The story follows Dr. Minor, U.S. Army (Ret.) and Dr. Murray, two men who seem at first to be extremely different, but in the end aren’t as much. Dr. Murray was a poor Scotsman who eventually ended up as the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary for many years during its development. Dr. Minor was a surgeon in the U.S. Army, and then went to England to escape what he thought were demons of the war. He shot a man dead in one of his episodes of insanity, and was sentenced to live in the Broadmoor Criminal Insane Asylum for most of the rest of his life. Dr. Murray had sent out a call for volunteers to read and write down quotes from English works to go into the dictionary, and Dr. Minor responded. He was from a rich family, and still received a paycheck from the Army, so he had been building a collection of books in his cell at the asylum. From those he submitted tens of thousands of quotes to the OED, making a huge contribution. I absolutely loved having a chance to read about the creation of the OED and the main players that made it possible. Although the book often goes into tangents that have little bearing on the main plot, this story is definitely worth reading if your are interested in language, books, or just a good history.
Category Archives: Language
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
I’m starting to prepare for the GRE, and surprisingly my vocabulary needs some work. To facilitate this, I have started reading books to help! This is the first one I read about building vocabulary, since it’s such a classic. Throughout the entire book you can definitely see the examples that would be politically incorrect now, but it did help a bit with my vocabulary. The most helpful part is the work on common Latin and Greek roots in English, as well as many examples of French words brought into our language. These let me determine the meaning of new words without the assistance of a dictionary! To make this book even better, each chapter (day) took only around 15 to 20 minutes.