07 February 2008

Birthdays today

February 7 appears to be a good day for literary birthdays. Sir Thomas More (remembered for much else, but for writing Utopia surely) was born on this day. So was Charles Dickens, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, and Gay Talese.

But the most intriguing literary birthday I could find for this date is that of James Murray, editor of the first Oxford English Dictionary.

A birthday toast to Mr. Murray! What a marvellous creation is the OED. Anyone with even a single bookwormish molecule in his body (and I'll confess to more than one) can get lost in the OED for hours, discovering the unexpected manifolds of meaning in even the most common and humdrum-seeming of works, and discovering that every thread of meaning of every word has its own history.

Work on what would eventually become known as the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857. The first edition finally appeared in 1927. And not a moment of those seventy years went to waste, either.

The story of the first OED is told, with panache, by Simon Winchester in The Professor and the Madman (1998). Mr. Murray is the professor of Winchester's title.

For more, start here:Amazon's entry.

A toast, then, to Professor Murray. You and all your collaborators have made the world a better place.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.