The answers to all of these questions--and a great many more--can be found in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary , the definitive record of the English language. Read more...
The answers to all of these questions--and a great many more--can be found in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language. And there is no better guide to the dictionary's many wonderments than the former chief editor of the OED, John Simpson. Simpson spent almost four decades of his life immersed in the intricacies of our language, and guides us through its history with charmingly laconic wit. In The Word Detective, an intensely personal memoir and a joyful celebration of English, he weaves a story of how words come into being (and sometimes disappear), how culture shapes the language we use, and how technology has transformed not only the way we speak and write but also how words are made.
Throughout, he enlivens his narrative with lively excavations and investigations of individual words--from deadline to online and back to 101 (yes, it's a word)--all the while reminding us that the seemingly mundane words (can you name the four different meanings of ma?) are often the most interesting ones. But Simpson also reminds us of the limitations of language: spending his days in the OED's house of words, his family at home is forced to confront the challenges of wordlessness.
A brilliant and deeply humane expedition through the world of words, The Word Detective will delight and inspire any lover of language.
- ISBN-13: 9780465060696
- ISBN-10: 0465060692
- Publisher: Basic Books
- Publish Date: October 2016
- Page Count: 384
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Language lives and breathes, and nowhere is it examined so microscopically as at the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary. Former editor-in-chief Simpson peered through that microscope for more than 30 years, beginning in 1976, during the OED’s most dynamic period of growth. This is just the sort of memoir you’d imagine from the hands of someone who’s spent his life chasing down the peculiar history of words and writing clear and careful definitions of them and their origins: precise and thorough. A meticulous storyteller, Simpson chronicles his years at the OED from his very first assignment—reading a translation of Christian Metz’s Film Language searching for words used for the first time in English (he discovers prefilmic and screening room)—to his appointment as coeditor of the OED and his promotion to chief editor. Simpson gracefully weaves into his memoir little definitions of words, providing examples of the work of a lexicographer. For instance, the phrase hue and cry, he observes, likely arose from the French hu e cri, which was the “outcry from the aggrieved party calling for the pursuit of a felon,” though by the 17th century in English the word hue had faded from use and become a “fossil.” At the turn of the 21st century, Simpson oversees the publication of the online edition of the OED in order to make it easier to use and to “open up access to a wider readership.” Simpson’s vibrant and inspiring memoir gives us a glimpse into life as detective in the realm of words. Agent: David Kuhn & Becky Sweren, Kuhn Projects. (Oct.)