Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ammon Shea's Reading the OED

It takes a unique person to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary and then to write a book on it. The thing is, Ammon Shea's Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, is one of the most entertaining books I've read in some time and so I have put it on the side bar. I laughed out loud at several points. If you like words, and dry wit, then this is a book for you. Each chapter is a letter of the alphabet, beginning with Shea's commentary, followed by little known words he found and a short description of those words.

One example:

Unbepissed (adj.). 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?

Of course, Shea realizes that his project is highly unusual, and one of the funnier parts of the book comes in the "R" chapter, where he recounts his trip to the conference of the Dictionary Society of North America. Even the most hard core dictionary devotees think he's crazy.

Some of the words are even useful for politics. I especially like "gobemouche," where means "one who believes anything, not matter how absurd." I will have to get that into a blog post at some point.

As he writes at the beginning of the book, "If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on, and enjoy the efforts of a man who is in love with words. I have read the OED so that you don't have to" (p. xiv).


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