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

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,630 ratings  ·  342 reviews
An obsessive word lover's account of reading the Oxford English Dictionary cover to cover. aIam reading the OED so you donat have to. If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on...a So reports Ammon Shea, the tireless, word-obsessed, and more than slightly masochistic author of Reading the OED, The word loveras Mou ...more
Hardcover, 223 pages
Published August 1st 2008 by Perigee Books (first published 2008)
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Jan 23, 2013 marked it as to-read
- 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
Nov 26, 2008 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 16, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Aravindakshan Narasimhan
Jan 12, 2021 is currently reading it
From the book:

Ambidexter (n.) A person who accepts bribes from both sides.

To be perfectly fair to ambidexter, this definition is not the only one the OED lists. Ambidexter also refers to a person who is unusually dextrous, or who is two-faced in a general sense. However, the earliest instance of the word, in a book from 1532 titled Use of Dice Play, employs it to mean “one who takes bribes indiscriminately.”

End of quotes.

Though this trait in the human is caricatured in popular media in multiple
Jan 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone and everyone who enjoys words and wordplay
Shelves: language
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 rated it really liked it
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
Claire Hall
Mar 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Q is for quixotic or as the OED has it: exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical
Or maybe the slightly outdated Americanism P is for pixilated: Slightly crazed; bewildered, confused; fey, whimsical as if afflicted by pixies.

The OED or Oxford English Dictionary is very nearly the authority on what are all of the English words and what is the history of each English word. The edition read page for page by Ammon Shea is reported as 21,730 pages. It is for you to say that this achievement
Dec 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Tamara Evans
Jan 26, 2021 rated it liked it
As a child, I went through a period of time when I read the dictionary for fun. Having said this, "Reading the OED" is a book that focuses on one man's mission to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary (aka OED) in the course of a year made me feel comforted in knowing I'm not the only person who enjoys reading dictionaries. The journey he undertakes is a daunting one considering that the OED is 21,730 however by reading 8 or 10 hours a day, he is able to accomplish his mission on July 18, 20 ...more
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book during lunch time because I could read one letter at a time. The author tells a bit about his project and how things are going then he puts a selection of words from that letter. His updates about reading through the OED are often funny and quite interesting. He is a bit of a curmudgeon, though not old, and he seems to prefer being away from people, fresh air and noise, perfect for reading the OED, But as I went through the alphabet with him I just enjoyed the book mo ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: real-life, essays
I'm not sure I've been inspired to read the OED myself—not even the shortest section, X—but there were many words Shea shared that I'd like to explore further and even add to my everyday vocabulary. For instance, "onomatomania" perfectly expresses my growing frustration at not being able to find (or remember) a word that means "inspired by, created from, and anchored to a given place." (I would rather not resort to my brother's made-up, and virtually unpronounceable, suggestion, "terroiristic.") ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Fun read. The narrative parts at the beginning of each chapter were okay, but the words he chose to highlight and what he says about those made me laugh out loud quite a bit. I am nostalgic for my dictionary-reading days and wish I still owned one!
Dr. Z
Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really a delight, one of the nerdiest books I've ever read. I'm so glad people like this exist. ...more
Phil Call
Jul 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 20, 2009 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was ok
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
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
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it
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
William Blair
Nov 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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Hasn't this been done? 5 61 May 10, 2012 05:27PM  

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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

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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.” 9 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.” 8 likes
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