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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
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The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  2,637 ratings  ·  306 reviews
From the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa comes a truly wonderful celebration of the English language and of its unrivaled treasure house, the Oxford English Dictionary.
Writing with marvelous brio, Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language--"so vast, so sprawling, so wonderfully...more
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Barry
Simon Winchester's wonderful book on the making of the most venerable authority on the English language is a delightful story. I have enjoyed both the hard copy and the CD read by the author.
Bruce
May 17, 2009 Bruce rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any of the OED curious who missed Winchester's earlier book or Lynda Mugglestone's
2 1/2 stars, really. There’s a reason I’ve taken at least a week to get to this summary. It’s been hard to bring myself to find something to say about it beyond a resounding ‘meh.’ It’s sad that this book hasn’t much to recommend itself as a standalone history of the Oxford English Dictionary or as a complement to Winchester’s earlier The Professor and the Madman, parts of which this book reuses and the whole of which it takes a short seven pages to recap. But then, this is a short book. I got t...more
Trevor
In The Surgeon of Crawthorne, or The Professor and the Madman as it is more sensationally titled in the States, Winchester makes the point that the book has two protagonists. However, any fair reading of that book would have to say that really there is only one protagonist and that is Dr Minor. The other protagonist that Winchester alludes to is James Murray – the man, more than anyone else, responsible for the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary.

This book has only one protagonist – and...more
Stephanie
I can't recommend this enough. Fascinating, humor-full and very readable. You wouldn't think this would be funny, but it is. I mean laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe I'm a complete nerd but this is fascinating and fun and full of things you don't need to know! The people who contributed to the dictionary are truly interesting. I loved hearing about word origins and how they fit into the dictionary -- I wish Winchester would write more on this topic. I've fallen in love with his writing style which sou...more
Ian Tregillis
I read this in airports and airplanes, while exhausted beyond words, so my thoughts are not in order. Sue me.

Maybe 3.5 stars. I found this a little dry at first, but warmed up to it about halfway through. The Oxford English Dictionary truly is an amazing achievement, and the 70 year history of its first incarnation is astonishing. This book renewed my admiration for the OED, and made me wish all the more strongly that I owned a copy.

Many fascinating anecdotes to be found here. My favorite being...more
E
I'm disturbed by the current trend of history authors focusing more on the biographies of the inviduals involved in a project rather than the ideas behind it. Have we as readers convinced them we are that voyeuristic? Is the People magazine approach to intellectual history the only thing that sells these days? Or do hardcore fans simply become so enamored of the figures who made it all possible that they cannot resist the urge to delve into the personal? This would be understandable if an author...more
Kim
How embarrassing. I recommended this for our book club based on its reviews, and the fact that it's about the dictionary. We're all word lovers, of course we're going to love this book! Right? No one liked it. The words most often used were "boring" and "dry." Very disappointing! (I yelled this like Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, when he finds no diamonds in the safe. Then I threw the book across the room.)
Julie
Jul 18, 2013 Julie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Liv
Shelves: non-fic
Not for everyone, but word nerds will enjoy. It reads more like a 700 page book so at points I just had to skim-too many lists. It does make me more curious about "The Professor and the Madman" which sounds like it may be a much more interesting read. Filled with truly gem-like details-my favorite-that Julian Barnes was one of the "unsung" wordsmiths who worked on the editing of the revised edition.
Annette
After I told my husband that I finished this book, he asked how it was. I said "It was kind of boring." And he looked at me and said, "Annette, it was a history of the dictionary. What did you expect." So um. Yeah.

Moral of the story: You can stab women and still have a big vocabulary.
Pamela
I would have liked to have given this a better rating, but at times the book was just so dull. Winchester wrote another book about the making of the OED and perhaps all of his passion was put into that one. See: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Near the end, chapter 7 Winchester explores why so many people helped out with the making of the OED when their only reward was perhaps footnotes in the dictionary. Since he wrote this...more
Richard
This is a most enjoyable book. The making of the first edition of the OED is surprisingly filled with event. The gigantic task took a lifetime and survived four editors before it was finally concluded. The first editor, Herbert Coleridge {a grandson of the poet} died just after he took up the position. He was followed by Fredrick Furnivall who took up the job with intense enthusiasm and then lost interest--neglecting the task to such an extent that the project was nearly cancelled. Fortunately h...more
Bob Perry
Thoroughly loved this book for the most part. It was written with Simon's unique ability to make mundane information interesting and fresh. I do admit that I enjoyed the other book by him on this subject, "The Professor & the Madman". I'm glad to have read both though since they cover multiple topics and bring the story together.

When I read a book like this it makes me wish that I had a love of words and the mind to learn multiple languages easily as so many people involved in the OED were....more
Darla
Amazing to think of putting together the OED in the days before computers. SW obviously loved his topic and loved big words; I felt I needed the dictionary on hand to look up several words per page. It was accessible but still very academic and I could only read a few pages at a time.
Michael
I did really enjoy the subject matter of this book, but the writing was too dry, it felt like I was reading Wikipedia. If you are interested in the subject I still recommend The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way and maybe The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Lolita Lark
Winchester has given us a smasher here. Who would ever, in their right mind, think that the history of the 54 years it took them to create the first Oxford English Dictionary would be such a treat? We're talking of a delightful précis of a project of several lifetimes, where several of the editors up and died before their work was done.
The early years were consumed with agony and backbiting. The Philological Society of London thought up the project, and the first editor, Herbert Coleridge turned...more
Erwin
Very interesting story.

What was it like to live in a world without dictionaries? Serious, think about that. I've always taken the dictionary for granted as much as the kinfe and the wheel, but ithe dictionary is a relatively recent invention. Without a dictionary, how do we unify language? How do we differentiate between simple ignorance and a deeper misunderstanding? How do we define "proper pronunciation"?

The Oxford English Dictionary was a 60+ year project that had to tackle all of there prob...more
Rebecca
The history of the creation of the OED, from the vague fumblings in the mid 1800s of the Philological Society to the continuation of the OED online today. Winchester covers all the men who edited the dictionary, with biographical information as well as information on how they worked on the dictionary. Chief was James Murray, who was chief editor for something like 30 years. The author also talks about the contributors, those who worked with the editors, the publishers, and of course the words. T...more
Judy
Well-written sentences, amusing anecdotes, lots of facts and numbers populate Winchester's history of the development and creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. We meet a range of fascinating characters worldwide, though mostly in the British Isles, who were involved in the project. And what characters they are! Different backgrounds, conflicting interests, the devoted as well as the irreverent, people who worked for years on the project from their offices to their prison cells, schoolmaster...more
Benjamin
Gotta love those wild lexicographers. A stimulating portrait of the Big Dict.
Scott
Abandoned halfway through. Solid, well-told, but snoozy.
Alli
A must read for any sassy sesquipedalian
Lenneal Mckudu
Offers great insight and detail into the arduous journey of making arguably the most important printed work in any language, period. The boring, tedious accounts outweighed the interesting and engaging fare, ultimately.

Readers looking for a more engaging OED origin story should absolutely read "The Professor and the Madman", the companion piece to this book, by the same author of course. This book offers a more intimate account of the creation of the OED, sprinkling in the interesting details o...more
julie
Apr 11, 2014 julie added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: "word nerds"
Shelves: i_own
I was eager to read about the compiling of words that was the making of the OED. The book begins, however, with a chapter devoted to a history of the English language. This made for a slow start but was somewhat necessary since it provides context for certain latter parts of the book. It wasn't altogether uninteresting and served as a refresher for me: I'd studied the evolution of the English language from its beginnings in Old English (Beowulf, Norse poems, etc.) to its development into Middle...more
KC
More words on words as I return to the OED well. This is a biography of the dictionary, told by an English reporter. The breezy style almost turned me off at the beginning, as I felt Winchester was trying to hard to make the Old English roots of the language interesting. It isn’t to almost all but a select few. I think the challenges to describing and defining every word in the language appeals to wider audience. Or at least this one. At any rate, after a rough start the book hits its stride dis...more
Myles
Well this one went downhill.

I recommend this book at all solely for its first chapter giving a succinct and entertaining essay on the history of the English language, that's what hooked me into it. I suggest you read that and then put the book back on the store/library shelf. It's not worth taking home.

This book is kind of a sham. The back cover blurb mentions how this book covers such interesting tidbits such as 'bondmaid' being accidentally left out of the first edition, and words like monkey...more
M. D.  Hudson
Simon Winchester writes lots of popular history/cultural books. The first one I encountered, Krakatoa, was horrible and I couldn’t finish it, although I am interested in the subject (the big volcano eruption off Java in the 1880s). The problem was the relentless jocularity that so many popular historians adopt, apparently in an attempt to keep readers reading by constant, ponderous “wit.” How in the world this appeals to a reader I’ll never know. The other problem with Krakatoa was the TV-type p...more
CD
A wild ride of word play from Derby Day 1928 to 75 years in the past to a quick turn and back to the present. Winchester's skill are on full display as he tells the story of the most important work of its kind to ever be produced.

The OED for philologically inclined Anglophiles is the bible of all holy things written. Winchester gives the creation fair due and his style settles into a predictable and tight style worthy of the imposed discipline applied by the most influential of the OED's guides...more
Ensiform
The author of The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary now tells the larger story behind the OED, from its first imaginings at the Philological Society in 1842 to the publishing of the first edition in 1928 – and to the current day, where editors are incessantly working on the newer, ever-vaster editions. Winchester paints quick portraits of the towering intellects of the twilight Victorian era – the sickly and doomed Herbert Coler...more
Kathryn Peterson
I read this book several years ago and my copy is currently loaned out (as it has been almost constantly since I finished it) so this review will necessarily be rather light on details. In a nutshell, however, here's what I remember about the book: It's one of the best examples of popular history out there.

In order to be successful, a popular history needs two key qualities. It needs to be gripping enough to be a quick read, and it needs to be human enough and anecdotal enough to make for inter...more
David
I think it while I was a college student that I first really noticed the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). A roommate had a copy of the "compact edition" - the complete text of 20 volumes "micrographically reproduced" in two large volumes in a tiny typeface, and boxed into a set with a magnifying glass to be able to examine the print. It didn't take me long to see the difference between this dictionary's approach, and the typical American dictionaries. I loved looking through that glass and disco...more
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel and his articles appear in several travel publi...more
More about Simon Winchester...
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