“Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” by Ammon Shea

It has been silent here for a while as I was enjoying some time relaxing on the seaside. My holiday gave me a bit of time to catch up on couple of books which were on my reading list way too long. I managed to complete “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” by Ammon Shea and “Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft” by G. Pascal Zachary. This blog post about the first one.

Looking on the title “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages” you may get quite good idea about story line/contents of this book. It is indeed about a man who sat down for one year with paper set of OED volumes and read them all from A to Z. Are you intrigued already? Or like most of the normal people wondering “Why ?”… Essentially it is a book for vocabulary/dictionary geeks by dictionary geek. Author just sharing with you his experience as he goes through OED, paying deserved homage to masterful book of that class which is being judged by their completeness, yet never being read in their entirety.

I was really excited to read it as I have been well prepared/fascinated by OED thanks to books of Simon Winchester – “The Meaning of Everything” and “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary“. Also in the course of learning English ESOL-way and prepping to FCE/CAE/CPE exams I acquired great love/annoying habit of paying attention to advanced vocabulary and completeness of my English vocabulary to the extent that I can’t resist temptation to learn that new/old obscure/sesquipedalian (isn’t it cool when even spellchecker does not know how to spell this word? 😉 ) word whenever I bump into one. I guess it is high time for me to order this t-shirt:


What is interesting about this book is that its author is vocabulary/dictionaries geek, who complains in the book that even on the conference of professional linguists where he had a lot of fun his pursuit of reading OED from cover to cover were poorly understood, but still he wears vocabulary skeptic hat 🙂 Meaning that unlike some other authors of books about words/vocabularies (let’s say something like “Verbal Advantage”) he gives you a disclaimer right of the bat that big/advanced vocabulary or even worse knowledge of huge amount of really obscure words won’t bring you any tangible benefits. Rather, he warns us, after reading a lot of OED you may lose ability to communicate in normal language understood by people. But nonetheless there are a lot of fun in knowing a word which means specific thing an idea which you don’t know existed till you find it. It’s like “I always thought there should be a word for this and lo and behold – I found it finally!” 🙂

Another funny thing that despite being geek spending tons of time in library he is conscious enough to observe strange “library people” around him and even pause to reflect a bit whether he becomes one of them 🙂

So most of the people will decide whether to read this book or not after single glimpse to its title, which for me was enough to put this book on my reading list – really liked it.

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