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Old 03-23-2009, 04:13 AM   #16
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Have to say, it was an interesting book, though one I would probably not have picked up for my self.

What I found Myself wishing for, as I read the book was that the author had gone into a little more detail on the making of the OED, as I found those parts, the technical details the most fascinating.

Another though lesser point of interest for me was the portrayal of how people lived during that period and their altitude towards different parts of society. What i really liked was that while the portrayal was more or less true to that time period, it wasn't very heavy handed or too dry so you could enjoy the flavor without being overwhelmed by it.

Its got me interested in finding a few more books on similar subjects, and I'm currently looking for a ebook version of

A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top by Denis Whitaker, Shelagh Whitaker
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Old 03-23-2009, 05:40 AM   #17
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...Another though lesser point of interest for me was the portrayal of how people lived during that period and their altitude towards different parts of society.
A fascinating insight into how the various strata of the lower classes lived is given in Henry Mayhew's 'London Labour and the London Poor'.
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Old 03-23-2009, 12:06 PM   #18
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I'm not quite sure I can follow you - do you often read books where the main character changes gender?
No, although I guess I did read Middlesex. No what I meant was where the author was of a different gender than his/her protagonist. Eg. "Water for Elephants" or "She's Come Undone".

I have now managed to finish the book and had a few more thoughts...

Loved the reference to the "undertow of words". I really wish he had focussed more on this, the incredible task undertaken and completed in the (from current perspectives) face of a lack of appropriate tools and resources.

Was, like others, a little put off by his memorializing of Merrett. First, because while he uses all these over the top words he has completely failed to make us as readers care about him as a victim. And second because he, somewhat offensively in my opinion, seems to be saying that Merrett should be honoured as a hero because his death made Minor's contributions to the dictionary possible. A little too much moral relativism for my taste.

I am now very enamoured of the word "poodlefaker" and must try to find a way to use it in everyday language.

Finally, when he uses the word "humorist" as a central definition and comments on how it ties into his own life - (i) it's on the OED bookplate he owns, (ii) it was the name of the horse that won on his mother's birth date he seems to be not so subtlely implying that he, himself, is a "humorist" but is too modest to say so. My only response is that if he is a "humorist" he has not demonstrated it by this book unfortunately as it could have done with some humour. I envisage how Stephen Fry or P.G. Wodehouse would have tackled the story...

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Old 03-23-2009, 12:18 PM   #19
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No, although I guess I did read Middlesex. No what I meant was where the author was of a different gender than his/her protagonist. Eg. "Water for Elephants" or "She's Come Undone".
Aha! It's not something I've noticed much, that it should be an issue, I mean.
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Old 03-23-2009, 12:30 PM   #20
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Aha! It's not something I've noticed much, that it should be an issue, I mean.
Maybe I'm the only one but to me it creates a bit of a dissonance. The characters don't act/react entirely as expected because the perspective of the author is different - outside looking in. It just doesn't always ring true. However, not to say that these books weren't interesting anyway and worthwhile reads, it just grates a little bit. And, it is pretty rare for an author to do this. Most authors stick to their gender.

Obviously off topic somewhat for this book, however. I was just trying to give another example of how sometimes an author can create minor disruptions in the otherwise harmonic flow of the text or story by adopting elements (in this case language style from another period) that can be hard to sustain seamlessly and believably.

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Old 03-23-2009, 12:49 PM   #21
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When I'm reading a Non-fiction book, my main focus is to learn something from it, which I did. I managed to learn something on two main fronts, one being the creation of the OED an lexicography in general and the other the treatment od mental illness in that time frame. I'd goce the book four stars out of five.
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Old 03-23-2009, 01:15 PM   #22
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I enjoyed it. But then I have a fascination with early asylums and the theories from which they were run as well as for languages and words. Come to think of it, the history of military medicine is something I'm interested in, as well. So, I felt that the whole narrative was well paced and told the story of the people behind the history quite well.

My only down thought is that at one point, the author hinted that the real description of events in The Wilderness Campaign were going to be told by Dr Minor at some point, but they were not.
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Old 03-24-2009, 05:07 PM   #23
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This book felt like I was reading two seperate books intertwined. I did enjoy the parts about the OED. Some of the parts about Minor were interesting and other parts felt out of place.
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Old 03-25-2009, 08:26 AM   #24
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I'll have to agree with those of you who commented on the story being slightly schizophrenic... I did enjoy parts of the book, but to me it felt like the author tried to cover too many aspects as once.

I would have enjoyed it more if he'd settle for a thorough description of the making of the dictionary - the problems, considerations, disagreements, etc...
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Old 03-28-2009, 07:09 AM   #25
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The author made an interesting point about dictionaries - they are a record of how language is used; not an arbiter of 'correct' usage.
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Old 03-28-2009, 11:18 AM   #26
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Unless, of course, it is a French dictionary. In that case, it is -- represents, actually -- an aribter of correct usage. They have an "Academie Francais..." that is responsible for maintaining the 'purity' of the French language. So French dictionaries are proscriptive, not descriptive!

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Old 03-28-2009, 05:21 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by bbusybookworm View Post
What I found Myself wishing for, as I read the book was that the author had gone into a little more detail on the making of the OED, as I found those parts, the technical details the most fascinating.
You might like another of Winchester's books, The Meaning of Everything:
http://www.amazon.com/Meaning-Everyt...tt_at_ep_dpi_7
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Old 04-10-2009, 03:52 PM   #28
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Meant to post here after I'd finished it!

I enjoyed most of it, although the end, where he really starts eulogising Merrett, jarred a bit, for some reason especially the part where he bemoaned the state of his grave (the cemetary it's in is somewhat larger than the impression I felt the author gave of it, too). We have no way of knowing whether or not Minor would have been such a useful contributor if he hadn't murdered Merrett - although of course this particular story wouldn't have the same interest if he had just been an American bibliophile in the UK... there is more human interest in this tale of the creation of the OED than there possibly would have been had he not been committed to Broadmoor. And the tragedy and redemption elements that Simon Winchester played up would have missing too...
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Old 04-14-2009, 05:11 AM   #29
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The author made an interesting point about dictionaries - they are a record of how language is used; not an arbiter of 'correct' usage.
There are two types of dictionaries: "descriptive" dictionaries, which are a record of how a language actually is used, and "prescriptive" dictionaries, which are a guide to the way that it should be used. The OED is descriptive, the German "Duden" dictionary is an example of a prescriptive dictionary (although there are, of course, descriptive dictionaries of German, too!).
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Old 04-14-2009, 05:13 AM   #30
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Unless, of course, it is a French dictionary. In that case, it is -- represents, actually -- an aribter of correct usage. They have an "Academie Francais..." that is responsible for maintaining the 'purity' of the French language. So French dictionaries are proscriptive, not descriptive!

Xenophon
That particular French dictionary is prescriptive (not "proscriptive", by the way - that means something entirely different!). There are others which are descriptive.
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