The Oxford English Dictionary and related books

I’m posting the newsletter I got today from Barwon Booksellers in Geelong, not to advertise the shop but because I always thoroughly enjoy what they have to say.  This edition is on the Oxford English Dictionary and books related to the Dictionary, a topic which has cropped up in blogs this year, including The Surgeon of Crowthorne. There’s the information on the Compact Edition and it’s interesting to see all the books listed together.  Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED would be a different kind of read.  And I hadn’t heard of the book by Murray’s granddaughter. I hope you enjoy the Newsletter too.
Digging In The Word-Hoard – The Compact Oxford English Dictionary

Whether your finishing off that eight volume history of the wooden spoon, or your PhD exploring barnacles on the First Fleet, or just trying to clarifya moot point in a family game of dictionary, the last word in  English words is unquestionably theComplete Oxford English Dictionary, otherwise known as the OED. Famous for its native completeness and its practical method of citing the first printed usages of any given word, the OED is to the English language what rock art paintings are to aboriginal Australia.The complete version of the OED runs to some 20 rather hefty volumes but from 1971 there has also existed the Compact Edition, which, by photographically reducing each page to one half of its linear dimensions, means the entire OED is available in a much more portable 2 volume set, complete with a specially designed rectangular magnifying glass for viewing the miniscule text.

From 1991 the Compact Edition format was resized further to fit the lot into a single volume. Each page now went ‘nine-up’, meaning each leaf contained nine of the original Dictionary pages, which of course required even smaller text and thus a veritable glass-brick magnifier to view it with. As a consequence there is a school of thought that the ideal version of the Compact OED is indeed the two volume rather than the one volume version.

In over 20 years we have had the two volume edition at BB on only a couple of occasions, and now we have it again. This is the 1975 ‘four-up’ version, in its box and with the magnifying glass in its nifty little cardboard drawer. The volumes themselves are in great nick although the box is rather worn in patches. Still, the thing is rather marvelous and fetches quite the penny around the traps.

For a week we’d like to offer The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary exclusively to our newsletter subscribers for only $80. First in best dressed.

Befitting such an important work there is an increasing amount of literature surrounding the OED, most famously Simon Winchester’s biographical account of W.C.Minor, the millionaire American Civil War surgeon turned lunatic and murderer who became one of the keenest contributors to the original Dictionary from, bizarrely enough, Broadmoor Asylum in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Minor dedicated his entire cell-bound life to the Dictionary and Winchester’s account of his life and his relationship with the Dictionary’s original editor, James Murray, is a remarkable read.

We have The Surgeon Of Crowthorne in stock and also The Professor And The Madman which is Winchester’s text retitled for a U.S. readership presumably slower on the uptake. (It is always quite amusing to see how publishers dumb down book titles for the American market).

Also in stock here at BB is Caught In The Web Of Words, James Murray’s granddaughter K.M.Elisabeth Murray’s biography of the legendary OED editor.  We have a copy of Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything, in which he expands the story of the making of the Dictionary beyond the efforts of Minor and Murray, and we also have Reading the OED on our shelves, in which obsessed logophile Ammon Shea describes spending one whole year reading the 21,730 pages of the OED from cover to cover. As the flyleaf of Shea’s rather fascinating book says, Reading the OED is a feast for word lovers.

All of the books mentioned above are hardbacks in good condition at $12 each. As a nice addition we also have Oxford’s Modern Australian Usage, Nicholas Hudson’s examination of the editing and publishing issues around the evolution of English in the Australian context. Modern Australian Usage is in hardback at $15.

Lastly, may we express our sadness at the passing of one of our very favourite poets, Seamus Heaney, only a few days ago. As the natural successor of WB Yeats, Heaney himself was one of the greatest diggers amongst the word-hoard, which in itself is much richer for the many arcane gems he revived and reenlivened in the body of his work. Heaney was also of course Professor of Poetry at Oxford for a number of years. Reportedly his last words, texted to his wife Marie, were:  noli timere. Which translates from the Latin as – don’t be afraid.

Semple, Hanff and Audrey Gordon

I wish I were more adept at finding the past posts which had led my reading choices so that I could give credit where credit was due. About a month ago someone wrote about Maria Semple’s  “Where’d you go, Bernadette” and the description was enough to make me decide to read it.  It certainly wasn’t the garish cover which attracted me.  But there was something in the blog which made me deviate from my usual conventional reading pattern. I started it today and have read fifty pages.  By the time I got to page 10 and Ollie-O I was hooked.

Ollie-O has been brought into a school to motivate the Parents Association to raise money to encourage a better class of people to the school and to shift the location of the school away from the next-door wholesale seafood distributor. Families are divided into Subaru parents and Mercedes parents.  Well, a Lexus is acceptable !

Because this is an American writer satirising  her own American society I can laugh long and loud which perhaps I wouldn’t do if it was written by a non-American.  I would have you all down on my head like a ton of bricks if I were to be so cruel to you !

When reading about Ollie-O I soon had a face and a voice for her. Some of you may know Audrey Gordon, the celebrity chef, with her snobbish and racist comments on TV. I’m  sure Ollie-O looks and sounds like an American verion of Audrey.


But Ollie-O is only a small part of the book which is written in various voices  in different forms of communication between the characters in the book – an extension of the idea used in Helene Hanff’s delightful “84 Charing Cross Road”, an exchange of snail-mail letters between a customer and a bookshop. In fact in the pre-internet days when I used to  order books from James Thin booksellers in Edinburgh at the other side of the world  I was quite sure I was going to become the new Helene Hanff !

But Ollie-O is only a small part of the book which is about a bright student and her bright parents.   I am so looking forward to reading more.

Choice of school – for a better education or for social climbing ?