A history and celebration of the many far-flung volunteers who helped define the English language, word by word
The Oxford English Dictionary is one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and yet, curiously, its creators are almost never considered. Who were the people behind this unprecedented book? As Sarah Ogilvie reveals, they include three murderers, a collector of pornography, the daughter of Karl Marx, a president of Yale, a radical suffragette, a vicar who was later found dead in the cupboard of his chapel, an inventor of the first American subway, a female anti-slavery activist in Philadelphia . . . and thousands of others.
Of deep transgenerational and broad appeal, a thrilling literary detective story that, for the first time, unravels the mystery of the endlessly fascinating contributors the world over who, for over seventy years, helped to codify the way we read and write and speak. It was the greatest crowdsourcing endeavor in human history, the Wikipedia of its time.
The Dictionary People is a celebration of words, language, and people, whose eccentricities and obsessions, triumphs, and failures enriched the English language.
So far this is a fascinating book. Written by a former OED editor it covers many of the hundreds of people who took the time – or not in the case of those who never sent in their slips – to read books and enrich the Oxford English Dictionary. The volunteers were from all over the world, from all ranks of life, women and men, rich and poor, famous and obscure. Right now I’m halfway through and just finishing up Chapter M – which covers two of the murderers and revisits one mentioned in another chapter. This is a perfect book for word lovers as well as people who enjoy those bizarre tidbits about their fellow humans. Dip into a few chapters at a time as I am and stock up on dinner party trivia. The English language is such a wild mish-mash, why wouldn’t people who helped create this wonderful dictionary be any different?
Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.