you come across a book called Reading the OED, Professor?

- Yes, I believe I leafed through it in bookshop once. Frightfully vulgar little volume. Do pass the port, there's a good fellow.

- By all means. And what fault did you find with it, if I may ask?

- Oh, the author attempted to entertain his readers with words he had found in the Oxford English, which he apparently believed were unusual and obscure. Some of his choices were, how shall I put it, a little surprising to me.

- Would you car
Ammon Shea read the OED "so that you don't have to". This account of the experience has one chapter for each letter of the alphabet; each chapter is roughly equally split between a selection of words and definitions and Shea's musing on some aspect of dictionaries, lexicography, or the logistics of his current project, many of which have to do with finding good places to do his reading.

I enjoyed the book, but not nearly as much as I had expected to. Shea is a genial guide, and one admires his st
Aug 22, 2008 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
I'm still reading this, but give it 5 stars in advance! This is the best fun I've had in a long, long time. This guy reads dictionaries for fun, and read the Oxford English Dictionary in one year (21,730 pages). He's grumpy and hilarious. He starts each chapter (by letter: "A", "B", etc.) with a description of something--like "Library People"--people who hang out in libraries and how he's afraid he's turning into one. But the best is the random list of words at the end of each chapter and his co ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 06, 2011 Richard Derus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Book Report: Ammon Shea, whom I suspect of autodidacticism, was a New York City furniture mover and dicitionary freak living with his recovering lexicographer girlfriend when he conceives of a way to get paid for sitting in a corner and reading: He will, in one year, read the entire 20-volume print version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and report on the experience of doing so, what lexicological gems he found while doing so, and what the experience does to his sneaking-up-on-forty ...more
Oct 16, 2008 Grace rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oed, language
The book read like a travel diary, detailing Ammon Shea's travels through the approximately 21,000 pages of the Oxford English Dictionary. He begins each chapter (each one dedicated to a letter of the alphabet) with interesting and sometimes insightful commentary about libraries, dictionary conventions, or his failing eye sight before delving into the words that piqued his interest, followed by a brief commentary on the word. I now know that the gunk in the corner of my eye is called gound. My b ...more
Oct 23, 2012 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so good! It's the experience of Ammon Shea as he spent one year reading the OED. He has a great sense of humor. This book is full of stories about his experiences reading the dictionary mixed with stories of his life not to mention definitions of unusual words we've never heard of.

Two of these words I have already started saying in my daily life:

Prend - noun - a mended crack. Every Sunday I now look at my Sunday tea cup - the one from Colorado Capital Bank that shattered into severa
Jan 23, 2010 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I suppose I should start this review by admitting that I know Ammon Shea. I went to school with Ammon Shea. I've gone to the same gym as Ammon Shea. (And, Senator, you're no Ammon Shea.)

(With apologies to Lloyd Bentsen, but no apologies to Dan Quayle.)

But, even without knowing Ammon, I would have found this book fascinating. He read the entire Oxford English Dictionary! All 20 volumes! 21,730 pages!

The book is both an honest account of the experience of reading such a huge work (including head
Jun 03, 2009 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone and everyone who enjoys words and wordplay
This will have to be a quickie; I’ve been involved in other projects and so sitting on this too long. Reading the OED marks the third of my personal OED triptych that began with the two Simon Winchester books, and I’ve gotta say, I absolutely loved this one. I would read more of this before bed each night and be constantly giggling, snorting, and otherwise laughing out loud. Can’t say how many, “Here, ya gotta listen to this’” I initiated with whomever was nearby whenever I had this book open, b ...more
Jun 07, 2016 J rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Weird and fantastical in its own right, Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED is about one man, obsessed with words and dictionaries, and his decision one day to purchase and read from cover to cover the entirety of the 21,730 pages of the Oxford English Dictionary. Luckily for his eyes, though they may have been strained, that he chose the old school route and stuck to the last printed edition of the landmark dictionary. The OED’s online version is considerably longer and a computer monitor considerably ...more
Bill Hall
Mar 29, 2009 Bill Hall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
Ammon Shea has done something most of us will never do--read the Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover in a year, all twenty volumes and 21,730 pages of it. He's brought us the story of this marathon in "Reading the OED," and the result is a verbal feast for anyone who loves words. The tale unfolds in twenty-six chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each chapter opens with a narrative section followed by a selection of some of Shea's favorite words beginning with that letter. Al ...more
Jan 17, 2009 rmn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an entertaining book chronicling one man’s successful attempt to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary (20 volumes, ~25k pages) in one year, reading 8-10 hours a day. The author writes in a lively style that actually makes reading the dictionary sound interesting.

The book is structured into 26 chapters, one for each letter. Each chapter is ~8 pages long with the first ~4 pages chronicling the author’s experience reading the OED or some experience he has had relating to dictionaries
May 01, 2012 Marsha rated it really liked it
Did you know there are eight different phrases for eight different types of drunkenness? Do you know the word for the stretching you do when you first wake up? What’s that crusty stuff that collects in the corner of your eyes? What do you call that gray, nasty water that flows down the drain after you’ve had your bath? Wouldn’t you like to know?

Ammon Shea made it his mission to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary in one year—all 20 volumes of it. In doing so, his eyesight deteriorated, hi
Dec 13, 2008 Brooke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have to admit, I'm a word geek. I like words just for themselves - wierd ones, funny ones, bizarre ones, common ones. This is a book for people like me. It was so much fun to read, I couldn't put it down and was sad when it was over - it's quite short. Each chapter begins with a short essay about various things, sometimes related to his reading the OED. The essay is followed by a selection of words from the OED that struck his fancy for one reason or another, with definitions sometimes quoted ...more
Phil Call
Jul 17, 2013 Phil Call rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Reading the OED is about how the author (Ammon Shea) read the entire Oxford English Dictionary (21,730 pages) in one year, reading 8-10 hours a day. Each chapter is titled with a letter of the alphabet, and each chapter has bits of stories of his experiences reading followed by some (15 or so) of his favorite words starting with that letter. It was interesting to read and be amazed at how crazy an undertaking this was. I believe there are a number of other books where people do something interes ...more
When I was in college I kept a short list of my favorite words. My very favorite word at that time was pensive. It conveyed such a clear description to me. I thought I was pensive. One of my friends ridiculed me for even having a favorite word. She said had never known anyone who did. I believe everyone has favorite words - not just words they use over and over - but words they really, really like.

So, as one who likes to dictionary-surf, I was thrilled by the concept of this book. Actually readi
Feb 24, 2015 Heather rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
This was a good book to read while home sick with a cold: fun, funny, and not too mentally taxing. Shea, who says in the introduction to this book that he collects words the way other people collect tangible and/or valuable things, read the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in its entirety, and this book is the result. There’s a chapter for each letter, and in each chapter we get some narrative about the project, or about dictionaries generally, or about reading/words generally, fo ...more
Jun 30, 2011 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up, my sister and brother and I knew the OED well. If we ever dared to ask our dad the meaning or spelling of a word, we sighed as he predictably would say, "Break out the OED." We would slide open the drawer in the top of the two-volume condensed set and pull out the magnifying glass before choosing the appropriate gigantic book and seeking out our word among the super-thin pages. We would learn the meaning and spelling, but we would also learn the etymology and how its roots compared w ...more
Dec 28, 2008 F.R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whimsy is something I can take or leave (mostly leave) and a more whimsical idea than a man writing about his time reading the OED it would be difficult to find. However as a writer - with a natural love of words - the idea of this book did whisper sweetly to me and get passed my occasionally hard heart.

This is a book I have been dipping into since Christmas, and I found Shea to be a charming guide through his project, and through the dictionary. As not only does he talk about what the experienc
May 16, 2012 Ensiform rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
After a lifetime of studying lexicography and reading dictionaries for fun, Shea, a professional author, spends one year reading the entire OED – for eight or ten hours a stretch, six days a week. It’s a very lightweight example of the “feat memoir” genre that can be so entertaining. About half the book is taken up with lists of unusual words and Shea’s exegesis on their definitions, some of which are very clever indeed, laugh-out-loud funny.

Unfortunately, Shea doesn’t seem to have anything of n
Jul 07, 2009 Vince rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I will write more about this on my blog, but I had a bunch of problems with this book.

* Although it's a promising reason to write a book, Shea wastes the opportunity by returning with a boring selection of words and anecdotes.
* Instead of letting the OED speak for itself, he paraphrases their definitions more often than not, and he's painfully unfunny.
* He capitalizes every word in his lists, which is utterly contrary to dictionary practices.
* Each page is padded with white space, because despit
Kasey Jueds
Feb 22, 2012 Kasey Jueds rated it it was amazing
I did not think I would actually laugh out loud at a book about reading the dictionary (though I guess the idea is inherently funny). I loved, loved this book, which is a sort-of memoir, sort-of tribute to the year Ammon Shea spent reading the OED. Each chapter is named after a letter and starts with a little essay about his process, his thoughts about the OED and dictionaries in general, the history of the language, etc., and ends with a selection of words beginning with that letter that Shea f ...more
Despite its unprepossessing title, this is an enjoyable book about strange rarely used words. Essentially it is an alphebetical tour through the OED by Shea throughout which he discusses the odd words he has run across. There are little miniature essays for these various entries and longer discussions prefacing the chapter devoted to a specific letter. The latter gtoup gives us an insight into the dificulties of Ammon Shea's dificulties in getting through one of the most massive works of scholar ...more
Feb 20, 2016 Sierra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I actually really enjoyed this book. I am one of those people who likes reading about words and finding out more things about the English language so I was expecting to enjoy this book. I'm not giving it five stars, just because it was a little dry at points and it was hard to sit down and read big chunks of it at a time. But I definitely plan on flipping through this book from time to time and writing down all of my favorite new words that Ammon Shea provided me with. Even though I like learnin ...more
William Blair
This is not what I was led to believe it would be. That does not mean it's a bad book. The book part (about actually reading the OED) is only about 60 pages. The rest of this 223-page book is a list of odd, old, rare, unusual, or interesting words that the author found in the OED that he wants to call to our attention. The 60 pages are very interesting. The rest are not. I already knew of about 5% of these words, which, despite their being interesting in their own right, are basically useless to ...more
Nov 08, 2010 Dustin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Sorry Mr Shea, but you managed to ruin what could have been an interesting book.

This could have been A Walk In the Woods for nerds. Instead, we get to listen to you talk about how cantankerous you are. The lists of words (which you defined yourself. What was wrong with the OED definition?) serve no purpose other than giving you something to crack wise at. Yes, there are many strange, beautiful words out there but, stripped of all context, who cares?

I chuckled occasionally so I will give you tw
Safinaz Yazed
May 11, 2011 Safinaz Yazed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I wanted to read this book for the longest time as I myself am fascinated with words and caught myself going through the dictionary for hours on end. Initially I thought it was a story about a person being fascinated with the dictionary - meaning to say this was a work of fiction - but I was pleasantly surprised that besides plot there were smatterings (relative to reading the OED) of words Shea had encountered from reading the OED on every chapter. Each chapter represents every alphabet.

I reall
David Macpherson
Jul 14, 2013 David Macpherson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was more fun than I thought it was going to be. A guy spends a year reading the Oxford English Dictionary and kind of goes bonkers. Half the book are weird words he pulled from the dictionary and then some snarky comment, which were fun, but the best part of the book is the details of this silly quest and his general love of words and dictionaries. It was easy to read and a little eye opening. I got into a conversation with people over unused words and quoted a lot from this book, so I ...more
Aug 02, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, audible
A real quandry here: I loved Dufris's audio narration, but was incredibly frustrated that whenever I wasn't paying the strictest attention, I'd lose the thread. So, for that reason, I'm not sure the nature of the book leads itself well to audio (for those not visually impaired). I'm planning on reading a copy at some point to take notes; several of the examples are ones that can be worked into conversation ("pertaining to breakfast" etc.). It's a terrific book - definitely recommended
Nick Black
update: dear elizabeth saved us from an unpleasant ride. this one will be skipped.
Amazon 2009-02-15. Looks fun, full of valuable additions to the wordhorde.
The author describes his quest to read the OED in a year, which involves reading 10 hours a day in a university library basement, losing some of his vision, and developing other health issues. He doesn't think he's crazy. Throughout the book he talks about his experiences with dictionaries (which he loves), the experience of reading the OED, and other related topics, interspersed with many interesting words he finds in the dictionary. I found it interesting that I could guess the meaning of abou ...more
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Hasn't this been done? 5 58 May 10, 2012 05:27PM  
  • Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory
  • The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English
  • The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park
  • The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse
  • Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Who the Hell Is Pansy O'Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books
  • The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words
  • Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences
  • The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them
  • The F-Word
  • Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms
  • The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus
  • Word Nerd: More Than 17,000 Fascinating Facts about Words
  • Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language
  • Bibliotopia Or, Mr. Gilbar's Book of Books & Catch-all of Literary Facts And Curiosities
  • The Superior Person's Book of Words
  • The Book on the Bookshelf
Ammon Shea is the author of two previous books on obscure words, Depraved English and Insulting English (written with Peter Novobatzky). He read his first dictionary, Merriam Webster's Second International, ten years ago, and followed it up with the sequel, Webster's Third International.
More about Ammon Shea...

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“. . .what does the computer know of the comforting weight of a book in one's lap? Or of the excitement that comes from finding a set of books, dusty and tucked away in the back corner of some store? The computer can only reproduce the information in a book, and never the joyful experience of reading it.” 7 likes
“One of the questions I hear most often regarding my plan to read the OED from cover to cover is "Why don't you just read it on the computer?" I usually respond as if the questions was "Why don't you just slump yourself on the couch and watch TV for the year?" which is not quite an appropriate reponse. It is not so much that I am anicomputer; I am resolutely and stubbornly pro-book.” 5 likes
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