Treasure-House of the Language


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The Living OED

Charlotte Brewer

View Inside Format: Paper
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The untold history of the celebrated Oxford English Dictionary and its makers, from the first edition’s completion in 1928 to the present day

The legendary Oxford English Dictionary today contains over 600,000 words and a staggering 2,500,000 quotations to illuminate the meaning and history of those words. A glorious, bursting treasure-house, the OED serves as a guardian of the literary jewels of the past, a testament to the richness of the English language today, and a guarantor of future understanding of the language. In this book, Charlotte Brewer begins her account of the OED at the point where others have stopped—the publication of the final installment of the first edition in 1928—and carries it through to the metamorphosis of the dictionary into a twenty-first-century electronic medium.

Brewer describes the difficulties of keeping the OED up to date over time and recounts the recurring debates over finances, treatment of contentious words, public vs. scholarly expectations, proper sources of quotations, and changing editorial practices. With humor and empathy, she portrays the predilections and personalities of the editors, publishers, and assistants who undertook the Sisyphean task of keeping apace with the modern explosion of vocabulary. Utilizing rich archives in Oxford as well as new electronic resources, the author uncovers a history no less complex and fascinating than the Oxford English Dictionary itself.

Charlotte Brewer is a fellow of Hertford College, Oxford, and CUF lecturer in English at Oxford University. She has published extensively on topics related to the Oxford English Dictionary. She lives in Oxford, England.

"Charlotte Brewer is a scholar of formidable learning, and she has produced the most searching study yet of the greatest dictionary ever." - Randolph Quirk, Past President of the British Academy

"The English-speaking world has undergone a fundamental change in the 120 years from the publication of the first part of OED; Charlotte Brewer shows how such change is reflected in the Dictionary itself. She presents the endeavours of the editors, their triumphs, their errors, and their inconsistencies, much of it revealed here for the first time. This is a highly readable account." - E G Stanley, University of Oxford

"Intrepid dictionary lovers will eat it up."—Booklist

"This dense volume is ideal for those seeking a very detailed account of the making of the landmark text."—Publishers Weekly

"Rich. . . . The OED is a text that has always fascinated me, and in Brewer's hands, it becomes even more interesting."—Michael G. Cornelius, The Bloomsbury Review

"A fascinating book for anyone interested in the English language in general and fans of the OED in particular. . . . Entertaining and enlightening."—Linda M. Davis, Technical Communication
ISBN: 9780300209556
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
336 pages, 234 x 156
16 b/w illus.