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Reader’s Den, Paperless Research

October Reader's Den - "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary"


Welcome to the October Reader’s Den!

Did you know that the word den has its origins in the Old English denn, meaning habitation of a wild beast? According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first recorded use of denn is in Beowulf, around the year 1000. The figurative use of the word, meaning a place of retreat or abode, as in the “Reader’s Den” didn’t appear until a few centuries later.

If you’re interested in words and their histories, dictionaries, monumental projects and the people who undertake them, please join us for this month’s online discussion of Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. The author describes how, over the course of nearly 70 painstaking years, the "quite astonishing and revolutionary dream" of a descriptive historical dictionary that would include all English words as they are really spoken by English speakers around the world became a reality. The first edition of the dictionary, published in 1928, defined or illustrated over 400,000 words, and included quotations submitted by roughly two thousand volunteer readers.

Winchester’s history of the OED, published 75 years after the first edition appeared, captures the dedication, inspiration and foibles of the editors and contributors who created what may just be the world’s greatest dictionary. This is the author’s second book set in the world of the OED. The first, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1998, focuses on one of the OED’s major contributors, American Civil War veteran and convicted murderer W. C. Minor, who submitted his work to editor James Murray from the confines of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

The Meaning of Everything tells the story of the first edition of the OED, produced between 1860 and 1928. A second edition was published in 1989, and the revisions for the third edition are now underway. With your library card, you can access all 291,500 entries from the second edition as well as thousands of new and revised entries in the OED Online, available though NYPL’s Articles and Databases page. Be warned, however! If you’re a dictionary nerd like me, once you start searching and browsing the thousands of definitions, timelines, etymologies and quotations included in the OED, you might find it rather difficult to stop. Did you know that in South Africa, a robot is an automated traffic light? Sorry, I digress...

So, reserve your copy of The Meaning of Everything and — when you can tear yourself away from the OED Online — start reading! See you next week.

While you’re waiting for your copy of the book to arrive, you can find lots of interesting information about the OED on the Oxford English Dictionary website. Read more about the history of the OED, the OED today and find fun statistics, like the fact that the 2nd edition of the OED (published in 20 volumes) weighs 137.72 pounds! If you're in our neighborhood on Tuesday, October 11th, why not join us at the Mid-Manhattan Library at 5:15 for a one-hour class on using the OED Online.

READER'S DEN October 2011: Jump to Week: One | Two | Three | Four


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