The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the M...

This is an enjoyable little book, and an easy read. I did not always find the author’s style enjoyable, and sometimes his sentence structure leaves one contemplating his meaning, but it is still a fun read if you like learning about language and history.

It makes one appreciate the effort that went into creating the English Language’s first comprehensive and credible dictionary.

Here is the review from

When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary put out a call during the late 19th century pleading for "men of letters" to provide help with their mammoth undertaking, hundreds of responses came forth. Some helpers, like Dr. W.C. Minor, provided literally thousands of entries to the editors. But Minor, an American expatriate in England and a Civil War veteran, was actually a certified lunatic who turned in his dictionary entries from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Simon Winchester has produced a mesmerizing coda to the deeply troubled Minor's life, a life that in one sense began with the senseless murder of an innocent British brewery worker that the deluded Minor believed was an assassin sent by one of his numerous "enemies."

Winchester also paints a rich portrait of the OED's leading light, Professor James Murray, who spent more than 40 years of his life on a project he would not see completed in his lifetime. Winchester traces the origins of the drive to create a "Big Dictionary" down through Murray and far back into the past; the result is a fascinating compact history of the English language (albeit admittedly more interesting to linguistics enthusiasts than historians or true crime buffs). That Murray and Minor, whose lives took such wildly disparate turns yet were united in their fierce love of language, were able to view one another as peers and foster a warm friendship is just one of the delicately turned subplots of this compelling book.

Tags: Book, Book-Review, Dictionary, History, Madness, Murder, OED

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That's funny about Word Freak. People get so wound up over things. Years ago on NPR I heard about this book that was about the world of orchid growers, and how these people had murdered another orchid breeder because they were jealous or competitive or something.


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