Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary” as Want to Read:
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,720 Ratings  ·  417 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Meaning of Everything, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Meaning of Everything

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
|
Filter
Stephanie
Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Barry
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
SoManyBooks SoLittleTime (Aven Shore)
A few years ago I read the The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and through the first few chapters of this book I was like, "Is this by the same guy? I'm sure that was by Simon Winchester too (it was).

This book is the whole story - the big picture of the creation of the OED, a project that was much bigger than the professor or the madman, and outlived them both. It is a grand tale of a grand dream, conceived in an era of wide
...more
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
Bruce
May 17, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  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
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
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
Annette
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Richard
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
E
May 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Troy Blackford
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is exactly the kind of thing I love. You have a grand story of real human endeavor and achievement--the inception and construction of the first Oxford English Dictionary--filtered through the lens of the very human characters involved in its construction and the outrageously difficult, outlandishly remarkable (one man contributed enormous amounts from inside an insane asylum), and everything in between. You get huge doses of history (of language, of dictionaries, of England itself) and larg ...more
Brierly
I read this book for a class on the history and development of the English language. Fascinating story of the creation of the O.E.D. Have you ever wondered why we have dictionaries and who decides what goes in them? What about which dictionary to use--what does that say about you? This book sparked an interest in dictionaries in America (to be clear, the book is centered on England) and how the American English variant was legitimized by the Webster's dictionary. I ended up presenting my researc ...more
Julie
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  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.
Kim
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.)
Kris
A quite lovely little dip into OED history. This is one of Winchester's more enjoyable books, probably because it's shorter and less long-winded. But I did find gaps in some of his historical descriptions of people and events surrounding the OED, and thought he could have fleshed out and organized things just a bit better. Still, quite a fun read and I'd recommend it.
Graeme Roberts
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A package of sheer joy.
Emily
Nov 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was fun and readable despite (partly because of?) a writing style appropriately stuffy for the topic at hand. I enjoyed the first couple of chapters the most, especially the parts on the history of dictionaries and lexicography in general. The daunting logistical issues posed by the project were also fascinating — so many problems that simply don't exist any more, like "how do I organise these millions of little handwritten slips" or "how do I keep copies (and keep track) of all this volumi ...more
MrsJoseph
http://bookslifewine.com/r-the-meanin...

For English is a language that simply cannot be fixed, nor can it ever be absolutely laid down. It changes constantly; it grows with an almost exponential joy. It evolves eternally; its words alter their senses and their meanings subtly, slowly, or speedily according to fashion and need. Dictionaries that record and catalog the language cannot ever be prescriptive; they must always be entirely descriptive, telling of the language as it is, not as it should
...more
Bob Perry
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Donna Sandidge
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always loved dictionaries! I could not keep track of the names/people in this book but continued reading without really caring. It is so beautifully written; it is clear the author loves the English language. If you have any interest in the OED or how the first dictionary was compiled, I recommend this book!
Darla
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Scott
Dec 19, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Abandoned halfway through. Solid, well-told, but snoozy.
Lindi
A favorite author on my favorite subject
Alli
A must read for any sassy sesquipedalian
Bill
Oct 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-general
The making of the OED. Fascinating stuff
Benjamin
Gotta love those wild lexicographers. A stimulating portrait of the Big Dict.
Iain
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Our histories, our novels, our poems, our plays—they are all in this one book.” The OED or The Oxford English Dictionary is one of the great works of the literary world. To catalog and define the largest language that has ever existed was no mere trifling. Work began in 1857 and completed in 1928. Tracing the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the w ...more
R Helen
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It seems strange that a book about a dictionary could be so fascinating, but it really is. First, there is the incredible amount of painstaking work that went into creating the dictionary (it took 70 years to finish, and hardly anyone was alive to see it the whole way through!) Then there were the colourful characters who contributed (the murderer William Chester Minor and the hermit Fitzedward Hall, among others). But the really wonderful part of this ...more
Adam Marischuk
As someone who has etymonline.com as one of his top 10 websites, I thought I would like this book more. The subject area is interesting and the author does a good job detailing the interesting and long story of the OED; however, it is unnecessarily long with long stretches that could or should be ignored.

Winchester begins with some of the antecedents to the OED, such as Dr. Johnson's dictionary, and this section is the fastest paced, most lively and enjoyable. Luckily for Winchester, it is also
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages
  • The Book on the Bookshelf
  • The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus
  • A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-Day Iraq
  • 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 Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English
  • Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words
  • Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language
  • Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z
  • The Story of English
  • A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World
  • Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary
  • The Calendar
  • The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left
  • Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic
  • Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players
14053
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 publ ...more
More about Simon Winchester...
“No critic and advocate of immutability has ever once managed properly or even marginally to outwit the English language's capacity for foxy and relentlessly slippery flexibility. For English is a language that simply cannot be fixed, not can its use ever be absolutely laid down. It changes constantly; it grows with an almost exponential joy. It evolves eternally; its words alter their senses and their meanings subtly, slowly, or speedily according to fashion and need.” 4 likes
“Our histories, our novels, our poems, our plays—they are all in this one book.” 2 likes
More quotes…