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The Meaning of Everything

The Meaning of Everything

Written by Simon Winchester

Narrated by Simon Winchester


The Meaning of Everything

Written by Simon Winchester

Narrated by Simon Winchester

ratings:
4/5 (44 ratings)
Length:
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 13, 2004
ISBN:
9780060744038
Format:
Audiobook

Description

From the bestselling author of
The Professor and the Madman,
The Map That Changed the World,
and Krakatoa

Writing with marvelous brio, Simon Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language and pays homage to the great dictionary makers from Samuel Johnson to Noah Webster before turning his unmatched talent for storytelling to the making of the most venerable of dictionaries - The Oxford English Dictionary. Here the listener is presented with lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but sickly first editor Herbert Coleridge, the colorful, wildly eccentric Frederick Furnivall, and the incomparable James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent half a century as editor bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the minutiae of dictionary making, brings us to visit the unseemly corrugated iron shed that Murray grandly dubbed The Scriptorium, and introduces some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to the murderous W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption.

The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument erected to a living language.

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 13, 2004
ISBN:
9780060744038
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.


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What people think about The Meaning of Everything

4.2
44 ratings / 32 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    A great telling of the story of the development of the Oxford English Dictionary and the people who created it.
  • (4/5)
    Who would have thought that the producing of a dictionary would be so fascinating?Winchester gives us the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be and the marvelous array of eccentrics involved in its creation and the ongoing work leading to the final release of the OED, some decades later than first expected.In between we read of surgeons in mental hospitals, the encouragement of women's sculling, philology and words going missing for many years. And the word which went missing for many years.
  • (5/5)
    This is an entertaining history of the OED, suitable for anyone who loves dictionaries. The best parts are the anecdotal stories about the politics and the quirky behavior of the people involved in the creation of the dictionary. Details about words and their derivations are merely incidental to the story of the dictionary itself -- as it should be.
  • (5/5)
    Simon Winchester is one of the more popular non-fiction authors of our time and this is one of the books upon which he made his reputation. While apparently a rather small book, it deals in quite fascinating detail with the origins and development of the OED. While it does discuss how the OED was researched and how it's now legendary format and incredible amount of detail was developed, the book's primary focus is on the personalities that helped (or hindered) the gestation and birth of the OED. As usual Winchester is a master of story telling in his rather unique way. For those who are not very familiar with English tradition and culture, some causal references made by Winchester might be obscure and puzzling, but those willing to put in the time doing some Google research will be enlightened and entertained. Very much recommended as a good casual read.
  • (4/5)
    Without the same sense of impending menace in THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN -the 'Oh my God, don't! Please just don't do it!' -The Meaning of Everything is rewarding for the erudite presentation of Winchester'sexhaustive study of the eventual creation of the OED.How one may wish to join the men - to sit beside Herbert Coleridge and listento his considerations, to hear Richard Chenevix Trench's critical speechfuming that the existing dictionaries were simply not good enough, to hear ALL of James Murray's reactions to the developments,and to go boating with Frederick Furnivall!The lesser than five stars relates to Winchester's strangeoveruse of "niggardly," as well as his bizarre insertionof the n-word as a footnote.He knows the immediate negative impact...so why...?
  • (5/5)
    from the Things bookbox last round. I liked this better than The Professor and the Madman. I click on the OED all the time on my kindle and never noticed the nuances in the descriptions. Great book
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating story behind my dream dictionary. The labor it took to create the OED out of whole cloth took multiple lifetimes. This book, while thorough and enjoyable, still leaves much untold. I want more.
  • (3/5)
    Whilst this was an interesting book it wasn't the most entertaining. I've seen other reviews say they found it funny but I couldn't really find anything humourous apart from a couple quotes. For a short book it drags a little in parts but overall it is a worthwhile read into an amazing endeavour in the the preservation of the English language.
  • (4/5)
    This is the story of The Oxford English Dictionary and how it came to be. Simon Winchester does a good job at telling the story -- and it is a story, as opposed to a history. He includes some footnotes, but it would never be confused with an in-depth history of the OED. The focus is on the early years, when the project was getting started, and not the newest edition, including the electronic version. I do wish he would have spent more pages on the problems of the latest electronic version, because it has to have it's own set of challenges. One major drawback from reading this book is now I want to buy the OED.
  • (4/5)
    I hate to admit this, but I didn't care for The Meaning of Everything. Okay, while I'm being honest I'll go for broke - I didn't get beyond page 19. There. I said it. I was bored. As a person deeply connected to reading you would think I would be intimate with words, especially the origin of words. I mean, words form sentences and sentences form paragraphs and paragraphs form pages and pages fill books, right? And books are what it's all about, right? No. I guess the bottom line is I don't care about where the word came from. The word, when it stands alone, is boring. How sad is that? I need words strung together into sentences. Those sentences need to be woven together to ultimately make a story interesting. This, however, was not.
  • (4/5)
    Just makes me want to own my own edition of the OED. Like right now. Lovely Simon Winchester!
  • (4/5)
    The OED is an incredible achievement and Winchester lays out the history well. Especially elucidating are the explanations and analysis of the volunteer effort which is the backbone of the OED, an army of amateurs volunteers around the globe who spent an unspeakable amount of time researching the history of common words as well as such words as depone, erinaceous and floccinaucinihilipilification. I think it is this emphasis on etymology, on historical and contextual use, which is especially important; there is no official Academy of English language, no linguistic metropole or arbitrator, and so therefore all meaning is to be found in situ (i.e., descriptive rather prescriptive).
  • (4/5)
    Read this for library school. Actually enjoyed it.
  • (5/5)
    Simon Winchester has done a great job of drawing out the human stories behind the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary: the problems getting the project of the ground, the personal feuds, the huge amount of effort involved in keeping it going and in bringing it to completion.There's plenty of humour in the book and a sizeable scattering of interesting lexicographical titbits from the work itself. A fascinating, accessible read.
  • (4/5)
    While it appears that the networks of the Web have lead to revolutionary progressions of information sharing, we must recognize the contributions of people who have been a part of endeavors without the current technologies. Winchester traces the long history of Oxford English Dictionary and the contributive efforts of volunteer readers in The Meaning of Everything. Without monetary gains, volunteers sent in their slips of illustrative uses of words to the Scriptorium. Here was a network, though inhibited by the slow pace at the time of publishing and the post, which succeeded because most involved, shared a desire to contribute.
  • (4/5)
    A great companion piece to The Professor and the Madman, providing a further glimpse into the history and people that brought to fruition the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester has a way of making history vital - bringing the human dimension to the fore. This book makes one wish time was available to be a volunteer reader, providing illustrative quotations which bring to life the history and evolution of words in the English language. It is too much to ask that some day I might own a copy of the multi-volume lexicography, but even if I did, would I have time to fully relish the bounty within?
  • (4/5)
    A very readable book on the story of the Oxford English Dictionary, how it came to be, and the main characters in the development of the book, including the Civil War surgeon W. C. Minor, who was a prisoner in England's Bedlam Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
  • (5/5)
    This fairly slim volume packs in tons of information about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, a massive undertaking begun in the 1850s, the first edition of which was not completed until 1928, and under revision for a 3rd edition today. Though sometimes getting bogged down in details, this is an overall fascinating account of the dictionary, from the recognition of a need for one to the ongoing revisions necessary as the English language continues to change.Winchester's love for words and the OED comes through in his prose riddled with words (fittingly enough) that will expand your vocabulary -- "gallimaufry," "polymathic," and "oleaginous" to name a few. Furthermore, his research shines through as one gets the sense that he's telling only a fraction of the stories he could. Even as I learned more about the history of the OED and came away with an appreciation of the impossible size of the project, my interest in learning more was whetted.
  • (4/5)
    interesting account of the 70 year making of the monumental OED, the methodology, struggles, editors, volunteers. Recommended.
  • (2/5)
    You really have to be into the English language and the history thereof to be entertained by this, which I'm not. Oh well, it was okay, well written, just not that interesting to me.
  • (3/5)
    Light but fun. Lots of amusing anecdotes, but nothing that I felt drawn to investigating further. Nicely written, but nothing special.
  • (3/5)
    The epic history of the creation of the vast Oxford English Dictionary.This book is absorbing even if you have already read Simon Winchester's prequel, The Surgeon of Crowthorne, the story of one of the OED's major contributors. (The S of C is called something else in the US.)Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the OED is its democratic conception. Without an army of unpaid contributors offering their research unpaid, often for decades, the OED would not exist. One wonders not that one person could devote so much selfless effort for the love of words, but that so many such people exist.Another fascinating aspect of the story is the sheer logistical challenge of collating and sifting so much material in the age of the inkwell. One sees the 19th century getting to grips with the corporate managerial problems of the 21st century...and not doing a bad job at all!
  • (4/5)
    All too often, nonfiction with an interesting premise gets bogged down when the author takes a dry, overly scholarly approach. I'm pleased to report that that isn't at all the case here. Though Winchester's take is decidedly scholarly, he imbues his writing with such obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter that the book is a pure delight to read. I enjoyed every page and found myself rushing to my dictionary as soon as I was done, eager to examine just how it was put together.
  • (4/5)
    Not unlike Wikipedia, the OED was assembled by mostly unpaid volunteers over the course of many generations during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is perhaps the most impressive reference work ever made. I was enthralled and captivated. Amazing story. Easy read, Winchesters second best book. Lots of lessons here for collaborative group projects.
  • (4/5)
    One of Winchester's best.
  • (5/5)
    Another winner from Simon Winchester: this is an in-depth look at the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, and in common with his other books, it's written in a pleasingly chatty style with a wealth of amusing footnotes. In many cases, the footnotes can be more interesting that the material to which it's appended! Which is no insult to the main body of the text, since you get a very good idea of the trials and tribulations involved in this landmark project. Unlike Erik Larson, Winchester spices his books with liberal doses of illustrations, and in these cases, they're quite illuminating, especially the "quotation slips" and the photographs. Highly recommended. (Amusingly, this edition is from the Oxford University Press.)
  • (4/5)
    Interesting story of the history of the OED. Not exactly a page turner, but it contained some interesting tidbits about the origin and meaning of some esoteric words, and especially about the perseverance of its many creators.
  • (4/5)
    A bit slow to start when it was going over the history of English (read it many times elsewhere) but then a fascinating story about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the larger than life characters who were involved in its creation.
  • (4/5)
    The Professor and the Madman (called the Surgeon of Crowthorne in England) gave some exposure to the gargantuan task involved in preparing the Oxford English Dictionary but this book really takes the lid off. Having grown up with ready access to dictionaries I never really thought about how life would be without them. I certainly never thought about how one would go about the task of preparing one virtually from scratch. The amount ot time it took to publish the first installment (A to Ant.) from the date a comprehensive dictionary was first proposed was 27 years. The first installment appeared in 1884 but the dictionary in its entirety was not available until 1928. James A. H. Murray who was the editor of that first fascicle (as the installments were called) did not live to see the dictionary completed, nor did many of the other people involved in the task. The infamous Surgeon of Crowthorne died back in the US thanks to efforts by James Murray. One printer, James Gilbert, worked on printing the entire dictionary--certainly a life's work.Winchester does a good job of portraying the characters involved in this task. James Murray, in particular, comes to life on these pages. He also manages to convey the enormity of the task without resorting to a dull recitation of dates and figures. My one quibble with his writing is his habit of writing sentences with many phrases. More than once I had to re-read something in order to figure out how the ending fit with the beginning. For that reason I have downgraded the rating from 8 to 7.Still, if you have a fascination for words, you will find this book enjoyable.
  • (3/5)
    The Meaning of Everything covers the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, from the proposal in 1857 to the Philological Society, to the publication of the first fascicle in 1884, to the last volume of the original edition in 1928, with an epilogue touching on the updates that the OED was working on when the book was published, in 2003. There were many people who worked on the dictionary, so there are many small biographies tucked into the main story. Winchester scatters humorous anecdotes around in footnotes (e.g. "He was powerfully attracted to rough, strong, dirty women, and he married his own servant, Hannah Cullick, delighting in her covering herself with dirt and soot, as, perfectly willingly, she cleaned the household chimneys entirely naked." [p. 63]) and often refers to people by their eccentricities, rather than their role with the dictionary (an early assistant turns out to be a kleptomaniac, which Winchester mentions several times).At the end, Winchester writes that "this story is not supposed to be overtly hagiographical" [p. 235], which is a good summary. At times it is difficult to discern whether he is echoing that turn of the century enthusiasm for the Forward March of Progress! or whether he himself is just really enthusiastic about the subject. Perhaps both are true. The book is certainly reverential, regardless of its supposed intent to not be overtly hagiographical.