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Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages (2008)

di Ammon Shea

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7443522,459 (3.79)82
An obsessive word lover's account of reading the Oxford English Dictionary cover to cover.
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This book is so good! It's the experience of Ammon Shea as he spent one year reading the OED. He has a great sense of humor. This book is full of stories about his experiences reading the dictionary mixed with stories of his life not to mention definitions of unusual words we've never heard of.

Two of these words I have already started saying in my daily life:

Prend - noun - a mended crack. Every Sunday I now look at my Sunday tea cup - the one from Colorado Capital Bank that shattered into several pieces when I dropped a juice glass on top of it (which also shattered into several pieces) and which my husband lovingly glued back together - and I say "Look at all these prends".

Inadvertist - noun - One who persistently fails to take notice of things. Can you say "clueless"? I've been using this word each morning during rush hour when clueless motorists cut me off and then drive 15 miles an hour under the speed limit talking on their cell phones. The world is full of inadvertists who inadvertantly do stupid things.

Then there are other words that I would love to say but I know I won't remember:

Apricity - noun - The warmth of the sun in winter.

Hypergelast - noun - A person who will not stop laughing.

And did you know disrespect was used as a verb hundreds of years ago? "He's disrespectin' me" is nothing new.

One thing that made this book delightful is not only that the author lists all these great words, he makes comments after all these words. Some of his comments made me laugh so much I cried. Example:

Unbepissed - adjective - Not having been urinated on; unwet with urine. "Who ever thought there was an actual need for such a word? Is it possible that at some time there was such a profusion of things that HAD been urinated on that there was a pressing need to distinguish those that had not?"

When the author went to attend the biannual conference of the Dictionary Society of North America I was actually jealous. What fun! I, too, want to read a dictionary and talk about words with other like-minded geeky souls. Then again, maybe I need a break from all of this. The other day I was reading the comics in the paper and got to "Mutts" and thought - hmmm, probably short for mutation. That's probably from the Latin word mutare meaning "to change". I made all that up but the sad thing was that when I checked the internet, I was actually right. . . .

Maybe I should read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th edition (1910) and then write a book about that. . . .it's really considered literature with contributors such as John Muir and Bertrand Russell. Well, maybe not. I might end up, as Ammon Shea ends up, with stronger prescription eyesight and chronic backaches.

Highly recommended for all you other word geeks out there. ( )
  Chica3000 | Dec 11, 2020 |
a enjoyed this. The author is likeable. A good read! ( )
  RichardMansfield | Mar 15, 2020 |
If you love words, ploiter through this. ( )
  cookierooks | Nov 16, 2016 |
admit it, as a teenager I did read my school dictionary sometimes, when I was bored with sitting in the car waiting for my mother to do the shopping on our way home after school. However chez T&L where we have the two-volume Shorter Oxford, the Oxford Concise, the Oxford Reference, the DK Ultimate Visual, three versions of the Macquarie, a Webster and half a dozen foreign language dictionaries, I have never been tempted to do it in adulthood. I’m interested in words, but these days I mostly learn new ones by reading John Banville’s books (which are notorious for using deliciously obscure words).

Ammon Shea, however, made a quest of it, reading the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary) in its entirety over the course of a year. The blurb tells me that this dictionary comprises 21,730 pages, and weighs 62 kg. His book traces that journey, and is a distillation of some of the most intriguing words that he discovered en route. If you are a word lover, or you just enjoy quirky books, this one is a must.

Shea has the kind of eccentric sense of humour that I like. Here he is introducing the book:

There are some great words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Words that are descriptive, intriguing, and funny. Words like artolater (a worshipper of bread). It is unlikely you have ever seen artolater written or heard it used in speech, as it hasn’t been used much since the seventeenth century. It is in the OED, but even if you own this magnificent dictionary, it is still highly improbable that you have ever seen this word.

In fact if you were to open the OED at random, there is about a .0046 percent chance that the page you are looking at will have artolater on it. This is approximately equal to the chance that your child will become a professional athlete.

If you were to sit down and force yourself to read the whole thing over the course of several months, three things would likely happen: you would learn a great number of new words, your eyesight would suffer considerably, and your mind would most definitely slip a notch. Reading it is roughly the equivalent of reading the King James Bible in its entirety every day for two and a half months or reading a whole John Grisham novel every day for more than a year. One would have to be made to seriously consider such an undertaking. I took on the project with great excitement.

To read the rest of my review please visit ( )
  anzlitlovers | Oct 19, 2016 |
A book - and a writer - after my own heart. I would have enjoyed this all-too-short book had it been six times its size. Every bookworm proclivity of mine was satisfied with this masterpiece of knowledge, etymology, humor and flat-out supernerdiness. Most fascinating were the English-word rare finds that are perfect stand-ins for well known words in other languages that fully explain specific phenomena. Almost shocking is that he ponders in the afterword what his next project will be, and tinkers with the idea of reading the phone book, which he eventually did. I want to write the next book in the progression. I'm obsessing over it. ( )
  MartinBodek | Jun 11, 2015 |
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The dictionary is never consulted in its entirety.
Henri Béjoint, Tradition and Innovation
in Modern English Dictionaries
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For Alix, who helps me define the world
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There are some great words in the Oxford English Dictionary.
My Oxford English Dictionary arrives at 9:27 one Monday morning, brought by a deliveryman who is much cheerier than I would have expected anyone carrying 150 pounds of books up a flight of stairs to be.
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“I’m reading the OED so you don’t have to. If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on...”
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Later published in paperback in 2010 as: Satisdiction.
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An obsessive word lover's account of reading the Oxford English Dictionary cover to cover.

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