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Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary Paperback – 30 Nov 2012

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'Sarah Ogilvie brings a unique conjunction of abilities to this book: deep practical knowledge of [the] OED and its archives, powerful analytical skills, and personal warmth and flair as a storyteller.' John Considine, University of Alberta

'Sarah Ogilvie, by forensically examining the OED text, demonstrates convincingly that, as envisaged by James Murray, it was a truly international enterprise, in both its contributors and the World Englishes represented.' Howard Jackson, Emeritus Professor of English Language and Linguistics, Birmingham City University

'A penetrating and brilliantly conceived work that decisively refutes the assumption that Victorian prejudice disposed the original editors of the OED to neglect foreign loanwords and non-British English. Ogilvie writes with a refreshingly brisk intelligence.' Sidney Landau, author of Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography

'A beauty of a book …' Financial Times

'… cleverly documents the discomfort of Little England.' Peter Conrad, The Observer

'[A] meticulous study …' The Times Literary Supplement

'Ogilvie challenges the commonly held assumption that the OED originally reflected Anglocentric and Victorian views of race and empire, and only progressively recognised in its supplements loanwords and words from the world's Englishes … Ogilvie makes her case while also giving a fascinating account of work in the OED's offices. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.' J. K. Bracken, Choice

Book Description

Most people think of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as a distinctly British product. The linguist and lexicographer, Sarah Ogilvie, combines her insider knowledge and experience with impeccable research to show rather that the OED is an international product in both its content and its making.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look at English's global roots 15 Dec. 2012
By Addison Phillips - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Words of the World is a new examination of the Oxford English Dictionary and its policies towards words of foreign origin (as well as words whose origin lies in World Englishes), and particularly an examination of the perception that the OED until recently had limited or excluded words of this sort.

In part, it is a personal story, beginning as it does with author Sarah Ogilvie's memoir of joining the Oxford University Press to work on the inclusion of exactly these sorts of words--a remembrance which would be fascinating and interesting as a work in its own right. Here we get observations on the unlikely backgrounds and broad cultural roots of today's lexicographers.

But the focus of the book quickly becomes clear and the majority of the work focuses on the personalities, judgements, and editorial choices of the OED's various editors--particularly its early editor, Dr. Murray, who appears befrocked, bearded, and moustachioed like some latter day Merlin or Gandalf, lodged in his Scriptorium, and casting his net across the globe via the Royal Mail. From here, we follow his successors, culminating in Robert Burchfield, whose publicly claimed to have opened the dictionary from the (apparently) mythical grip on the OED by parochial, close-minded, Imperial English grandees who worked to keep the dictionary untrammeled by colonials and savages.

By close examination, including case studies and surveys of the original volumes, period criticism and comparative works, and the various supplements, we find that, far from being a puristic and Anglo-Saxon redoubt, the OED has long--and sometimes controversially--championed words from the broad spectrum of English language. As one remarks:

The English Language is the language of Englishmen! Of which Englishmen? Of all Englishmen or of some Englishmen? . . . Does it include the English of Great Britain and the English of America, the English of Australia, and of South Africa, and of those most assertive Englishmen, the Englishmen of India, who live in bungalows, hunt in jungles, wear terai hats or puggaries and pyjamas, write chits instead of letters and eat kedgeree and chutni? Yes! In its most comprehensive sense, and as an object of historical study, it includes all these; they are all forms of English.

Should you read this?

If you love words (as I do), you'll be greatly entertained--and also enlightened. It's easy to forget that English is an amalgam of many parts. That it is a living, evolving language. And so it's amusing to see fervent arguments about whether a word like "canoe" is English or to see a long debate about the proper Anglicization of the word "timbre". And, for that matter, we get a look at the fascinating people who made those arguments, from `one of the great rock-blasting entrepreneurs of Victorian scholarship, the kind of man who if his energies had taken another turn might have covered a continent with railways' to various outcasts, outsiders, and outlanders who brought global English within the canon of nothing less than the weighty OED.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this cannot be a completely impartial review: as it happens, Sarah Ogilvie works down the hall, so part of my fun in reading is in imagining her in her early career. While you won't have that advantage, I can say that I quickly forgot about her, though, and was immersed in her story and her unraveling of it. You should too.

PS> Do buy this in Kindle format. One of the delights I had with this book was looking up the various words inside it on your Kindle's (shorter, non-ODE) Oxford dictionaries to see what's there.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digging into the OED 19 Feb. 2013
By Ed Battistella - Published on
Format: Paperback
Sarah Ogilvie's Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary begins by describing her entry into the quiet world of the OED. She had come from of Australian branch of Oxford dictionaries, was a rare linguist among lexicographers, and quickly found herself fascinated by the OED archives, where she discovered some interesting facts about the OED editors. The early editors were not quite so fusty as many thought.

The question she focused on was this: how did the OED editors treat borrowed words? The simplified story that is often told is that the OED went from a tool of British empire-building to a repository of the world's Englishes, evolving to preserve the flexibility and utility of English. It turns out that that story of progress is too simple. The early editors, especially Murray, Furnivall, and Onions, and were quite open to loan words (they essentially treated words used in an English context as English). And Robert Burchfield, editor of the OED supplement published in 1986, was not as inclusive as the reputation he cultivated. (In another context, John Updike has once referred to him as pleading the case of outcast words "like a left-wing lawyer"). Comparing the 1986 supplement to the 1933 supplement, Ogilvie found that the later supplement omitted many loanwords rather than marking them with as obsolete (with a dagger, naturally).

Was Burchfield making editorial choices (the words after all were still in the OED1) or lexicographic purging? It's an open question but the press has sensationalized the story a bit, and Burchfield does seem to have overly hyped his own role. But, as Ogilvie makes clear, the story is really about the foresight of the early editors in deciding what a historical dictionary should do and how it should reach out to the English- speaking world.

Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary is scholarly but readable and certainly changed the way I think of the OED.-- Ed Battistella, on Literary Ashland.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful book about the Oxford English Dictionary 3 Feb. 2013
By Stephen P. Gill - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ms. Ogilvie has written a charming and engaging book about the men who conceived and edited the Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps the greatest scholarly work of the English language. The principal character is James Murray, editor of the OED from 1879 to 1915. He was an extraordinarily able Victorian scholar, erudite in twenty-five languages, who would have been welcome in Sherlock Holmes' drawing room. Murray pursued a vision of the dictionary as the repository of the English language as it is spoken anywhere in the world, from the British Isles to America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India, Africa, and the Middle East. He welcomed new words from foreign lands, such as kayak, algebra, and tomato, believing they enriched and enlarged the language immeasureably. He successfully fought off critics who felt the objective of the dictionary should be to canonize the "pure" language, and exclude barbaric foreign words that were not "proper" English.

Ms. Ogilvie is an unlikely champion of Mr. Murray against the calumnies of later editors, particularly Robert Burchfield, editor from 1957 to 1986. Mr. Burchfield has taken the position in public papers and speeches that the early OED was insular, concentrating on the language of the British Isles, and that he was responsible for opening the OED to World English. This characterization of differences between early and modern OED policies has been uncritically accepted by reviewers and journalists on no other basis than the self-serving pronouncements of Mr. Burchfield. Ms. Ogilvie expends considerable effort in a somewhat dry scholarly chapter setting the record straight. She demonstrates that Murray set and maintained a very high standard of inclusiveness, and that Burchfield, judged on what he did rather than what he said, in fact fell far short of this standard. It is perhaps unfortunate so much must be said on this matter, but the damage has been done to Murray's reputation, and Ms. Ogilvie is effective and convincing in restoring the honor of this great Victorian scholar.

I am pleased to recommend this delightful book to anyone who loves English, and who admires the acceptance of English world-wide as a nearly universal language. It is perhaps the openness and welcoming nature of the English-speaking community to new ideas and foreign culture that enable English to adapt to modern business and technology better than any other language. I am indebted to Ms. Ogilvie for introducing me to this unique chapter of history, and giving me an appreciation of the genius of James Murray and the OED in setting an inclusive standard for the English language.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book 14 Feb. 2013
By Mr. John E. Hill - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This gem of a book is not only a clear, up-to-date history of the Oxford English Dictionary, including fascinating anecdotes about early editors, devoted contributors, and the more than 600 languages in the etymologies, but is also a fascinating detective story!

The author's meticulous research which led to the discovery of the damage caused by an earlier editor, and the OED's restoration to its rightful place as the greatest, most inclusive, and most reliable dictionary of any language in the world.

This is a gripping, finely crafted, true-life tale, and an absolute joy for everybody interested in language and how it evolves.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great gift for readers 8 Feb. 2013
By James B Bennett - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone who enjoys reading will love digging into this book and finding out a little more about the English language.
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