Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Reading the Oxford English Dictionary From Cover To Cover

The latest New York Times book section features a review of Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by dictionary collector Ammon Shea. The review is by Nicholson Baker.

Shea decided to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 thick volumes, some 59 million words in all. And document the experience.

Baker concludes his review:

"The effect of this book on me was to make me like Ammon Shea and, briefly, to hate English. What a choking, God-awful mash it is! Surely French is better. Then I recovered and saw its greatness afresh. The O.E.D., Shea notes, is 'a catalog of the foibles of the human condition.' Shea has walked the wildwood of our gnarled, ancient speech and returned singing incomprehensible sounds in a language that turns out to be our own."
A bit more than 3 years ago, I published a post on Library Boy entitled Confessions of an Encyclopedia-Lover in which I mentioned The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs:

"It is a memoir of Jacobs' project to spend a year reading every volume in the Encyclopedia Britannica to fill in the gaps of his education and become the 'smartest person in the world.' Or at least accumulate huge quantities of oddball trivia to insert into conversations. Like who knew Descartes had a thing for cross-eyed women? Of course, everyone around him starts thinking he's either weird and neurotic, a bore, or losing his mind."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 1:21 pm


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