Its All in a Word: History, meaning and the sheer joy of words

It's All in a Word: History, meaning and the sheer joy of words
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Historically, the singular word "shear" was used to refer to a variety of tools for cutting. In "The Canterbury Tales," for example, Chaucer describes the biblical Samson, who kept his hair long in accordance with the Nazarite vow: "This Samson never liquor drank, nor wine. Share Flipboard Email. Table of Contents Expand. How to Use "Shear". How to Use "Sheer". How to Remember the Difference. Shear vs. Richard Nordquist is a freelance writer and former professor of English and Rhetoric who wrote college-level Grammar and Composition textbooks. Updated April 06, He had to shear the bushes often to keep his lawn looking neat.

The farmer trimmed the animal's coat with shears. His chest hair was clearly visible through his sheer T-shirt. A barrier along the cliff kept tourists away from the sheer drop. It was sheer luck that I happened to be there at the right time. The child watched the fireworks with a look of sheer amazement. As a verb, "sheer" means to turn away from something:. Ship captains use GPS technology to sheer away from obstacles. You get huge doses of history of language, of dictionaries, of England itself and large smatterings of personal color I had known that J.

Tolkien himself helped with part of the W-words, but more of that story is here. All throughout, Winchester's great love of and erudition on the topic of the Oxford English Dictionary shines through like a beacon. I found this book to be remarkable in almost every way. I can recommend it to lovers of words and to those with more than a passing interest in language and the history of the methods by which human beings have been trapping it with the pages of books.

Thoroughly engrossing. Jul 18, Kris rated it really liked it Shelves: read-write-think , audiobooks. A quite lovely little dip into OED history. This is one of Winchester's more enjoyable books, probably because it's shorter and less long-winded.

It's All in a Word: History, meaning and the sheer joy of words

But I did find gaps in some of his historical descriptions of people and events surrounding the OED, and thought he could have fleshed out and organized things just a bit better. Still, quite a fun read and I'd recommend it. This is a most enjoyable book. The making of the first edition of the OED is surprisingly filled with event. The gigantic task took a lifetime and survived four editors before it was finally concluded.

He was followed by Fredrick Furnivall who took up the job with intense enthusiasm and then lost interest--neglecting the task to such an extent that the project was nearly cancelled.

Fortunately h This is a most enjoyable book. Fortunately he supported the idea of being replaced by James Murray. Most of the rest of the book is devoted to the Herculean lexicographic labours of this remarkable man who--more than any other is responsible for the plan that has made the OED the ultimate English language dictionary. Murray died in and his successor and good friend Harry Bradley passed away in Finally, in William Craigie and C.

Onions brought the task to an end. But as the book shows, the task is never at an end. There were several supplements and a second edition. Winchester's book is anecdotal in style rather than academic. But he makes the most of all the remarkable stories that are involved in the history of this very long project, narrating in lively prose the various clashes of personalities, competing visions, and enlivening every chapter with amazing anecdotes of all kinds. As one would expect, of all the characters--some remarkably vivid--James Murray particularly stands out. He was born in humble circumstances and his formal education ended at the age of Yet, he became the most important editor of the greatest English dictionary ever made.

This book is certainly an entertaining and instructive history of a great monument of scholarship. I'm disturbed by the current trend of history authors focusing more on the biographies of the inviduals involved in a project rather than the ideas behind it. Have we as readers convinced them we are that voyeuristic? Is the People magazine approach to intellectual history the only thing that sells these days? Or do hardcore fans simply become so enamored of the figures who made it all possible that they cannot resist the urge to delve into the personal? This would be understandable if an author I'm disturbed by the current trend of history authors focusing more on the biographies of the inviduals involved in a project rather than the ideas behind it.

This would be understandable if an author like Winchester decided instead to write a complete biography with all the depth and attention to character nuance that entails.

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But he didn't. The tantalizing title lured me with notions of lexis and alphabet amory, but the book generally restricted those ideas to the first chapter and epilogue. If the company I work for or any project I've helped bring to fruition were ever reason for a researcher to spit out juicy tidbits about my personal life and those of my colleagues, I would hardly consider it an honor. View 2 comments. Feb 11, Don rated it really liked it. I've always wondered what some of the first 'crowd-sourced' add that word to the OED please efforts were in the world.

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Though not completely open like Wikipedia, the OED must be one of the first due to the efforts of thousands worldwide contributors. Yet, the words of the English language were funneled through the OED editors -- but, it couldn't have been produced without the world's help. This was an enjoyable ride into the history of the Oxford English Dictionary from beginning to end. Winch I've always wondered what some of the first 'crowd-sourced' add that word to the OED please efforts were in the world. Winchester really brings both the supreme effort and the personalities alive in the approximately 60 year journey.

Both the leaders and editors fight and claw their way through it only to discovered just how immense the English language really is. But most of the accolades must be given to James Murray - who single-handedly drove the dictionary to its final form and structure. All in all this is an interesting and quick read - well worth the time! The last word in the OED now is 'zyzzyva' compared to 'zyxt' when it was first completed in Jun 15, Ashley rated it really liked it.

Even as a child, because I was so, so cool, I wondered how dictionaries were made. So, I enjoyed this tale of how the OED was made. It took 70 years. A lot. The scope of the OED undertaking, and the level of scholarship it demanded, defies comprehension. A Even as a child, because I was so, so cool, I wondered how dictionaries were made.

Also, because the biggest book of my career thus far went to press yesterday, which was a soul-destroying multi-year effort, finishing this book the following day seemed weird--but appropriate. Making books is hard. Although Winchester gives an accessible, readable, and often wry account of how the OED came to be, and its permutations since, I wouldn't call it scintillating reading.

But it's worth the effort. Highly recommended.

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Aug 30, Brierly added it Shelves: non-fiction , read-in-undergrad , reviewed. I read this book for a class on the history and development of the English language. Fascinating story of the creation of the O. Have you ever wondered why we have dictionaries and who decides what goes in them? What about which dictionary to use--what does that say about you? This book sparked an interest in dictionaries in America to be clear, the book is centered on England and how the American English variant was legitimized by the Webster's dictionary. I ended up presenting my researc I read this book for a class on the history and development of the English language.

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Because of that, I appreciate this book. Sep 27, Kim rated it it was ok. How embarrassing. I recommended this for our book club based on its reviews, and the fact that it's about the dictionary. We're all word lovers, of course we're going to love this book! No one liked it. The words most often used were "boring" and "dry. Then I threw the book across the room. Jul 07, Julie rated it liked it Recommends it for: Liv. Shelves: non-fic. Not for everyone, but word nerds will enjoy.

It reads more like a page book so at points I just had to skim-too many lists. It does make me more curious about "The Professor and the Madman" which sounds like it may be a much more interesting read. Filled with truly gem-like details-my favorite-that Julian Barnes was one of the "unsung" wordsmiths who worked on the editing of the revised edition.

A package of sheer joy. Like that book, this one is full of interesting digressions. However, Winchester's tendency toward imperialist and pro-colonialism digressions is less noticeable and less upsetting when the topic is an academic project that took place in Victorian England than when it is a massive natural disaster that occurred at roughly the same time, but in a Dutch colony.

Although I only discovered this book by accident, while I'd been planning to read The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary for a while, I suspect that this was a much better choice, since it focuses on the actual work of producing a truly unabridged dictionary, rather than on the personal lives of several people involved in its production. Sep 15, Kevin Leung rated it it was ok. I had a tough time getting through this book.

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It took over 50 years to publish the complete 12 volumes in the first Oxford English Dictionary in It's a story of mismanagement, dedicated workers, poorly defined scope, and both good and bad luck. In short, it has all of the qualities of an ambitious project, be it a building or a book. I hoped that there was a surprising gem or interesting twist in the story, but it is exactly what it purports to be, so judge this book by the cover.

Jan 31, Tanya Gold rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction. Another delightful story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary from the author of The Professor and the Madman —this one showing a much bigger picture. It's got literary men using etymology to insult one another, people working out of sheds, and even a Tolkien cameo.

It's fascinating, funny, and absolutely riveting. Feb 13, Krista rated it liked it. I preferred his other book The Professor and the Madman. Mar 19, Josh rated it really liked it Shelves: audiobook , nonfiction , language. This is a book about the history of the OED. Interested readers will self-identify. For English is a language that simply cannot be fixed, nor can it ever be absolutely laid down.

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Free download. Jul 18, Kris rated it really liked it Shelves: read-write-think , audiobooks. Condition see all Condition. The majority of pages are undamaged with some creasing or tearing, and pencil underlining of text, but this is minimal. A Even as a child, because I was so, so cool, I wondered how dictionaries were made.

It changes constantly; it grows with an almost exponential joy. It evolves eternally; its words alter their senses and their meanings subtly, slowly, or speedily according to fashion and need. Dictionaries that record and catalog the language cannot ever be prescriptive; they must always be entirely descriptive, telling of the language as it is, not as it should be. I loved being one of the few people who knew and studied! The Meaning of Everything has been on Mt.

TBR for 4 years, 10 months which qualifies it for The Mt. TBR Struggle is Real challenge! The entire prologue and first chapter is nothing but an ode to the love of monied men in Victorian England. Winchester waxed poetically about their intelligence, their money and their leisure. It came very close to being a DNF. But once I got past all of that, I was rewarded with a great story. The English language - so fast, so sprawling, so wonderfully unwieldy, so subtle, and now in it's never-ending fullness so undeniably magnificent - is in its essence the language of invasion.

I was rather shocked to learn that there was nothing like a dictionary until meaning that Shakespeare could NOT reference a dictionary - this only increases my feelings about his genius. Even the dictionary was not a dictionary as we know them today: instead it was a listing of words with no definitions with their Latin translation. I also found it interesting that - as each new dictionary was being created — authors of previous dictionaries accused new dictionary authors of plagiarism.

The creation of the OED was fraught with difficulty. Words from every corner of the globalized world cascade in ceaselessly, daily topping up a language that is self-evidently living, breathing, changing, evolving as no other language ever has, nor is ever likely to. They had incorrect definitions and were missing most words in the English lexicon.

For that reason alone, Thomas Blount, barrister of Worcestershire, Catholic to the core, wealthy and leisured and a linguist considerable talent, deserves to be remembered: not as the father of modern dictionaries maybe, but at the lexicographer who saw the light — who realized the ceaseless magnitude of the task if it were ever to be undertaken of gathering together all of the thousands upon thousands of ever-changing words with which generations of invaders and wanderers had littered and seasoned the peculiarly English means of saying things.

To remark that English lexicography is like herding cats, as the saying has it, is only the half of it. What was needed was a brand new dictionary. A dictionary of the English language in it's totality. Not a reworking of the existing mis-formed and incomplete works; not a further attempt to make any one of the past creations somehow better or more complete; not a supplement, as the Unregistered Words Committee planned to publish.

No, from a fresh start, from a tabula rasa, there should be constructed now a wholly new dictionary that would give, in essence and in fact, the meaning of everything. Education was reserved for the wealthy while the rest needed to work. So, academics of the masses only had one educational opportunity: to educate themselves.

Most of those did so by reading. There are hard to find books that have handwriting in margins: every time someone reading would find a word they didn't recognize; they would look it up in the dictionary and then write the definition in the margin s.

Strangely enough, I had no clue that this looking up and writing down of definitions was something that had recently become available to people. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary opened the world to people in so many ways that were not available in the past. One of the amazing things I learned in reading The Meaning of Everything , was that [some] other languages had committees like that to contain the language.

I was shocked. I told several different people this and — like me — they were dumbfounded. For English is not to be regarded in the same way as, say, French or Italian, and in one crucially important way. It is not a fixed language, the meaning of it's words established, approved, and firmly set by some official committee chart with preserving it's dignity and integrity.

sheer (adjective) definition and synonyms | Macmillan Dictionary

Over and over Winchester mentions that the people creating and discussing and molding dictionaries and thus the future of the English language are learned men of leisure. When my husband asked me what I'd want to do most now [job wise], it is to become a librarian. But at one point a long time ago I was green with envy when I learned of philology. I have no real interest beyond curiosity in Lexicography but philology I heartily recommend this micro history on the Oxford English Dictionary.

It truly is a great love letter to the English Language. Jan 04, Bob Perry rated it really liked it. Thoroughly loved this book for the most part. It was written with Simon's unique ability to make mundane information interesting and fresh. I'm glad to have read both though since they cover multiple topics and bring the story together. When I read a book like this it makes me wish that I had a love of words and the mind to learn multiple languages easily as so many people involved in the OED were. I realize that it was a very small number of people that have that ability but I do enjoy learning the origins of words and the other meanings.

I am definitely a fan of Simon Winchester and now I should vow to read all of his books since I have enjoyed all that I have read so far. And it does take talent to make non-fiction come to life. May 07, Magill rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction. I was surprised that the meaning of everything would take a mere pages. Having read "The Professor and the Madman", I had assumed that this book would be a bit more "in-depth".

It was Why keep mentioning a photo and not share it? A rather light read overall, probably I was surprised that the meaning of everything would take a mere pages. A rather light read overall, probably a 3. There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

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Simon Winchester. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States.