Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reading the OED

Reading the OED
by Ammon Shea
Published in 2008
Published by Perigee
ISBN: 978-0-399-53505-5

When he set out to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary in a year, start to finish, Ammon Shea faced a certain set of problems. The task gave him headaches, and he needed to get a new prescription for his eyeglasses. And there was the matter of finding a suitable place for his reading outside of the house, as he tried out libraries and secluded outdoor spots. But none of these difficulties turned out to be impossible to overcome, and Shea was serious about his love of dictionaries and the English language.

Reading the OED is a wonderful celebration of the love of books -- and the love of words -- taken to the furthest extreme it's possible to reach in our contemporary culture. Shea fills most of the pages of his book with the words that particularly struck his fancy, accompanied by his own witty commentary.

For example, just in the As, we have agathokakological, 'made up of both good and evil' (Shea writes, 'You don't have to use it in casual conversation; sometimes it's enough to merely know a word exists in order to enjoy it'); all-overish, 'feeling an undefined sense of unwell that extends to the whole body' (Shea writes that 'It is rare that we are presented with a word simultaneously so vague and so useful'); anonymuncule, 'an anonymous, small-time writer' (Shea proclaims this word 'delightful'); and aspectabund, a word not used since 1708 and meaning 'having an expressive face'. (Shea comments, 'As a word it is almost entirely forgotten, and perhaps soon, as cosmetic procedures continue to work their magic, the very notion of having an expressive face will be forgotten as well.')

An interview with Ammon Shea in which he discusses the book can be found here.

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