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John Simpson (2)

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John Simpson (2) has been aliased into J A Simpson.

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(Print: ©10/25/2016; PUBLISHER: Basic Books; 1st edition; ISBN: 978-0465060696; PAGES: 384; Unabridged.)
(Audio: No.)
*Digital: Kindle version ©10/25/2016; PUBLISHER: Basic Books; ISBN: 978-1541698635; FILE SIZE: 1508 KB; PAGES: 365 (including index)
(Feature Film or tv: No)

Series: No

I never feel like I have a large enough vocabulary and am forever admiring authors who exhibit a command of not just the meanings of words I’m unfamiliar with, but the art of putting them together, or applying them in novel (forgive the pun) ways. So, when my husband pointed this book out to me in a used book bin, I was intrigued. I have too many books already though, so I looked it up on Overdrive and checked out the only version I could find, a digital version (in other words, it wasn’t to be found in audio.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I had little time for reading print. I can listen to audio while driving, but that inadvisable with print. So, it took about 5 months to read this. I had to check it out multiple times.
Another title for this could have been “The Accidental Lexicographer”, in that Mr. Simpson describes his landing of his initial job at the Oxford University Press’s Oxford English Dictionary as nothing he’d planned for. He saw the job advertised and decided to apply, not having ever intended to become a lexicographer. He tells of his early days on the dictionary nostalgically—of encountered words written on index cards and stored until someone had time to research earliest sightings in literature.
So, the book is primarily a memoir, or autobiography, with lots of fascinating historical information sprinkled around about words and terms, and the progression of the dictionary through efforts to meet deadlines for supplement and revised editions, to his spearheading of its eventual online migration. We’re introduced to his wife, his first daughter, and then his second daughter, who, it soon becomes apparent will never share her father’s love of words, for she neither speaks them, nor responds to them, not out of any hearing disability, but rather, apparently, some sort of un-diagnosable cognitive one.
When I got to the end of the final chapter, I was surprised to see that Kindle indicated there was still an hour of reading left. So, I continued. Reading first, the many brief reviews from such popular publications “Kirkus Reviews” and “The Daily Mail” and from prominent authors such as Steven Pinker (“Enlightenment Now”), the Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard; and Philip Pulman, author of “His Dark Materials.”
Then, I came to a chapter called “Further Reading” where Mr. Simpson kindly reviews some of his favorite books about the Oxford English Dictionary, one of which I’ve already downloaded in audio version called, “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages”. . . .And then there’s the index that completes the book.

John Simpson (10/13/1953): John is a member of the Order of the British Empire (OEB), and according to Wikipedia “is an English lexicographer and was Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from 1993 to 2013.”

Biography; Auto-Biography; Language Arts; Nonfiction

Cheltenham, Oxford

Family; Employment; Publishing; Words; English; Disability; Editing; Computer Age; Sociology; History

“For Hillary
It wasn’t until the day I finished the first draft
that I realized that this was for you.
I should have known earlier.
There are many voices that can
be used to tell a story.
These are just a few of them.”

From The Introduction:
“What the archives don’t contain---and what you have no hope of appreciating unless you come at the thing from anther angle---is the fun and excitement of historical dictionary work. If you need to, step back a few paces and draw a deep breath. This excitement derives equally from the detective work involved, from recovering information which has been lost for maybe hundreds of years (new etymological stories and connections, new first usages, links that you never knew existed between words), and from seeing exactly how words arise out of the culture and society in which they are used. Because words tell us about people and cultures that use them.
This is a very specific kind of excitement. It’s different from the knockabout excitement portrayed in Ball of Fire, my favourite film about reference books. I used to play a few minutes of this 1941 screwball comedy to groups of summer-schoolers I taught years ago. I expect they thought it was the best part of the course. In the film, the erudite(-looking) Gary Cooper is the grammarian in a team of gnomelike editors engaged in the noble task of writing an encyclopedia. The professors have led quiet lives, of the sort that quite unfits them for the vibrant work of reference editing. In particular, they are unfamiliar with the new vocabulary of jive talk and hepcats. As luck would have it, Gary Cooper stumbles across Barbara Stanwyck (disguised as the nightclub singer “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, and he and his fellow editors take rather a shine to her. They sneak out at night to listen to her vocabulary at a nightclub. Gary Cooper’s article on slang for the encyclopedia benefits from his entanglement with Sugarpuss, and Sugarpuss is eventually rescued from numerous potential mishaps by the kindly hearted editors. This is not exactly how things worked at the Oxford English Dictionary. Certainly, we never knowingly employed anyone called “Sugarpuss”.”

5 stars. Great book. He mentions that he keeps a blog, so I’ll be reading that too. (http://johnesimpson.com/blog/ )

8/13/2021 – 1/22/2022
… (lisätietoja)
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TraSea | 9 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Apr 29, 2024 |
This took me nearly two months to read, which is unheard of for me. It is so much more dense than I anticipated, and lacked a firm narrative pull in the first half to keep me moving. But still, this is so fascinating to watch the OED move online and understand the process of updating the dictionary. I read a similar book about the Merriam-Webster dictionary right before this, and the different approaches to language and record they take are notable. I enjoyed the thread here about his non-verbal daughter as well, an irony in his life he grappled with for a long time.… (lisätietoja)
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KallieGrace | 9 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 3, 2024 |
Interesting and fun! Basically a history of the OED from when it was still filing cabinets full of citation cards up to the dictionary moving fully into the digital age. The occasional brief dips into the histories and etymologies of particularly interesting individual words also give a good sense of the development of the English language.

In general, Simpson's enthusiasm about lexicography makes the whole things a delight to read. I also have a fondness for his writing style-- his many dashes and parentheses and other diversions seem well-suited to the dictionary-making mentality.… (lisätietoja)
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misslevel | 9 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Sep 22, 2021 |
There are a few of us for whom a memoir by a lexicographer sounds like fascinating stuff, and for us few John Simpson's “The Word Detective” (2016) is a winner.

Hired in the 1970s by the Oxford English Dictionary, after first being turned away, Simpson found a career as a "word detective" a perfect fit for him. He gradually rose through the ranks until he became its chief editor, overseeing the transformation of the OED from a giant, multi-volume reference found mostly in libraries to a valuable online resource available on anyone's phone or computer.

The phrase "word detective" seems apt, for the work of a lexicographer involves such tasks as discovering the many meanings of a particular word at various points in the expanding English-speaking world, accounting for different spellings and pronunciations and, perhaps most difficult of all, determining the earliest use of this word. "At the time," Simpson writes, "I couldn't imagine anything that was as much fun as doing this: working fast, assimilating insightful but sometimes mistimed comments, taking a good entry and making it as perfect as possible."

Throughout his book Simpson uses such words as crowdsourcing and transpired, then in an aside explains something about that particular word's history and meaning, thus not just telling us how he worked but showing us the actual results of word detecting.

Sometimes Simpson gets personal, never more so than when he writes about Ellie, his now adult daughter who can neither speak nor understand language. It's a tragic irony — the man in charge of the world's greatest English dictionary having a wordless daughter with whom he cannot communicate.

More than a memoir, “The Word Detective” is also a modern history of the OED, with a lot of its early history thrown in. Simpson is now retired yet, through his memoir, is still serving the old firm well.
… (lisätietoja)
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hardlyhardy | 9 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Nov 22, 2020 |


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