The Word Detective: A Life in Words: From Serendipity to Selfie Hardcover – 6 Oct 2016
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Inviting, adj., is given two senses by the OED: that which invites or gives invitation, and attractive, alluring, or tempting. Although this superb memoir is not likely to lead you into temptation, it otherwise fits the definition very well. Simpson was a key figure on the editorial team that rescued the OED from obsolescence and ensured its ongoing relevance. They took on the considerable job of bringing the OED online and of adapting it in other ways that have transformed it from a historical monument into an indispensable record of our living language. In similar fashion, this funny, insightful, and really just wonderful book renders Simpson's own past accessible, engaging, and germane. Part social history, part dictionary history, and part personal history-with beguiling etymologies interwoven throughout (computer, deadline, skanking)-The Word Detective will appeal to any reader curious about the English language and how it evolves. Simpson is the perfect guide to the OED. I adored this book (Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange)
There is a poignant and unanticipated counterpoint to John Simpson's fine memoir of his time at the OED-for while his majestic dictionary was during his tenure undergoing changes of the profoundest kind, he and his family were dealing with a personal challenge that places all his lexicographic achievements in the most human of contexts. This is a wonderful book, then-but on two levels, both equally revealing, intimate and true (Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman)
A perfect title. According to the OED, a Sherlock is someone "who investigates mysteries or shows great perceptiveness". This aptly summarizes Sherlock Simpson, who tells the inside story of how that great dictionary has come to be written, illustrated by illuminating and sometimes daring word histories, and grounded in an engaging and moving autobiography. Anyone fascinated by words and their history will love it (David Crystal)
People think of dictionaries as oracles that channel eternal verities about The Language. In fact they are the handiwork of mortals who deliberate about how to make sense of the creative brainchildren and viral fads of hundreds of millions of wordsmiths. The Word Detective is a delightful and revealing look at the human side of dictionaries, with insights galore about the nature of language. (And why does the adjective galore come after the noun?) (Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct)
Vibrant and inspiring (Publishers Weekly)
Simpson's memoir features entertaining, culturally revealing stories of many curious words, phrases, and roots (Booklist)
Simpson, writing with a wry and often self-deprecating wit and an obvious passion for his subject, tells a story that is at once deeply personal and part of the larger story of a fundamental shift in how we share information (Maximum Shelf)
I found this book surprisingly moving. John Simpson's quiet devotion to his daily task, handling words with calmness and devotion, even love, is an inspiration (Roger Lewis Mail on Sunday)
A charmingly full, frank and humorous account of a career dedicated to rigorous lexicographic rectitude . . . [Simpson] is an absolute hero (Lynne Truss International New York Times)
A compelling tribute to the wonder of language (Anita Sethi Guardian)
The story of words, cultures, the OED and John Simpson, a word detective with thirty-seven years of dictionary experience and twenty years as Chief Editor of the world's most important dictionarySee all Product description
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It seemed appropriate to commence a review of The Word Detective with a fantasy dictionary entry given the whole book relates to a career dedicated to the editing and development of the Oxford English Dictionary and its smaller siblings. Anybody who uses the OED in whatever form will find this book interesting as it melds a personal history with a description of the process adopted for updating the original and subsequent issues of the dictionary. At regular intervals in the narrative, the author explores selected words from the text and provides a brief etymology which demonstrates likely origins and also the dynamic nature the English language. There are also occasional rather poignant asides relating to a family situation which must have been particularly frustrating for somebody whose life revolved around words and communication.
If you have read The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester, you will enjoy The Word Detective as it gives a more personal slant to the development of the OED. I have no hesitation in recommending both of these books but they will only appeal to those whose interest in language extends beyond texting and twitter!
Reads as autobiographical with added snapshots and history of 'peculiar' (and some VERY popular) words. Thoroughly enjoyed it.