Transcript: Simon Winchester on his book The Meaning of Everything | Jan 31, 2004

Simon Winchester stands behind a wooden lectern in a wood-panelled room facing an audience of people in their fifties and sixties.

[Applause]

Simon is in his late fifties, clean-shaven and balding. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and colourful spotted tie.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Simon Winchester. Author' The meaning of everything: The story of the Oxford English Dictionary.' Hart House, University of Toronto. November 28, 2003."

Simon says WHAT I'M
GOING TO TRY AND DO THIS EVENING
IS TO TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THE
CHARACTERS INVOLVED IN THE
PROCESS OF MAKING THIS
EXTRAORDINARY 20-VOLUME THING,
THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY.
WHAT I'M NOT GOING TO TALK
ABOUT, REALLY, IS LEXICOGRAPHY,
I'M NOT GOING TO GIVE YOU A
LECTURE ON WORDS TO ANY
CONSIDERABLE DEGREE, ALTHOUGH I
DO WANT TO MENTION ONE OR TWO
WORDS AT THE BEGINNING, WHICH
ARE SOMEWHAT GERMANE TO THE
STORY I'M GOING TO TRY AND TELL
YOU.
THE FIRST WORD CAME ABOUT WHEN I
WAS ASKING ONE OF THE
LEXICOGRAPHERS AT THE OED IN
OXFORD, A MAN CALLED PETER
GILLIVER, WHETHER THERE WAS
ANYTHING APPROACHING ANY WIT IN
THE ENTIRE 20-VOLUME AMASSMENT
THAT IS THE OED.
I, I LIKE DICTIONARIES THAT HAVE
WIT INSERTED IN THEM IN A SORT
OF DELIBERATE WAY, MY... I THINK
MY FAVOURITE SINGLE VOLUME
DICTIONARY IS CHAMBERS' 20th
CENTURY DICTIONARY, WHICH, IF
YOU'RE A KEEN CROSSWORD DOER, AS
I AM, OR USED TO BE, IS THE BEST
BAR NONE.
THAT HAS SOMEWHAT WITTY
DEFINITIONS SORT OF
SURREPTITIOUSLY SLIPPED IN, I
SUPPOSE THE MOST FAMOUS IS THE
DEFINITION OF THE WORD 'ECLAIR',
WHICH IS A CAKE LONG IN
DIMENSION BUT SHORT IN DURATION.

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND SO...
FAVOURING THIS KIND OF THING, I
PUT IT TO PETER GILLIVER, THIS
EXTREMELY SERIOUS-MINDED OED
LEXICOGRAPHER, WAS THERE ANY WIT
IN THE OED?
AND HE LOOKED FAINTLY SHOCKED,
RATHER LIKE, YOU KNOW, IF YOU
SWEAR IN FRONT OF A MAIDEN AUNT
AND HE STROKED HIS CHIN AND HE
SAID, "WIT, WIT.
"ONLY INADVERTENTLY," HE SAID
AND HE DIRECTED ME TO VOLUME ONE
OF THE DICTIONARY AND HE SAID,
"LOOK AT THE SECOND SENSE OF THE
WORD 'ABBREVIATOR'."
NOW ABBREVIATOR IN ITS FIRST
SENSE IS A SELF-EVIDENTLY SIMPLE
WORD, SOMETHING THAT ABBREVIATES
SOMETHING ELSE, I MEAN, AN
EXECUTIONER, I SUPPOSE, WOULD BE
AN ABBREVIATOR.
BUT THE...

[Laughter]

Simon continues THE SECOND
SENSE WAS RATHER MORE
INTERESTING, IT SAID,
"ABBREVIATOR, NOUN, SECOND
SENSE, A JUNIOR OFFICIAL OF THE
VATICAN WHOSE DUTIES INCLUDE
DRAWING UP THE POPE'S BRIEFS."

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND I...
I, I LAUGHED INDULGENTLY, AS
YOU'VE BEEN KIND ENOUGH TO DO,
AND PETER GOT EXTREMELY SERIOUS
AND HE SAID, NO, NO, NO, THIS
WAS ENTIRELY INADVERTENT, DON'T
YOU UNDERSTAND, BECAUSE JAMES
MURRAY HIMSELF WROTE THAT
DEFINITION IN 1881, BUT THE USE
OF THE WORD 'BRIEFS' TO DENOTE
UNDERWEAR ONLY BECAME CURRENT IN
1933, SO A DOUBLE ENTENDRE
CERTAINLY, BUT AN ENTIRELY
UNINTENDED ONE.
THE, THE SECOND WORD IS
ACTUALLY, YOU'LL BE RELIEVED TO
KNOW, MORE GERMANE TO WHAT I
HAVE TO SAY AND THAT IS IT COMES
FROM A, A DICTIONARY FROM A MAN
CALLED FALCONER, OF MARINE
TERMINOLOGY, PUBLISHED IN THE
18th CENTURY AND I HAVE TO MAKE
SURE THAT I GET IT RIGHT, IT'S
FALCONER'S DEFINITION OF THE
WORD 'RETREAT'.
"RETREAT," HE WRITES, "IS THE
ORDER IN WHEN A FRENCH FLEET
RETIRES BEFORE AN ENEMY."

[Laughter]

Simon continues I KNOW IN
CANADA, THIS IS SLIGHTLY TRICKY
SUBJECT TO...

[Laughter]

Simon continues AS IT IS
NOT PROPERLY A TERM OF THE
BRITISH MARINE, ANY FULLER
ACCOUNT WOULD BE ENTIRELY OUT OF
PLACE.

[Laughter]

Simon continues WELL, I
BLESS FALCONER FOR HANDING ME
THAT ONE, BECAUSE IT ENABLES ME
TO BEGIN THIS TALK BY SAYING
THAT SUCH DICTIONARIES AS
EXISTED IN THE OLD DAYS, WERE,
IN MANY WAYS, WANTING, THEY
SIMPLY WEREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
BEFORE I DISCUSS THAT IN ANY
DETAIL, I, I SHOULD POINT OUT
THAT DICTIONARIES ARE A
RELATIVELY MODERN INVENTION, I
MEAN, THE WORD 'DICTIONARY' IS
VERY OLD, IT'S BEEN AROUND IN
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE SINCE THE
13th CENTURY AND THERE WERE
INDEED DICTIONARIES IN THE 12th
AND 13th AND 14th CENTURIES, BUT
THEY WERE ALL BILINGUAL
DICTIONARIES.
THEY HAD ENGLISH WORDS ON THE
PAGE ON THE LEFT-HAND SIDE AND
THEN ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE,
THEIR EQUIVALENTS IN FRENCH OR
GREEK OR LATIN OR GERMAN OR
WHATEVER.
SOMEONE THE IDEA OF PRODUCING A
MONOLINGUAL DICTIONARY, WITH
PAGE ON THE LEFT-HAND SIDE AND
THEN ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE,
THEIR EQUIVALENTS IN FRENCH OR
GREEK OR LATIN OR GERMAN OR
WHATEVER.
SOMEONE THE IDEA OF PRODUCING A
MONOLINGUAL DICTIONARY, WITH
ENGLISH WORDS ON ONE SIDE AND AN
EXPLANATION OF THOSE WORDS IN
ENGLISH ALONGSIDE THEM SEEMED
UNNECESSARY, I-IT WAS... TO MOST
PEOPLE IN THE 15th CENTURY, SAY,
ENGLISH WAS LIKE, IT WAS SORT OF
INCHOATE, IT WAS AROUND US ALL
THE TIME LIKE THE VERY AIR THAT
WE BREATHE.
WE NEVER BOTHER TO THINK ABOUT
ITS SIZE AND FOR THE PARTICLES
OF WHICH IT WAS COMPOSED, WE
NEVER BOTHERED TOO MUCH ABOUT
THEM, WE HAD AN INTUITIVE
UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT WORDS
MEAN, THERE WAS NO NEED TO HAVE
A BOOK WHICH TOLD US EITHER HOW
BIG THE LANGUAGE WAS OR WHAT ITS
INDIVIDUAL PARTICLES MEANT.
BUT THAT ALL CHANGED IN 1604,
BUT IT CHANGED NOT FOR
PARTICULARLY NOBLE REASONS, BUT
FOR MERCENARY REASONS, THANKS TO
A MAN CALLED ROBERT CAWDREY.
ROBERT CAWDREY WAS A
SCHOOLMASTER FROM COVENTRY IN
CENTRAL ENGLAND.
AND HE BECAME AWARE, FIRST OF
ALL, OF THE WAY THAT PEOPLE,
PARTICULARLY MEN DRESSED AT THE
BEGINNING OF THE 17th CENTURY,
IF YOU... I WON'T SAY REMEMBER,
OBVIOUSLY NOT MANY OF YOU...
MAYBE ONE OR TWO... WOULD
REMEMBER HOW PEOPLE DRESSED IN
THOSE DAYS, BUT JUST CONSIDER
ILLUSTRATIONS, MEN IN FULL-
BOTTOMED WIGS WITH RUFFLED
BLOUSES WITH DOUBLET AND HOSE
WITH INCREDIBLY ORNATE AND
OSTENTATIOUS FOOTWEAR.
WELL, IT TURNED OUT THAT THEY,
THEY SPOKE IN MUCH THE SAME
OSTENTATIOUS WAY, THEY USED
LUDICROUS WORDS, WHICH
ESSENTIALLY HAD NO MEANING, BUT
JUST GAVE THEM THE APPEARANCE OF
BEING LEARNED AND ERUDITE.
THEY USED WORDS LIKE
'BULBOCITATE' FOR INSTANCE,
WHICH MEANS NOTHING AT ALL.

[Laughter]

Simon continues
'COMMOTRIX', 'ARCH-GRIMACIAN',
'SACADOTAL', I MEAN, LONG,
OROTUND LANGUAGE, WHICH JUST
PERFECTLY MATCHED THEIR
CLOTHING.
WELL, THIS MAN, ROBERT CAWDREY,
RECOGNISED THIS AND THOUGHT HE
COULD MAKE A PENNY OR TWO BY
PRODUCING A TABLE OF THESE
WORDS, WITH MEANINGS, EITHER
INVENTED, OR, IF THEY WERE WORDS
WITH REAL MEANINGS, BUT WERE
JUST OBSCURE, PUT THOSE MEANINGS
IN AND HE WOULD PUBLISH THEM AS
A SLENDER BOOK, WHICH WAS SORT
OF POCKET-SIZED AND ONE OF THESE
FOPS THAT ATTENDED THESE ELEGANT
SOIREES IN KNIGHTSBRIDGE OR
CHELSEA OR WHEREVER, COULD REACH
SURREPTITIOUSLY INTO HIS BLOUSE
AND ON MEETING A PERSON WHO HE
WANTED TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH,
WOULD LOOK AT IT AND SAY,
"MADAM, WOULD YOU PERHAPS CARE
TO DINE WITH ME TONIGHT SO THAT
WE MAY BULBOCITATE TOGETHER?"
[Laughter]
WELL, IT WAS A STUNNING SUCCESS,
THIS BOOK, IT WAS CALLED, HE
CALLED IT "A TABLE ALPHABETICAL
OF HARD AND UNUSUAL WORDS,
DESIGNED FOR GENTLEMEN, LADIES
AND OTHER USELESS PERSONS."

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND DESPITE
THIS, THE BOOK SOLD LIKE HOT
CAKES, IT WAS AN AMAZING
SUCCESS.
AND IT WAS, TECHNICALLY SPEAKING
THEREFORE, THE FIRST TRUE
DICTIONARY OF THE WORD... IN THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE THAT PROVIDED A
LIST MONOLINGUALLY OF ENGLISH
WORDS WITH THE MEANINGS
ALONGSIDE.
AND IT SPAWNED A WHOLE HOST OF
IMITATORS, SO LIKE FALCONER'S
DICTIONARY OF MARINE AND THERE
WERE DICTIONARIES OF FURNITURE
AND DICTIONARIES OF COOKWARE AND
OF FOODSTUFFS, ONE CALLED "A
DICTIONARY OF BEASTS THAT FLY,"
THAT INCLUDED THE NAMES OF ALL
BIRDS AND FLYING INSECTS.
SO BY 1650, 1660, THERE WERE
DOZENS OF SUCH BOOKS, IT WAS A
NEW GENRE OF PUBLISHING WHICH
WAS EXTRAORDINARILY SUCCESSFUL.
AND THE LOGICAL CONCLUSION OR
THE LOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF A
TREND LIKE THAT WOULD BE THAT
SOONER OR LATER, SOMEONE WOULD
PRODUCE A DICTIONARY WHICH
WASN'T SIMPLY A SPECIALIST
DICTIONARY DEVOTED TO HARD WORDS
OR INSECTS OR WHATEVER, BUT
WOULD BE A DICTIONARY OF THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN ITS
ENTIRETY.
IT TOOK RATHER LONGER THAN ONE
MIGHT HAVE EXPECTED, BUT IT DID
EVENTUALLY HAPPEN.
IN 1755, WHEN, WITH THE
ASSISTANCE OF FIVE SCOTSMEN
WORKING IN A GARRET IN FLEET
STREET IN LONDON, THE GREAT
WRITER, PARLIAMENTARY SKETCH
WRITER, JOURNALIST, TRAVELLER,
SAMUEL JOHNSON PRODUCED WHAT WAS
THE FIRST REAL DICTIONARY OF THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN TWO VOLUMES,
PUBLISHED IN 1755 AND IT WENT
INTO HUNDREDS OF EDITIONS.
IT BECAME, FOR WELL OVER A
CENTURY, THE DICTIONARY THAT ANY
MIDDLE-CLASS HOUSEHOLD IN
ENGLAND WOULD HAVE ON ITS
SHELVES, THEY WOULD HAVE THE
BIBLE, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF
SHAKESPEARE,
HYMNS
ANCIENT AND MODERN
AND
THE DICTIONARY AND BY THE
DICTIONARY, THEY MEANT ALWAYS
SAMUEL JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY.
NOW YOU CAN GET FIRST EDITIONS
OF SAMUEL JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY
FOR A GREAT DEAL OF MONEY TODAY
AT ANTIQUARIAN BOOK SHOPS.
YOU CAN GET LATER EDITIONS,
WHICH WENT ON BEING PRINTED
UNTIL WELL INTO THE 1860s FOR A
COUPLE OF HUNDRED BUCKS.
I GOT A FACSIMILE OF THE FIRST
EDITION FOR, I THINK, ABOUT $200
FROM A BOOKSTORE IN CONNECTICUT.
A BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL THING.
THE EXQUISITE LAYOUT, THE
TOPOGRAPHY HE CHOSE, EVERYTHING
THAT JOHNSON DID IN THIS
REMARKABLE BOOK WAS BEAUTIFUL
AND IT... I FIND IT RATHER
TOUCHING TESTIMONY TO THE LOVE
THAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE FOR THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE GENERALLY AND
FOR JOHNSON'S WORK SPECIFICALLY
THAT THE FACSIMILE THAT I
BOUGHT, IN THE 19... I MUST HAVE
GOT IT IN THE 1990s, WAS
PUBLISHED IN 1983 IN, OF ALL
PLACES, BEIRUT, AND I WAS
ACTUALLY WORKING AS A REPORTER
IN BEIRUT IN 1983 AND IT'S
ASTONISHING THOUGHT THAT WHILE
ALL THE BOMBARDMENT AND ALL THAT
NONSENSE OF THE CIVIL WAR WAS
GOING ON ABOVEGROUND, THAT IN
SOME BASEMENT SOMEWHERE, SOME
LEBANESE, WHO WERE INFATUATED
WITH THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND
OVERAWED WITH THE BEAUTY OF
JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY, WERE
STRIVING MIGHTILY WITH PRINTING
PRESSES TO PRODUCE AN EXACT
FACSIMILE OF IT.
BUT HOWEVER BEAUTIFUL JOHNSON'S
DICTIONARY MAY HAVE BEEN, IT
WAS, IN MANY WAYS, WANTING.
JOHNSON WAS A VERY POLITICALLY-
INCLINED MAN AND HIS POLITICAL
VIEWS SPILLED OVER INTO MANY OF
HIS DEFINITIONS.
THE MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE WILL
BE WELL-KNOWN TO MANY OF YOU,
I'M SURE, WHICH IS JOHNSON'S
DEFINITION OF THE WORD 'OATS',
O-A-T-S, WHICH IS DEFINED QUITE
SIMPLY AS A GRAIN COMMONLY GIVEN
TO HORSES, BUT WHICH IN SCOTLAND
FEEDS THE PEOPLE.

[Laughter]

Simon continues I MEAN,
FINE AND AS IT GOES, BUT NOT
EXACTLY THE OBJECTIVE DEFINITION
WITH WHICH YOU'D WANT TO SEND
YOUR CHILD OFF TO SCHOOL IN THE
MORNING.
HIS-HIS DEFINITION OF THE WORD
'NETWORK' IS A CLASSIC, I ALWAYS
HAVE TO READ IT, I'M AFRAID.
"NETWORK.
"ANYTHING RETICULATED OR
DECUSSATED, AT EQUAL DISTANCES
WITH INTESTACIES BETWEEN THE
INTERSECTIONS."

[Laughter]

Simon continues I MEAN,
WHAT ON EARTH DOES THAT MEAN?
BUT I THINK MY FAVOURITE OF ALL
IS HIS DEFINITION OF THE WORD
'ELEPHANT'.
THE CHANNEL TUNNEL HAD NOT BEEN
DUG IN 1755 AND SO I THINK IT'S
A FAIR BET THAT THERE WERE NOT
TOO MANY ELEPHANTS WANDERING
AROUND IN LONDON WHEN JOHNSON
WAS PREPARING HIS DICTIONARY.
I THINK IT'S A PRETTY FAIR BET,
TOO, THAT HE'D NEVER ACTUALLY
SEEN ONE, BUT THIS DIDN'T
PREVENT HIM WRITING A LYRICAL,
400-WORD DEFINITION OF THE WORD
'ELEPHANT', WHICH ENDS WITH A
MAJESTICALLY UNFORGETTABLE
SENTENCE.
HE BEGINS IN COPULATION, CLEARLY
RECOGNISING THE NEED TO GET SEX
INTO THE DEFINITIONS AS TO BRING
IN THE READERS.
IN COPULATION, THE FEMALE
ELEPHANT IS TAKEN BY THE MALE
LYING ON HER BACK.

[Laughter]

Simon continues I DON'T THINK SO.

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND SOMEHOW
THE THOUGHT OF A DELICATE LITTLE
FEMALE ELEPHANT LYING LEGS
AKIMBO ON THE JUNGLE FLOOR WHILE
20 TONS OF TESTOSTERONE-ENGORGED
JUMBO BEARS DOWN ON HER...
SIMPLY NOT WORTH THINKING ABOUT,
BUT HE, HE...

[Laughter]

Simon continues HE WEASELS OUT OF THE IT, AS THE SENTENCE CONTINUES, "BUT SUCH IS
HIS PUDICITY," NOW BY USING THAT
WORD, HE BREACHES A CARDINAL
RULE OF DICTIONARY DEFINITION
WRITING, WHICH IS THAT YOU'RE
NEVER SUPPOSED TO INCLUDE IN THE
DEFINITION ANY WORD MORE COMPLEX
THAN THE WORD YOU'RE DEFINING.

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND I WOULD
VENTURE TO SAY THAT THE WORD
'PUDICITY' IS, MOST OF YOU WILL
AGREE, A MORE COMPLEX WORD THAN
'ELEPHANT'.
DOES ANYONE HERE ACTUALLY...
IT'S A BIT DIFFICULT FOR ME TO
SEE IN THE LIGHTS, BUT DOES
ANYONE KNOW WHAT 'PUDICITY'
MEANS?
SHAME ON YOU.

[Laughter]

Simon continues IT MEANS,
IT COMES FROM THE SAME ROOT AS
'PUDENDUM', THAT OF WHICH WE ARE
ASHAMED.
SO SUCH IS HIS PUDICITY, WHAT
HE'S SAYING IS SO SHY IS THE
ELEPHANT, THAT HE NEVER COVERS
THE FEMALE, SO LONG AS ANYONE
APPEARS IN SIGHT.

[Laughter]

Simon continues IN OTHER
WORDS, JOHNSON MADE THE ENTIRE
THING UP.

[Laughter]

Simon continues BUT IT'S AT
THAT POINT THAT YOU HAVE TO
REMEMBER THAT HE WAS, ABOVE ALL,
A BRITISH JOURNALIST AND WHAT DO
THEY SAY, YOU NEVER HOPE TO
BRIBE OR TWIST THE AVERAGE
BRITISH JOURNALIST, FOR WHEN YOU
SEE WHAT HE WILL DO UNBRIBED,
THERE IS NO REASON TO.

[Laughter]

Simon continues WELL,
JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY CONTAINED
40,000 WORDS.
THAT WAS HIS VIEW OF WHAT WAS
THE TOTALITY OF THE ENGLISH
LANGUAGE.
IN 1828, NOAH WEBSTER, WORKING
IN THIS COUNTRY IN CONNECTICUT,
PRODUCED HIS OWN DICTIONARY FOR
USE ON THIS SIDE OF THE
ATLANTIC, WHICH CONTAINED 70,000
WORDS.
AND UNTIL WELL INTO THE MIDDLE
OF THE 19th CENTURY, THESE TWO
DICTIONARIES WERE, FOR THEIR
RESPECTIVE MARKETS, THE DEFAULT
DICTIONARY.
BUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 19th
CENTURY IN ENGLAND, THERE WAS A
SUDDEN SHIFT, I THINK PARTLY
BECAUSE PEOPLE WERE BEGINNING TO
STUDY IN DETAIL WHAT HAD
HITHERTO BEEN TAKEN FOR GRANTED,
THINGS LIKE CHEMISTRY AND
PHYSICS AND SO FORTH, AND
SUDDENLY THE IDEA OF THE ENGLISH
LANGUAGE BEING AN INVISIBLE,
INCHOATE, INCALCULABLY SIZED
ENTITY SEEMED TO MAKE NO SENSE,
PEOPLE ALL OF A SUDDEN, IN ABOUT
1840, BECAME INTERESTED IN THE
LANGUAGE IN GREAT DETAIL.
HOW BIG IS ENGLISH AND WHAT DO
ALL OF ITS WORDS MEAN AND WHAT
HAVE THEY MEANT OVER THE YEARS?
AND A SOCIETY WAS FOUNDED IN
LONDON, CALLED THE PHILOLOGICAL
SOCIETY OF BRITAIN.
AND THAT WAS COMPOSED OF
EXTREMELY CLEVER MEN, NEARLY ALL
OF THEM, I HAVE TO SAY, MEN, WHO
INVESTIGATED THE ROOTS OF WORDS
AND ETYMOLOGIES AND
PRONUNCIATIONS, EVERYTHING TO DO
WITH THE LANGUAGE IN WHICH
HITHERTO, THEY HAD NOT BEEN
PARTICULARLY INTERESTED.
AND IN ABOUT 1850, THEY SET UP A
COMMITTEE WITH THE EXTREMELY
UNGLAMOROUS NAME OF THE
UNREGISTERED WORDS COMMITTEE.
AND THE PURPOSE OF THE
UNREGISTERED WORDS COMMITTEE WAS
BASED ON THE BELIEF THAT HOWEVER
GOOD JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY WAS
AND HOWEVER GOOD WEBSTER'S
DICTIONARY WAS, THEY PROBABLY
DIDN'T CONTAIN THE TOTALITY OF
THE LANGUAGE THAT THEY BRAGGED
THEMSELVES TO DO.
PROBABLY, POSSIBLY, THERE WAS
JUST A FEELING IN THE AIR THAT
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WAS LARGER
THAN THAT.
SO THE UNREGISTERED WORDS
COMMITTEE WAS SET UP
DELIBERATELY TO TRAWL A BIG
SWEEP NET THROUGH THE LANGUAGE,
TO FIND WORDS THAT EXISTED BUT
DID NOT APPEAR IN JOHNSON AND
DID NOT APPEAR IN WEBSTER.
AND ON THE 5th OF NOVEMBER,
1857, IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT ONE
OF THE HOLY TRINITY THAT RAN THE
UNREGISTERED WORDS COMMITTEE,
THEY WERE PEOPLE CALLED HERBERT
COLERIDGE, FREDERIC FURNIVALL
AND THE MAGNIFICENTLY-NAMED
RICHARD CHENEVIX TRENCH, THERE
WERE LOTS OF PEOPLE WITH
WONDERFUL NAMES IN THIS STORY, I
THINK MY FAVOURITE IS A MAN
CALLED HARRAWOOD THIMBLEBY
PRICE.
BUT IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT
RICHARD CHENEVIX TRENCH, WHO WAS
A DIVINE, THERE WERE A LOT OF
DIVINES IN THE STORY, AS WELL,
HE WAS AT THE TIME DEAN OF
WESTMINSTER, JUST ABOUT TO BE
APPOINTED ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN,
WOULD MAKE AN ADDRESS TO THE
PHILOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON
ON A REPORT OF THE UNREGISTERED
WORDS COMMITTEE.
HOW MANY WORDS HAVE WE FOUND
THAT ARE NOT IN EITHER JOHNSON
OR WEBSTER?
BUT AS THE MEMBERS WERE FILING
IN THAT THURSDAY EVENING, GUY
FAWKES' DAY, 1857, THEY NOTICED
TO THEIR SURPRISE THAT AT THE
LAST MINUTE, CHENEVIX TRENCH HAD
CHANGED THE TITLE OF HIS ADDRESS
AND INSTEAD OF BEING A REPORT OF
THE UNREGISTERED WORDS
COMMITTEE, IT WOULD BE A
DISCUSSION, A PAPER, ENTITLED
"ON SOME DEFICIENCIES IN OUR
ENGLISH DICTIONARIES."
AND HE STOOD UP BEFORE THE
MEMBERS AND IN MUCH MORE ELEGANT
AND ELOQUENT TERMS THAN I'VE
BEEN ABLE TO MUSTER, HE
ESSENTIALLY SAID WHAT I'VE JUST
SAID TO YOU, THAT SUCH
DICTIONARIES AS EXISTED WERE
WANTING.
EITHER THEY WERE TOO SMALL,
SIMPLY DIDN'T CONTAIN THE
TOTALITY OF THE LANGUAGE, OR THE
DEFINITIONS IN THEM WERE PLAIN
WRONG, AS WITH 'ELEPHANT', OR
THEY WERE INCOMPREHENSIBLY
COMPLICATED, AS WITH 'NETWORK',
OR, AS WITH 'RETREAT' OR AS WITH
'OATS', THEY WERE POLITICALLY
BIASED.
SO, WHAT WE MUST DO, HE SAID, OR
DO YOU NOT AGREE, GENTLEMEN,
THEY WERE ALL GENTLEMEN... WELL,
I DON'T KNOW IF THEY ALL
GENTLEMEN, THEY WERE ALL MEN IN
THAT ROOM THAT NIGHT.
WOULD YOU NOT AGREE THAT THE
TIME HAS COME FOR US TO CREATE A
NEW DICTIONARY THAT ENCOMPASSES
ALL OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,
EVERY WORD THAT HAS EVER
EXISTED, EVERY SENSE, EVERY
SPELLING, EVERY MEANING, WITH
EACH ONE GIVEN A FULL AND
COMPREHENSIVE AND ABSOLUTELY
RIGHT ETYMOLOGY AND, MOREOVER,
DEFINITIONS THAT ARE TOTALLY
ACCURATE AND ARE NOT BIASED AND
NOT COMPLICATED AND ARE NOT
WRONG.
AND HE REALLY FIRED THEM UP,
BECAUSE AS THEY WENT OUT INTO
THE GLOOM THAT NIGHT, THEY WERE
SAYING, JOLLY GOOD IDEA, CAPITAL
SCHEME, YES.
AND HE SAID, WELL, IF YOU AGREE
WITH ME AND IF YOU PASS A
RESOLUTION SAYING THAT THE
PHILOLOGICAL SOCIETY SHOULD
PRODUCE SUCH A DICTIONARY, WHICH
THEY DID, COME BACK NEXT
THURSDAY AND I'LL TELL YOU
EXACTLY HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE.
AND THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED, THE
FOLLOWING THURSDAY, THE 12th OF
NOVEMBER, 1857, A HUGE CROWD
ATTENDED IN THE LONDON LIBRARY
BUILDING THAT STILL EXISTS,
PRIVATE LIBRARY IN THE NORTHWEST
CORNER OF St. JAMES' SQUARE, TO
HEAR CHENEVIX TRENCH EXPLAIN HOW
IT SHOULD BE DONE.
FIRST OF ALL, HEAID, WHAT WE
ARE NOT GOING TO DO IS PRODUCE A
DICTIONARY THAT PRESCRIBES HOW
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND ITS
WORDS SHOULD BE USED.
THIS IS NOT OUR BUSINESS.
THE FRENCH DO THIS, THE ITALIANS
DO THIS, THEY SEEK TO PRESERVE
THE PURITY OF THEIR TONGUES.
THEY HAVE... AS THEY STILL HAVE
TODAY, THE FRENCH, THEIR
COMMITTEE THAT 40 IMMORTALS
WHICH PREVENTS BARBARISMS LIKE
'LE SANDWICH' AND 'LE WEEKEND'
AND 'LE NIGHTCLUB' FROM
INFECTING THE PURITY OF THE
FRENCH LANGUAGE.
WE, CHENEVIX TRENCH SAID, WE
DON'T CARE, WE ARE A MONGREL
LANGUAGE.
WE'RE PROUD OF IT, WE'RE NOT A
HOME-GROWN LANGUAGE WITH ANY
KIND OF LINGUISTIC PURITY, WE
BEGAN WITH THE CELTS FROM THE
DANUBE, WE WERE THEN INVADED BY
THE ROMANS, WHO LEFT A
TREMENDOUS LINGUISTIC LEGACY,
THEN THE ROMANS WENT, AFTER 300
OR 400 YEARS, TO BE REPLACED BY
THE JUTES AND THE DANES AND THE
FRIESIANS AND THE SAXONS AND THE
ANGLES, EACH OF WHOM LEFT THEIR
ONLY LITTLE LINGUISTIC
FOOTPRINTS ON OUR TONGUE, THEN,
IN 1066, THE NORMAN FRENCH CAME,
THEY HAD A HUGE INFLUENCE AND
THEN WE STARTED HAVING THE
CONFIDENCE TO GO ABROAD EITHER
INITIALLY AS EXPLORERS AND THEN
LATER AS IMPERIALISTS AND
BROUGHT BACK WORDS TO INCREASE
THIS AMASSMENT THAT IS THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE, SO WE DO NOT
MIND, WE ARE AN IMPURE LANGUAGE.
AND IF, HE DIDN'T USE THIS
EXAMPLE, IF KETCHUP COMES FROM
CANTONESE AND IF AMOK COMES FROM
MALAY AND IF BERSERK COMES FROM
ICELANDIC, SO BE IT.
WE'RE PROUD OF OUR LANGUAGE
BEING A MONGREL TONGUE.
SO WE'RE NOT GOING TO PRESCRIBE
HOW IT SHOULD BE USED.
WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO IS,
INSTEAD, WE'RE GOING TO ODUCE
A CTIONARY THAT DESCRIBES HOW
IT IS USED.
WE ARE SIMPLY GOING TO RECORD
HOW, OVER THE CENTURIES, ENGLISH
WORDS HAVE BEEN USED BY PEOPLE.
BUT TO DO THIS, WE SET OURSELVES
AN ENORMOUS TA, BECAUSE TO
DESCRIBE HOW EVERY WORD HAS EVER
BEEN USED AND FROM THE USES,
DERIVE DEFINITIONS, BECAUSE USE
DETERMINES MEANING, THIS IS THE
BASIC PRINCIPLE OF THIS
DICTIONARY, WE WILL HAVE TO GO
OUT AND READ EVERYTHING THAT HAS
EVER BEEN WRITTEN.
AND THERE WAS A SORT OF NERVOUS
LAUGHTER.

[Laughter]

Simon continues SUDDENLY
THE TASK THAT THEY HAD SET
THEMSELVES THE WEEK BEFORE
SEEMED SOMEWHAT MORE
COMPLICATED.
BUT HE SAID, DON'T WORRY, 'CAUSE
I'M NOT SUGGESTING THAT YOU 250
PEOPLE SEATED HERE IN FRONT OF
ME PRODUCE THIS DICTIONARY ON
YOUR OWN, I'M NOT GOING TO ASK
YOU TO READ EVERYTHING THAT'S
EVER BEEN WRITTEN.
THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE A
DICTIONARY THAT'S PRODUCED BY A
COMMITTEE.
AND I SHOULD SAY PARENTHETICALLY
THAT DICTIONARIES THAT ARE
PRODUCED BY COMMITTEES ARE OFTEN
THEMSELVES WANTING, A DICTIONARY
SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE BEEN
INCAUTIOUS OR UNLUCKY ENOUGH TO
HAVE BOUGHT IN RECENT YEARS...
FALLS INTO THAT CATEGORY, WHICH
IS THE ENCARTA DICTIONARY,
PRODUCED BY THE MICROSOFT
CORPORATION.
THEY TRUMPETED, IN THEIR
MARKETING LITERATURE, A
DICTIONARY PRODUCED BY 341 OF
THE WORLD'S MOST HIGHLY SKILLED
LEXICOGRAPHERS.
WELL, THEY PRODUCED A DICTIONARY
WHICH HAS, AMONG OTHER THINGS,
THE LEAD DEFINITION OF THE WORD
'MADONNA' IS A SINGER BORN IN
DETROIT IN 1966.

Simon says WHICH IS AN
ILLUSTRATED DICTIONARY, WHICH
HAS NO ILLUSTRATION OF EITHER
MUHAMMAD OR JESUS CHRIST, BUT
DOES, NONETHELESS, HAVE A FULL
PAGE ILLUSTRATION OF BILL GATES.
THIS IS THE KIND OF PROBLEM...
CHENEVIX TRENCH, I'M SO GLAD HE
DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT.
BUT HE SAID, WHAT WE ARE GOING
TO DO IS WE'RE GOING TO INVITE
THE HELP OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING
AND -READING PEOPLE AROUND THE
WORLD, THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE
ASSEMBLED, IN PART, BY AN
ENORMOUS, WORLD-WIDE ARMY OF
VOLUNTEERS.
THIS IS GOING TO BE THE KEY TO
IT.
SO WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO, IF I
HAVE YOUR AGREEMENT THAT WE'RE
GOING TO PRODUCE SUCH A
DICTIONARY, IS THAT WE'RE GOING
TO SEND OUT INVITATIONS, WE'RE
GOING TO SEND THESE INVITATIONS
TO EVERY LIBRARY, EVERY SCHOOL,
EVERY UNIVERSITY, EVERY BOOK
SHOP THAT WE CAN IDENTIFY
THROUGHOUT THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING
WORLD AND BY THAT HE MEANT NOT
ONLY ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, WALES
AND IRELAND, BUT OBVIOUSLY
CANADA, THE UNITED STATES, SOUTH
AFRICA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND,
INDIA, EVERYWHERE WHERE ENGLISH
IS SPOKEN OR READ WITH ANY
DEGREE OF ENTHUSIASM, PEOPLE
WILL BE INVITED TO CONTRIBUTE
WORDS.
AND THE POINT IS, THE WAY THEY
DO IT, THEY WAY THEY WILL BE
ASKED AND INSTRUCTED TO DO IT,
IS TO READ VORACIOUSLY AND
WHENEVER THEY SEE A WORD,
WHETHER IT'S A PREPOSITION OR A
SESQUIPEDALIAN MONSTER, THEY ARE
TO... IF IT INTERESTS THEM AND
IF WHERE THEY READ IT, THEY SEE
IT IN A SENTENCE THAT
ILLUSTRATES THE WAY THAT THAT
WORD IS USED, OFFERS THE MEANING
OF THE DAY TO THAT WORD, THEN
THEY ARE TO WRITE IT ON A SLIP
OF PAPER AND I BROUGHT AND I
HOPE YOU'LL COME UP HERE
AFTERWARDS AND HAVE A LOOK AT
THEM, I BROUGHT A NUMBER OF
THESE SLIPS WITH ME, SO THERE'S
GOING TO BE A SMALL AMOUNT OF
SHOW AND TELL HERE.
THE SLIPS, SLIGHTLY EXPANDED,
LAMINATED, BUT THEY'RE
ESSENTIALLY ABOUT EIGHT INCHES
BY FIVE INCHES.
THEY TRIED TO HAVE A UNIFORM
SIZE TO THEM.
THE TOP LEFT-HAND SIDE, YOU
WRITE THE WORD, THE CHOSEN WORD,
THE CATCH WORD, WHICH IN THIS
CASE IS 'TWILIGHT'.
THEN THE QUOTATION, THE
QUOTATION ILLUSTRATES THE
MEANING OF THAT WORD.
AND UNDERNEATH IT, THE CITATION,
WHERE IT CAME FROM, WHETHER IT
WAS PRINTED OR WHETHER IT WAS IN
MANUSCRIPT, BECAUSE OF COURSE,
SOME OF THESE QUOTATIONS ARE
VERY ANCIENT.
AND THEN THE REFERENCE, THE
VOLUME NUMBER, THE PAGE AND SO
ON AND SO FORTH AND SEND THESE
SLIPS OF PAPER, THESE SLIPS ARE
THE KEY TO THE MAKING OF THIS
DICTIONARY, IN TO THE
HEADQUARTERS OF THE DICTIONARY.
GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE OF THE KIND
OF THING THEY WERE LOOKING FOR,
CONSIDER THE WORD 'DOG'.
IN ENGLAND IN THE SEVENTH AND
EIGHTH CENTURIES, THERE WERE
LOTS OF THESE CREATURES, WITH A
BARKING HEAD AT ONE END AND A
WAGGING, ONE HOPES, TAIL AT THE
OTHER, BUT THEY WERE CALLED
'HOUNDS'.
LOTS OF PEOPLE OWNED HOUNDS AS
PETS.
HOWEVER, IN ABOUT 1810 A.D., A
DUTCH TRADER FROM ROTTERDAM
ARRIVED IN LONDON, WITH, ON HIS
BOAT, A NUMBER OF EXTREMELY
AMIABLE-LOOKING, PRETTY,
ATTRACTIVE, WELL-BEHAVED HOUNDS,
WHICH HE OFFERED FOR SALE.
BUT HE SAID, THESE ARE NOT
HOUNDS, THESE ARE NAMED AFTER AN
OLD DUTCH WORD, 'DOGS', SO DO
YOU WANT TO BUY MY DOGS?
AND PEOPLE BOUGHT THEM... I WAS
GOING TO SAY LIKE HOT CAKES,
LIKE HOT DOGS, I SUPPOSE ONE
WOULD SAY, AND BEFORE LONG,
WITHIN 10 YEARS, CERTAINLY IN
FASHIONABLE LONDON, THE DOG HAD
TAKEN OVER AS THE PET OF CHOICE
FOR PEOPLE WHO HAD HITHERTO HAD
HOUNDS.
WITH THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF
THIS WORD IN WRITTEN ENGLISH AND
TO GET INTO THE DICTIONARY, IT
WAS DETERMINED THAT WORDS HAD TO
APPEAR IN WRITTEN FORM, WAS IN,
I THINK 834 A.D. WHEN THERE WAS
A REFERENCE TO A BEAUTIFUL-
LOOKING FOUR-LEGGED ANIMAL WITH
A WAGGING TAIL CALLED A DOGGE,
D-O-G-G-E.
WELL, THAT PIECE OF WRITING, AND
IT WAS OBVIOUSLY A MANUSCRIPT,
BECAUSE 834 WAS MORE THAN SIX
CENTURIES BEFORE THE INVENTION
OF PRINTING, THAT PIECE OF PAPER
HAD TO BE FOUND.
THEN, IN ABOUT 1110, I THINK IT
WAS, ANOTHER PIECE OF MANUSCRIPT
WAS DISCOVERED, WITH THE SAME
WORD, MEANING THE SAME THING,
BUT THIS TIME SPELLED D-O-G-G-,
IN OTHER WORDS, THE LAST 'E' HAD
DISAPPEARED.
AND THEN IN CHAUCER, THE WORD
ADOPTS ITS PRESENT-DAY MEANING,
D-O-G.
BUT AT THIS TIME, IT CEASES TO
MEAN ONLY AN ANIMAL.
IT BECOMES ALL SORTS OF OTHER
THINGS, IT BECOMES A VERB, ONE
DOGS SOMEONE.
IT BECOMES AN ADJECTIVE, YOU'RE
DOG WEARY, THERE'S A DOG ROSE,
THERE'S THE DOG STAR.
AND IF FAST FORWARD AND FAR
BEYOND WHAT CHENEVIX TRENCH WAS
TALKING ABOUT THAT NIGHT, TO THE
1920s, THERE WAS PROBABLY GOING
TO BE FOUND, IN A PRINTED
SOURCE, A REFERENCE BY SOMEONE
LIKE MICKEY SPILLANE, YOU KNOW,
BUY A GLASS OF WHISKEY FOR THAT
DOG SITTING AT THE END OF THE
BAR.
AND HE DIDN'T MEAN A POODLE OR
AN ALSATIAN, HE MEANT SOMETHING
ELSE WHICH, HOWEVER OFFENSIVE IT
MAY SEEM, IS NONETHELESS PART OF
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
SO THIS WAS THE KIND OF TASK
THAT THE VOLUNTEERS WERE GOING
TO BE SET.
SO THE FIRST THING THAT HAD TO
BE DONE WAS AN EDITOR HAD TO BE
APPOINTED.
AND THE FIRST EDITOR THEY CHOSE
WAS ONE OF THIS HOLY TRINITY OF
THE UNREGISTERED WORDS
COMMITTEE, A 29-YEAR-OLD HERBERT
COLERIDGE, WHO WAS THE GRANDSON
OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, THE
POET.
AN INCREDIBLY INTELLIGENT MAN,
DEEPLY INTERESTED IN THE ARCANE
BYWAYS OF LEXICOGRAPHY AND HE
SET OUT THE STRUCTURE FOR THE
DICTIONARY, HE PRINTED UP AND
SENT OUT THOUSANDS OF BROCHURES,
ALL OVER THE WORLD AND AS A
RESPONSE, PEOPLE WERE AMAZINGLY
ENTHUSIASTIC, BECAUSE THEY
REALISED THAT BY DOING THIS, BY
BEING INVITED TO PARTICIPATE, IT
WAS AS IF THE DICTIONARY EDITORS
WERE ALLOWING THE PEOPLE TO HOLD
A VAST SORT OF MIRROR UP TO
THEMSELVES AND SPEAK INTO IT AND
SAY, THIS IS OUR LANGUAGE.
IT WAS A VERY DEMOCRATIC
PROCESS, THE MAKING OF THIS
DICTIONARY AND THEY RESPONDED
WITH HUGE ENTHUSIASM.
FAR GREATER ENTHUSIASM THAN
ANYONE IN THE HEADQUARTERS,
WHICH WAS IN A TERRACE HOUSE OFF
REGENT'S PARK IN OXFORD, COULD
HAVE POSSIBLY HAVE ANTICIPATED,
HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS OF
THOUSANDS OF THESE SLIPS OF
PAPERS, ALL BEARING DIFFERENT
WORDS, MOSTLY, SOME OBVIOUSLY
DUPLICATED, STARTED FLOWING IN.
COLERIDGE THOUGHT, I'D BETTER
BUILD... BECAUSE WE HAVE TO SORT
THEM ALPHABETICALLY, AND THEN BY
SENSE AND THEN BY DATE, ALL
MANNER OF SORTING HAD TO GO
ON... I'LL BUILD, IN WOOD,
BECAUSE HE WAS AN AMATEUR
CARPENTER, A SET OF PIGEONHOLES.
AND THOSE PIGEONHOLES THAT
COLERIDGE BUILT STILL EXIST IN A
MUSEUM IN OXFORD.
THEY ARE NINE PIGEONHOLES
LENGTH-WISE AND SIX PIGEONHOLES
DEEP, 54 PIGEONHOLES.
THAT, HE THOUGHT, SHOULD
ACCOMMODATE THE ENTIRETY OF THE
SLIPS THAT WERE FLOODING IN.
HE ALSO THOUGHT THE ENTIRE TASK
WOULD TAKE 10 YEARS AND THAT THE
RESULTING BOOK MIGHT FILL FOUR
VOLUMES.
WELL, HE UNDERESTIMATED THE TASK
WOEFULLY AND THE TASK CAUGHT UP
WITH HIM VERY, VERY QUICKLY,
BECAUSE JUST ABOUT A YEAR AFTER
HE BEGAN WORK, COMING HOME FROM
A MEETING OF THE PHILOLOGICAL
SOCIETY IN THE RAIN, HE CAUGHT A
COLD AND PROMPTLY DIED.
SAYING APPARENTLY ON HIS
DEATHBED, I MUST BEGIN SANSKRIT
TOMORROW.
WELL, HOWEVER SAD HIS DEATH WAS,
THE PROCESS HAD NOW BEGUN, THE
SLIPS WERE THERE.
AND SO ANOTHER EDITOR HAD TO BE
APPOINTED AND THE UNREGISTERED
WORDS COMMITTEE HAD ONE
SURVIVING MEMBER OF THE TRINITY,
BECAUSE CHENEVIX TRENCH HAD NOW
BECOME ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN.
AND THE ONLY SURVIVING MEMBER OF
THE UWC WAS FREDERIC FURNIVALL.
NOW FURNIVALL, WHO I THINK IS MY
FAVOURITE CHARACTER OF ALL IN
THE STORY, WAS INTELLECTUALLY,
ASTONISHING VIBRANT AND
ENERGETIC A MAN, HE WAS
INTERESTED IN EVERYTHING, HE WAS
VERY KEEN ON EDUCATING THE
ENGLISH WORKING CLASSES, HE, HE
PRODUCED INEXPENSIVE PAMPHLETS
ON ALL SORTS OF ARCANE SUBJECTS
AT AFFORDABLE PRICES, SO THAT
THE WORKING MAN COULD LEARN
THINGS, HE HAD ENTHUSIASMS FOR
ALL MANNER OF GREAT LITERARY
FIGURES, HE HAD A PECULIAR SET
OF FRIENDS, ONE OF HIS MOST
INTERESTING FRIENDS WAS A POET
CALLED ARTHUR MUMBY, WHO SOME OF
YOU MAY KNOW OF, HE HAD A
FASCINATION FOR PHYSICALLY VERY,
VERY DIRTY WOMEN, I DON'T MEAN
WOMEN WITH DIRTY MINDS, BUT HE
LOVED WOMEN WHO WERE COVERED
WITH FILTH AND HE USED TO... HE
MARRIED A WOMAN WHO APPARENTLY
WAS ENTIRELY IN SYMPATHY WITH
THIS EXTRAORDINARY VIEW AND HE
ASKED HER AND SHE READILY AGREED
TO CLEAN THE CHIMNEY NAKED EVERY
DAY AND SHE WOULD COME DOWN
COVERED WITH SOOT, WHEREUPON
THEY WOULD RETIRE TO THE
BEDROOM.
SO HE HAD INTERESTING FRIENDS
AND HE WAS ALSO FASCINATED BY
THE SPORT OF SCULLING, IN FACT,
THE FURNIVALL ROWING CLUB STILL
EXISTS IN LONDON AND HE COMBINED
HIS INTEREST IN SCULLING WITH A
FASCINATION WITH YOUNG WOMEN AND
HE WOULD GO TO THE ABCT SHOPS IN
WEST LONDON TO RECRUIT MUSCULAR,
WELL-PROPORTIONED YOUNG WOMEN TO
GO SCULLING WITH HIM AND THERE
ARE THESE WONDERFUL PHOTOGRAPHS
OF FURNIVALL WITH AN EXPRESSION
OF SORT OF GOATISH CONTENTMENT
ON HIS FACE, SURROUNDED BY A
GROUP OF THESE EXTREMELY WELL-
PROPORTIONED AND EVIDENTLY VERY,
VERY COLD YOUNG WOMEN, STANDING
IN WET, CLOSE-FITTING ROWING
SHIRTS.
WELL, THE PROBLEM WAS THAT THESE
KIND OF VARIEGATED INTERESTS
MADE HIM DROP THE BALL, SO FAR
AS THE ORGANISATION OF THE
DICTIONARY WAS CONCERNED,
BECAUSE THE DICTIONARY IS, ABOVE
ALL, SOMETHING THAT HAD TO BE
ORGANISED AND HE COMMITTED THE
CARDINAL SIN OF HE STARTED TO
LOSE THE SLIPS.
AND THESE SLIPS OF PAPER, OF
WHICH, BY NOW, THERE WERE NEARLY
SIX TONS OF SLIPS, STARTED
DRIFTING AWAY OUT OF HIS
CONTROL, SUCH THAT, FOR
INSTANCE, ALL THE 'H' SLIPS
TURNED UP IN A VILLA OUTSIDE
FLORENCE IN ITALY.
ALL THE 'O' SLIPS WERE HELD
HOSTAGE BY SOME EXTRAORDINARILY
REBARBATIVE LAWYER CALLED Mr.
CRANE WHO LIVED IN CLAPHAM IN
SOUTH LONDON AND HE REFUSED TO
GIVE THEM UP AND SAID THAT IF
ANYONE TRIED TO GET THEM OUT OF
HIS COLD, DEAD HANDS, HE WOULD
SET FIRE TO THEM.
AND THEN ALL THE 'PA' SLIPS,
WHICH MAY NOT SOUND TERRIBLY
SIGNIFICANT, UNTIL YOU LOOK AT
THE COMPLETED DICTIONARY AND SEE
THAT WORDS THAT BEGIN WITH THE
LETTERS 'PA', YOU KNOW,
PARADISE, PARAGON, PARASOL,
OCCUPY 352 PAGES OF THE
COMPLETED DICTIONARY, SO THERE
WERE AN AWFUL LOT OF THEM.
ALL THOSE SLIPS WERE FOUND
NEATLY FOLDED UP TO BE USED AS
SPILLS TO LIGHT THE FIRES IN A
COUNTRY HOUSE IN COUNTY CAVAN IN
THE SOUTH OF IRELAND.
SO CLEARLY, SAID THE
PHILOLOGICAL SOCIETY, FURNIVALL,
DESPITE HIS GREAT TALENTS, AS A
LEXICOGRAPHER, HAD TO GO.
AND IN HIS PLACE, THEY TURNED
EVENTUALLY AND BY THIS TIME,
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS HAD
BECOME PART OF THE ORGANISATION
AND SO THEY HAD A SAY IN THIS
PROJECT, A PROJECT WHICH HADN'T
EVEN REALLY GOTTEN OFF THE
GROUND, THERE WAS NOTHING MUCH
TO SHOW FOR IT.
THEY DECIDED THAT THEY HAD TO
TURN TO SOMEONE ELSE'S EDITOR
AND THEY TURNED, SOMEWHAT
RELUCTANTLY, TO THE MAN WHO IS
MOST CLOSELY IDENTIFIED WITH THE
DICTIONARY AND THAT'S THE
SCOTSMAN, JAMES MURRAY.
NOW JAMES MURRAY, WHO IS THIS
BEARDED FIGURE WHO APPEARS ON
THE JACKET OF THE BOOK, HAD A
VERY UNPROMISING BEGINNING, HE
WAS THE SON OF A DRAPER FROM
TEVIOTDALE IN, IN SOUTH CENTRAL
SCOTLAND, HE... THEY WERE VERY
POOR, HE LEFT SCHOOL AT 14, HE
MARRIED, HIS WIFE DIED IN
CHILDBIRTH, HE WENT TO LONDON,
HE WORKED MISERABLY IN THE
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE
DEPARTMENT OF A BANK, THE
STANDARD CHARTER BANK IN CENTRAL
LONDON, HE MARRIED AGAIN AND ALL
THE TIME, HE HAD THIS VORACIOUS
APPETITE FOR LEARNING, LEARNING
ALMOST ANYTHING, BUT
PARTICULARLY LEARNING LANGUAGE.
AND LET ME READ YOU A LETTER OF
APPLICATION WHICH HE SENT TO THE
BRITISH MUSEUM, HE WAS VERY
FRUSTRATED IN HIS JOB IN THE
BANK AND THERE WAS AN ASSISTANT
KEEPER'S JOB ON OFFER.
IF ANY OF YOU ARE ANYTHING TO DO
WITH HUMAN RESOURCES AND GOT A
LETTER LIKE THIS, I THINK IT
WOULD MAKE YOU SHAKE IN YOUR
BOOTS.
"I HAVE TO STATE," AND HE WAS 30
YEARS OLD, I THINK, "I HAVE TO
STATE THAT PHILOLOGY, BOTH
COMPARATIVE AND SPECIAL, HAS
BEEN MY FAVOURITE PURSUIT DURING
THE WHOLE OF MY LIFE AND THAT I
POSSESS A GENERAL ACQUAINTANCE
WITH THE LANGUAGES AND
LITERATURE OF THE ARYAN AND
CYRO-ARABIC CLASSES.
"NOT, INDEED, TO SAY THAT I'M
FAMILIAR WITH ALL OR NEARLY ALL
OF THESE, BUT THAT I POSSESS
THAT GENERAL LEXICAL AND
STRUCTURAL KNOWLEDGE WHICH MAKES
THE INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE ONLY A
MATTER OF A LITTLE APPLICATION.
"WITH SEVERAL I HAVE A MORE
INTIMATE ACQUAINTANCE, AS WITH
THE ROMANCE TONGUES, ITALIAN,
FRENCH, CATALAN, SPANISH, LATIN
AND, TO A LESSER DEGREE,
PORTUGUESE, VAUDOIS, PROVENCAL
AND THEIR VARIOUS DIALECTS.
"IN THE TEUTONIC BRANCH, I AM
TOLERABLY FAMILIAR WITH DUTCH,
HAVING AT MY PLACE OF BUSINESS
CORRESPONDENCE TO READ IN DUTCH,
GERMAN, FRENCH AND OCCASIONALLY
OTHER LANGUAGES AND I SPEAK GOOD
FLEMISH, GERMAN AND DANISH.
"IN ANGLO-SAXON AND MOESO-GOTHIC
MY STUDIES HAVE BEEN MUCH
CLOSER, MY HAVING PREPARED SOME
WORKS FOR PUBLICATION UPON THESE
LANGUAGES.
"I KNOW A LITTLE OF THE CELTIC
AND AM AT PRESENT ENGAGED WITH
THE SLAVONIC, HAVING OBTAINED A
USEFUL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RUSSIAN.
"IN THE PERSIAN, ACHAEMENIAN
CUNEIFORM AND SANSKRIT BRANCHES,
THESE I KNOW FOR THE PURPOSES OF
COMPARATIVE PHILOLOGY.
"I HAVE SUFFICIENT KNOWLEDGE OF
HEBREW AND SYRIAC TO READ AT
SIGHT THE OLD TESTAMENT AND
PESHITO, OH, TO A LESSER DEGREE,
I KNOW ARAMAIC ARABIC, COPTIC
AND PHOENICIAN, THOUGH THIS ONLY
TO THE POINT WHERE IT WAS LEFT
BY GENESIUS."

Simon says HE DIDN'T
ACTUALLY GET THE JOB.

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND FOR
YEARS HE BLAMED HIS SHORTCOMINGS
IN PHOENICIAN FOR THIS.

[Laughter]

Simon continues BUT HE WAS
A MEMBER OF THE PHILOLOGICAL
SOCIETY AND HE WAS WELL AWARE OF
FURNIVALL'S PROBLEMS AND HE SAID
ONE DAY, ALMOST AS AN ASIDE, I
WISH I COULD HAVE A GO AT IT.
AND EVENTUALLY, AFTER OXFORD
UNIVERSITY PRESS CONSIDERED FOUR
OR FIVE OTHER, MUCH MORE
EMINENTLY QUALIFIED CONTENDERS
FOR THE JOB, THEY TURNED TO
MURRAY, THEY SET HIM ALL SORTS
OF DIFFICULT TASKS, THEY MADE
HIM... AND THIS IS THE DELEGATES
OF THE PRESS, INCREDIBLY CLEVER
MEN MEETING IN A ROOM IN
CHRISTCHURCH COLLEGE, OXFORD.
THEY MADE HIM DEFINE THE WORDS
'ARROW', 'CASTLE', 'PERUSE' AND
HE DID BRILLIANTLY WITH ALL OF
THEM AND EVENTUALLY THEY SAID,
ALL RIGHT, YOU CAN HAVE THE JOB.
AND SO HE TOOK OVER AND
IMMEDIATELY BEGAN THE TASK OF
FINDING THESE SLIPS, THESE SIX
TONS OF SLIPS, OF WHICH MOST,
THANKS TO FURNIVALL, WERE
MISSING.
AND SO EVENTUALLY HE GOT THEM
BACK, HE PRISED THEM OUT OF THE
HANDS OF Mr. CRANE, HE GOT MOST
OF THEM AWAY FROM THE HOUSE IN
COUNTY CAVAN, HE GOT THE 'H'
SLIPS BACK FROM, BACK FROM
FLORENCE AND BY NOW, HE WAS A
TEACHER, HE WAS WORKING QUITE
HAPPILY, IT HAS TO BE SAID, IN
MILL HILL SCHOOL AS A MASTER OF
ENGLISH.
HE WAS MARRIED TO ADA, ADA WAS A
REMARKABLE WOMAN AND THEY HAD
PRODUCED BY THIS TIME SIX OF
WHAT WOULD EVENTUALLY BE 11
CHILDREN, SO HE WAS BUSY BOTH IN
THE BEDROOM AND IN HIS
LEXICOGRAPHICAL STUDY.
SHE, WHEN SHE SAW THESE PILES OF
SLIPS ARRIVING ON THE FRONT DOOR
OF THE HOUSE, SAID, I'M SORRY,
JAMES, I'M NOT HAVING ANY OF
THESE SLIPS IN MY HOUSE.
THEY'VE GOT TO GO SOMEWHERE
ELSE.
AND SO SHE LOOKED IN A GARDENING
CATALOGUE AND FOUND, FOR 150
POUNDS, A GALVANISED TIN SHED.
THE KIND OF THING YOU KEEP
LAWNMOWERS AND ROLLERS AND
THINGS IN AND SO SHE SAID,
THAT'S WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO
WORK.
AND SHE HAD IT ERECTED IN THE
BACK GARDEN, OUT OF SIGHT,
BECAUSE IT WAS INCREDIBLY UGLY,
MURRAY NAMED IT 'THE
SCRIPTORIUM'.
THE SCRIPTORIUM WAS THE ROOM IN
WHICH THE MONKS WOULD ILLUMINATE
THEIR MANUSCRIPTS.
AND HE BUILD 10,000 PIGEONHOLES
INSIDE IT, REMEMBER, COLERIDGE
HAD BUILT 54, FURNIVALL HAD
BUILT 1,092, SO HE WAS
REASONABLY AWARE OF THE SIZE OF
THE PROJECT AHEAD OF HIM, BUT
MURRAY REALISED IT WAS EVEN
BIGGER STILL AND EQUIPPED THIS
UGLY LITTLE BUILDING WITH 10,000
PIGEONHOLES, MOVED THE SLIPS IN,
PERSUADED SUCH CHILDREN AS WERE
OLD ENOUGH TO READ TO DO THE
CRUDE ALPHABETISATION OF THE
SLIPS, HE PAID THEM SIXPENCE A
WEEK, EVENTUALLY THEY ALL BECAME
BRILLIANT AT CROSSWORD PUZZLES.

[Laughter]

Simon continues HE HIRED
HIS FIRST ASSISTANT, WHO WAS A
MAN CALLED SIDNEY HERRTAGE, WHO
WAS BRILLIANT, BUT HAD TO BE
FIRED, BECAUSE IT TURNED OUT
THAT HE WAS A KLEPTOMANIAC,
THERE WERE LOTS OF MANIACS
INVOLVED IN THIS STORY, AS WELL.

[Laughter]

Simon continues AND VERY,
VERY SLOWLY, PAINFULLY SLOWLY,
THEY PRODUCED THE FIRST PART OF
THE DICTIONARY.
OXFORD DECIDED THAT IT COULDN'T
AFFORD TO WAIT FOR WHOLE VOLUMES
TO BE PRODUCED AND IT ALLOWED
MURRAY TO PRODUCE THEM IN WHAT
THEY CALLED 'FASCICLES', 356
PAGE PAPER-BACKED PARTS, WHICH
FOUR OR FIVE OF THEM TOGETHER
WOULD BE BOUND TO MAKE ONE
VOLUME.
AND ON JANUARY 1st, 1884, THE
FIRST OF THE FASCICLES OF WHAT
WAS TO BECOME THE OXFORD ENGLISH
DICTIONARY CAME OUT AND IT WAS
THE VOLUME OF 'A' TO 'ANT', IT
INCLUDED ALL THE WORDS FROM THE
LETTER 'A' TO THE WORD 'ANT' AND
THERE WERE 8,350 OF THEM.
AND IF YOU'LL CAST YOUR MIND
BACK TO JOHNSON, HE HAD MADE A
DICTIONARY OF THE ENTIRETY OF
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WHICH HAD
40,000 WORDS.
SO HERE WE HAVE HALF OF ONE
LETTER OF THE ALPHABET AND IT'S
NEARLY 8,500 WORDS.
CLEARLY THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WAS
A VERY GREAT DEAL LARGER THAN
EITHER JOHNSON OR WEBSTER COULD
POSSIBLY HAVE IMAGINED.
WELL, THIS FIRST FASCICLE, ONCE
PUBLISHED, WENT OUT FOR REVIEW
AND THIS... WHAT HAPPENED THEN
SHOULD, IF THERE ARE ANY
FREELANCE JOURNALISTS IN THE
AUDIENCE TONIGHT, IT SHOULD
ENCOURAGE YOU, BECAUSE THERE
WAS, AT THE TIME, IN LONDON,
POUNDING THE PAVEMENTS AS A
YOUNG FREELANCE JOURNALIST, A
MAN CALLED HENRY BRADLEY.
NOW BRADLEY WAS AS UNEDUCATED A
MAN AS MURRAY HAD BEEN.
HE HAD LEFT SCHOOL EARLY, HE HAD
GONE TO WORK IN A CUTLERY
COMPANY IN SHEFFIELD, COUNTING
KNIVES, FORKS AND SPOONS TO BE
PREPARED TO EXPORT, I MEAN, A
MIND-NUMBINGLY AWFUL JOB.
HE HAD DECIDED, TO HECK WITH
THIS, I'M GOING TO GO TO LONDON
AND FIND MY FORTUNE AS A
FREELANCE WRITER.
HE WAS HIS SECOND WEEK ON THE
JOB, HE AND HIS YOUNG WIFE WERE
LIVING IN AN UNFURNISHED FLAT IN
FULHAM, SITTING ON ORANGE BOXES
AND TEA CHESTS, AND HE TURNED UP
IN THE OFFICES OF AN OBSCURE
MAGAZINE, A WEEKLY CALLED "THE
ACADEMY."
IT WAS EDITED BY A MAN CALLED
COTTON.
AND HE WENT IN AND HE SAID THAT
I'M HENRY BRADLEY, YOU'VE NEVER
HEARD OF ME, BUT I'M A FREELANCE
WRITER, HAVE YOU GOT ANY WORK
FOR ME?
AND COTTON SAID, I DON'T THINK
SO, BUT ACTUALLY, SOMETHING'S
JUST COME IN THE POST TODAY,
THIS AND HE HANDED HIM THE 356-
PAGE FASCICLE, 'A' TO 'ANT' AND
HE SAID, THIS IS A NEW
DICTIONARY THAT'S BEING MADE IN
LONDON AT THE MOMENT.
WHY NOT SEE IF YOU CAN WRITE
2,000 WORDS ON IT?
WELL, BRADLEY WENT HOME AND HE
WROTE 4,000 WORDS, 4,000
STAGGERINGLY BRILLIANT AND
PERCEPTIVE WORDS.
HE ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTOOD WHAT
THIS DICTIONARY WAS ALL ABOUT.
COTTON REALISED THEY WERE GOOD
AND PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS HIS
REVIEW, THE FIRST EVER REVIEW OF
ANY PART OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH
DICTIONARY AND EVENTUALLY,
MURRAY SAW IT.
AND MURRAY WAS THRILLED THAT
SOMEONE NOT ONLY WAS TAKING
SERIOUSLY, SOMEONE IN THE
OUTSIDE WORLD WAS TAKING
SERIOUSLY WHAT HE WAS TRYING TO
DO, BUT THAT THIS PERSON,
WHOEVER HENRY BRADLEY WAS, GOT
IT, HE UNDERSTOOD EXACTLY WHAT
MURRAY WAS TRYING TO ACHIEVE.
AND SO HE, HE WROTE TO BRADLEY,
A LETTER WHICH ESSENTIALLY SAID,
DEAR BRADLEY, THANK YOU SO MUCH
FOR WRITING SUCH A WONDERFUL
REVIEW OF THE BOOK I'M TRYING TO
WRITE, YOU UNDERSTOOD EXACTLY
AT I'M TRYING DO, YOU
UNDERSTOOD IT SO WELL, IN FACT,
THAT I'M WONDERING, AS I AM
STARTING WORK ON THE LETTER 'B',
WHICH TURNS OUT TO BE
ASTONISHINGLY DIFFICULT, MUCH
MORE DIFFICULT THAN I HAD
IMAGINED, MUCH MORE DIFFICULT,
ETYMOLOGICALLY THAN THE LETTER
'A', I WONDER IF YOU, NOT LEAST
BECAUSE YOUR NAME BEGINS WITH
'B'...

[Laughter]

Simon continues MIGHT BE
WILLING TO COME AND HELP ME.
WELL, BRADLEY DID JOIN MURRAY A
WEEK LATER AND WORKED WITH THE
DICTIONARY UNTIL HE DIED IN THE
1920s AND BY THE TIME HE DIED,
HE HAD GOT AN HONORARY DOCTOR OF
LETTERS FROM OXFORD UNIVERSITY
AND FROM 11 OTHER UNIVERSITIES
BESIDES, HE'D GOT A KNIGHTHOOD,
HE WAS SIR HENRY BRADLEY, HE GOT
THE ORDER OF MERIT, THE GREATEST
HONOUR THE BRITISH CROWN CAN
BESTOW ON ANYONE AND HE DIED A
REVERED FIGURE IN THE LAND.
SO ANY FREELANCE JOURNALISTS OUT
THERE, REMEMBER, HARD WORK,
POUNDING THE PAVEMENTS AND GOING
INTO OBSCURE MAGAZINE OFFICES
A THOROUGHLY GOOD IDEA.

[Laughter]

Simon continues SO THE TWO
WORKED TOGETHER AND SLOWLY,
STILL PAINFULLY SLOWLY, THE
PARTS OF THE DICTIONARY CAME OUT
AND I'LL TRY AND READ YOU A
SHORT EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK
WHICH ILLUSTRATES THE KIND OF
THING WHICH WAS GOING ON ABOUT
FIVE OR 10 YEARS LATER.
"INCH BY COLUMN INCH, THE WORK
WENT ON.
"WITH EVERYONE LOOKING ON IN
WARY AMAZEMENT, EVERYONE WAITING
FOR SOMEONE TO RESIGN, FOR
SOMEONE TO PULL THE PLUG, FOR
SOMEONE TO GO MAD," THERE WAS A
LOT OF MADNESS IN THIS STORY.
"BUT SLOWLY, VERY SLOWLY, THE
PARTS EMERGED.
"'C' TO 'CASS', THEN 'CAST' TO
'CLIVEY', 'CLO' TO 'CONSIGNER',
'CONSIGNIFICANT' TO 'CROUCHING',
AND THEN WITH THE ADDITION OF
THE RELATIVELY SMALL NUMBER OF
WORDS BETWEEN 'CROUCHMASS' AND
'CZECH', 'C' WAS ALL DONE BY
1893.
"WHILE HE WAS WORKING ON 'CU',
THE EVER-CHEERFUL WALTER SKEET,
WHO WAS A LEXICOGRAPHER LIVING
IN CAMBRIDGE, TRIED TO ENCOURAGE
MURRAY BY INVITING HIM OVER TO
CAMBRIDGE.
"'I COULD FIND ENOUGH TALK TO
CUMBER YOU,' HE WROTE, 'YOU
COULD COME BY CURVILINEAR
RAILWAY, BRING A CUDGEL TO WALK
WITH, WE HAVE CUTLETS IN THE
CUPBOARD AND CURRANTS AND CURRY
AND CUSTARD AND NATURALLY, CUPS.
"'SAY THAT YOU'LL COME.'"

[Laughter]

Simon continues WHEN 'C'
WAS ALL DONE, IT WAS REALISED
THAT IT HAD BEEN, SAID MURRAY, A
TYPICAL LETTER.
IT ALSO HAD THE VIRTUE THAT THE
BEGINNING AND END WORDS OF THE
DI... OF THE FASCICLES WERE
GENERALLY RECOGNISABLE TO MOST
INTELLIGENT READERS.
THE FACT THAT SO MANY OF THE 'B'
WORDS HAD BEEN WHOLLY
UNFAMILIAR, 'BATENTLY' FOR
EXAMPLE, 'BISON', 'BOSUM',
TEMPTED SOME CRITICS TO SAY THAT
MURRAY WAS SO SLOW SIMPLY
BECAUSE HE WAS SEARCHING OUT
OBSCURITIES AND WAS MOREOVER
DOING SO DELIBERATELY TO ANNOY
AND OBFUSCATE.
THE RELATIVE SIMPLICITY OF THE
TOP AND TAIL WORDS OF HIS 'C'
FASCICLES SUGGESTED OTHERWISE,
SUGGESTING THAT HE WAS DEALI
WITH THE VARIED ORDINARINESS OF
AN EXTRAORDINARY LANGUAGE, AND
SO THAT PARTICULAR OBJECTION, AT
LEAST, COULD BE WITHDRAWN.
WALTER SKEET WAS EXULTANT AT ITS
COMPLETION.
HE WROTE A DITTY, BOTH TO CHEER
UP MURRAY AND TO GIVE A FILLIP
TO BRADLEY WHO WAS, AT THE TIME,
LABOURING IN SOLITUDE DOWN IN
LONDON ON THE IMMENSE
COMPLEXITIES OF THE LETTER 'E'.
THE POEM, LIKE SO MANY WRITTEN
TO CELEBRATE THE PARTS OF THE
DICTIONARY, IS FAIRLY EXECRABLE.
"WHEREVER THE ENGLISH SPEECH IS
SPREAD AND THE UNION JACK FLIES FREE
THE NEWS WILL BE
GRATEFULLY, PROUDLY READ THAT
YOU'VE CONQUERED YOUR A-B-C
BUT I FEAR IT WILL COME AS A
SHOCK TO SOME THAT THE SAD RESULT WILL BE
THAT YOU'RE TAKING TO DABBLE AND DAWDLE AND
DOZE
TO DOLLAR AND DUMPS AND WORSE THAN THOSE
TO DANGER AND DRINK AND SHOCKING TO THINK
TO WORDS THAT BEGIN WITH 'D'."
'D' DULY CAME AND WENT
SUCCESSFULLY AND THE LETTER 'E',
ON WHICH BRADLEY HAD BEEN
CUTTING HIS TEETH, WAS
INCORPORATED INTO THE SAME
VOLUME, SO THAT BOTH MEN SHARED
THE HONOURS OF THE TITLE PAGE.
WHEN THEY COUNTED, THERE WERE
FOUND TO BE 13,478 MAIN WORDS
BEGINNING WITH 'D' BUT ONLY
9,249 THAT STARTED WITH 'E'.
'S', INCIDENTALLY, IS BY FAR THE
LARGEST LETTER OF THE ALPHABET,
BY WHICH IT IS MEANT THAT WORDS
BEGINNING WITH 'S' ARE THE MOST
NUMEROUS IN THE LEXICON,
OCCUPYING TWO FULL VOLUMES OF
THE COMPLETED DICTIONARY.
'C' IS THE SECOND-LARGEST
LETTER, WITH ALMOST AS MANY
WORDS AS ARE BEGUN BY 'A' AND
'B' COMBINED.
THE SMALLEST LETTER SECTIONS
ARE, IN ORDER, 'X', 'Z', 'Y',
'Q', 'K', 'J' AND 'U' AND 'V'.
'E' IS A MODERATE LETTER,
SITTING AT AROUND THE MIDDLE OF
THE LEAD TABLE.
SO GRADUALLY THE PARTS CAME OUT.
1897 IS A KEY MOMENT, BECAUSE IT
WAS AT THIS TIME THAT QUEEN
VICTORIA GRACIOUSLY PERMITTED,
AS SHE PUT IT, HER NAME TO BE
PUT ON THE TITLE PAGE OF THE
DICTIONARY.
IT WAS NOW A ROYALLY DEDICATED
PROJECT AND IT COULD NOT BE
ABANDONED WITHOUT ACCUSATIONS OF
LESE-MAJESTE OF THE WORST KIND.
AND SO THE WORK WENT ON, BUT
THEN WHAT BEGAN TO HAPPEN,
INEVITABLY, I SUPPOSE, BUT
NONETHELESS POIGNANTLY IS THAT
THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN ITS
MAKING BEGAN TO DIE.
AND THE FIRST OF THE MAJOR
FIGURES TO DIE WAS FREDERIC
FURNIVALL, DOWN IN LONDON, HE
HAD BEEN A TOWER OF STRENGTH,
WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTOR TO THE
DICTIONARY, DREADFUL EDITOR BUT
A WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL
CONTRIBUTOR.
AND IN 1910, HE WROTE TO MURRAY,
SAYING THAT HE HAD BEEN
DIAGNOSED WITH AN ILLNESS THAT
WAS GOING TO KILL HIM IN ABOUT A
MONTH.
AND MURRAY WAS A COMPASSIONATE
AND DECENT AND VERY CHRISTIAN
MAN, BUT WAS NOT TREMENDOUSLY
IMAGINATIVE WHEN IT CAME TO
DEALING WITH DEATH AND HE WROTE
A LETTER, WHICH STILL SURVIVES,
TO FURNIVALL, SAYING, "DEAR
FURNIVL,'M FRIGHTFULLY SORRY
TO HEAR YOU'RE GOING TO DIE AND
YOU'RE ONLY GOING TO BE WITH US
FOR ANOTHER MONTH, BUT PERHAPS
IT MIGHT INTEREST YOU, ON YOUR
DEATHBED, TO LOOK AT THE
COMPLETED WORD 'TAKE' IN PROOF."
AND SO FURNIVALL DID THE DECENT
THING AND HE LOOKED AT 'TAKE',
WHICH IS A VERY COMPLEX WORD, IN
PROOF, IT'S ABOUT 15 PAGES LONG,
AND THEN DIED.

[Laughter]

Simon continues IT'S AS
WELL, I THINK, THAT HE WASN'T
GIVEN THE MOST COMPLEX WORD IN
THE DICTIONARY, WHICH IS THE
WORD 'SET', S-E-T, AS MANY OF
YOU WILL KNOW, 'SET' HAS SO MANY
MEANINGS, YOU SET OUT ON A
JOURNEY, YOU MAKE A SET OF
SOMETHING, JELL-O SETS, THE SUN
SETS, YOU PLAY A SET OF TENNIS,
YOU MAKE A SET OF THINGS, THAT
IT OCCUPIES 62 COLUMNS IN THE
DICTIONARY, SO FURNIVALL WOULD
NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO MANAGE, I
THINK, TO GET TO... AND 'TAKE'
WAS, PERHAPS, IN FACT, A GOOD
CALCULATION ON MURRAY'S PART.
WELL, THEN MURRAY HIMSELF DIED,
HE DIED IN 1915, HE HAD HOPED TO
STAY ALIVE TO ACHIEVE WHAT HE
CALLED "THE GRAND CONJUNCTION."
OF HIS 50th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY,
HIS 80th BIRTHDAY AND THE
COMPLETION OF HIS DICTIONARY AND
SIR WILLIAM OSLER, THE PROFESSOR
OF MEDICINE, HAS THIS VERY NICE
RECOLLECTION, HE WOULD SEE
MURRAY, WHO KEPT HIMSELF
PHYSICALLY VERY FIT, HE WOULD...
HAD A HUGE HUMBER TRICYCLE AND
HE WOULD TRICYCLE ALL, ALL OVER
TOWN, HE WAS TERRIBLY WELL-KNOWN
THROUGHOUT OXFORD, HE WAS A VERY
TALL MAN AND HIS CHILDREN,
SMALLER, OF COURSE, HE WAS KNOWN
IN OXFORD AS "THE BIG DICK" AND
THE CHILDREN WERE "THE LITTLE
DICKS."
WELL, ONE DAY OSLER WAS WALKING
DOWN THE HIGH STREET AND HE SAW
THE BIG DICK CYCLING FURIOUSLY
WITH HIS GREAT WHITE BEARD
STREAMING IN THE WIND BEHIND HIM
AND OSLER SAID, "THE ONLY REASON
THAT THEY'RE KEEPING ME OUT OF
RETIREMENT IS SO I CAN KEEP THAT
OLD BLIGHTER ALIVE, I THINK."
BUT IN FACT, HE FAILED AND
MURRAY HIMSELF DIED IN 1915.
IT'S COMMONLY BELIEVED HE WAS
WORKING ON THE WORD 'TURNDOWN'
WHEN HE DIED, WHICH WOULD HAVE
BEEN RATHER APPROPRIATE, GIVEN
THAT HE WAS TURNED DOWN FOR THAT
JOB BY THE BRITISH MUSEUM, BUT
IN FACT WE FIND HIS HANDWRITING
ON 82 FURTHER COLUMNS OF THE
DICTIONARY AND THE VERY LAST
WORD THAT WE SEE HIS HANDWRITING
ON IS THE WORD 'TWENTIETH'.
WHICH I THINK HAS A NICE SORT OF
SYMMETRY TO IT, BECAUSE AFTER
ALL, HE WAS A VERY 19th CENTURY
MAN INVOLVED IN WHAT WAS TO
BECOME A GREAT 20th CENTURY
MONUMENT.
SO HE DIED, BRADLEY DIED THREE
YEARS LATER, NO, HE DIED EIGHT
YEARS LATER, WHILE THEY WERE
WORKING ON THE LETTER 'Z' AND I
SHOULD SAY THAT ALTHOUGH 'Z' IS,
OF COURSE, THE LAST LETTER IN
THE DICTIONARY, THE LAST WORD IS
THE WORD 'ZYXT', Z-Y-X-T, WHICH
IS A PAST PARTICIPLE OF A SUSSEX
DIALECT VERSION OF THE VERB TO
SEE, I ZYXT HIM.
THOSE, THOSE WORDS BEGINNING
WITH 'Z' WERE ACTUALLY QUITE
EASY, BOTH LEXICOGRAPHICALLY AND
ETYMOLOGICALLY AND SO THEY WERE
DISPOSED OF UNDER BRADLEY IN THE
EARLY 1920s.
NOW THEY'D GOT A NEW EDITOR
CALLED WILLIAM CRAIGIE, AND
CRAIGIE DIVIDED HIS TIME BETWEEN
OXFORD, THEY'D NOW MOVED THE
PROJECT UP TO OXFORD AND MURRAY,
I SHOULD SAY, HAD BOUGHT A HOUSE
AT 78 BANBURY ROAD, WHICH STILL
EXISTS, IT'S OWNED BY DESMOND
MORRIS, THE ANTHROPOLOGIST WHO
WROTE
THE NAKED APE
AND
DOG WATCHING
AND
CAT WATCHING, SO CRAIGIE
DIVIDED HIS TIME BETWEEN OXFORD
AND THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO,
WHERE HE HAD BEEN APPOINTED
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH, AND SO HE
WAS SHUTTLING BACK AND FORTH ON
THE TRANSATLANTIC LINERS, BUT
WAS IN OXFORD IN 1928 WHEN THEY
FINISHED THE LAST FASCICLE,
WHICH WAS OF THE WORDS 'WISE' TO
'WYZEN', W-Y-Z-E-N, WHICH IS A
SCOTTISH DIALECT WORD MEANING
THE OESOPHAGUS, THE GULLET.
AND WITH THE COMETION OF THAT
IN APRIL, 1928, THE DICTIONARY,
FIRST EDITION, WAS FORMALLY AND
FINALLY DONE.
IT WAS 12 VOLUMES, NOT FOUR, IT
HAD TAKEN 71 YEARS, NOT 10 AND
COMPARED TO JOHNSON'S 40,000
WORDS AND WEBSTER'S 70,000
WORDS, THE FIRST EDITION HAD
414,825 DISTINCT HEAD WORDS.
THAT WAS, SO FAR AS THEY
BELIEVED, THE TOTALITY OF THE
TONGUE.
EXCEPT, OF COURSE, IT WASN'T.
THERE WERE ALL SORTS OF WORDS
THAT WERE MISSING, ONE WORD, THE
WORD 'BONDMAID', WHICH MEANS A
FEMALE INDENTURED SERVANT, THEY
ACTUALLY LOST IT, IT FELL DOWN
BEHIND A PILE OF ENCYCLOPAEDIAS
IN THE SCRIPTORIUM.
OTHER WORDS, 'AFRICAN', MURRAY
DIDN'T THINK THAT YOU SHOULD
ALLOW EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
TO HAVE AN ADJECTIVE MADE FROM
IT, BECAUSE WHERE WOULD IT END,
YOU'D GET 'AZERBAIJANIAN',
'ALBANIAN', 'BRAZILIAN',
'BURUNDIAN', 'CAMEROONIAN',
'CHADIAN' AND SO ON AND SO ON
AND SO FORTH, BUT THEN HE GOT TO
'AMERICAN' AND HE REALISED THAT
FROM 'AMERICAN' YOU GET A
PERFECTLY GOOD VERB,
'AMERICANISE', PERFECTLY GOOD
NOUN, 'AMERICANISM', SO HE
REALISED HE WAS WRONG, BUT IT
WAS TOO LATE, 'AFRICAN' ALREADY
HAD BEEN ADMITTED, SO THERE WAS
NO 'BONDMAID', THERE WAS NO
'AFRICAN', THERE WAS ALSO NO
'RADIUM', WHICH IS RATHER
PECULIAR, RADIUM HAD BEEN
DISCOVERED, AS I'M SURE MANY OF
YOU WILL KNOW, BY THE CURIES IN
1897.
THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE WORD
'RADIUM' IN PRINT AND THINGS
HAVE TO APPEAR IN PRINT BEFORE
THEY GET IN THE DICTIONARY, WAS
IN JANUARY, 1898.
WE HAVE DISCOVERED A NEW
ELEMENT, WHICH WE PROPOSE TO
CALL 'RADIUM', BECAUSE IT EMITS
RAYS.
WELL, AS IT HAPPENED, AT OXFORD
THEY WERE WORKING ON THE
FASCICLE 'R' TO 'REACTIVE' AT
THE TIME, A PERFECT MOMENT TO
INCLUDE THE WORD 'RADIUM', BUT
MURRAY WAS A VERY CAUTIOUS
SCOTSMAN AND HE LOOKED AT THIS
WORD, AND HE SAID, "RADIUM," HE
SAYS, "NO, I DON'T THINK IT'LL
LAST."

[Laughter]

Simon continues HE, HE OBVIOUSLY HAD SOME APPREHENSION
OF HALF-LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE
THIS, HE SAYS, "NO, I DON'T
THINK IT OUGHT TO BE IN THE
EDITION, I THINK BETTER, SAFER
TO LEAVE IT OUT," AND SO HE LEFT
IT OUT AND THIS PROVOKED FURY
AMONG HIS ASSISTANTS, WHO SAID
STUFF AND NONSENSE, OF COURSE IT
SHOULD GO IN.
AND ONE OF THEM, A MAN CALLED
SWEETMAN, PRODUCED A WONDERFUL
SPOOF DEFINITION OF 'RADIUM',
WHICH I FOUND ATTACHED TO ONE OF
THE 'R' PROOF PAGES IN PRECISELY
THE RIGHT PLACE, SO IT MIGHT
HAVE BEEN INCLUDED, BUT FOR AN
EAGLE-EYED SUB-EDITOR.
BUT IT'S, IT REMINDS ONE OF THE
ASTONISHING LEARNING OF THESE
PEOPLE.
HE PRODUCES FOR THE WORD
'RADIUM', WHICH HE DEFINES AS
THE "UNKNOWN QUANTITY, COMPARE
IT WITH EUREKA."
HE GIVES IT A MARVELLOUSLY
BELIEVABLE ETYMOLOGY, QUOTING
ITS ORIGINS FROM LANGUAGES,
INCLUDING A LANGUAGE NAMED
'ANTEDILUVIAN' AND ANOTHER ONE
CALLED, UM, 'PREHISTORIC' AND
THEY QUOTE ITS APPEARANCE IN THE
LITERATURE FROM HUNDREDS AND
THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO,
ARISTOTLE, FOR INSTANCE.
ARISTOTLE SAYS THAT RADIUM MAY
BE OBTAINED FROM THE EXCREMENT
OF A SQUINT-EYED RAT THAT HAS
DIED OF A BROKEN HEART, BURIED
50 FEET BELOW THE HIGHEST DEPTHS
OF THE WESTERN OCEAN IN A WELL-
STOPPED TOBACCO TIN, BUT SIR
THOMAS BROWN SAYS THIS IS A
VULGAR ERROR.
HE GOES ON QUOTING PEPYS' DIARY, 1669, THE
31st OF JUNE, GET IT, "AND SO TO
BED, FOUND RADIUM AN EXCELLENT
PICK-ME-UP IN THE MORNIN."

[Laughter]

Simon continues HOW ABOUT
THE 1873 EDITION OF
HYMNS
ANCIENT AND MODERN,
NUMBER... HYMN NUMBER 2,517,
"THY WALLS, O LORD, ARE BUILT OF RADIUM."
SO 'RADIUM' WASN'T INCLUDED AND NOR WERE
ABOUT 22,000 OTHER WORDS.
NEW SENSES THAT HAD APPEARED
DURING THOSE 71 YEARS OF THE
CREATION OF THE FIRST EDITION,
NEW ENTIRE NEOLOGISMS THAT HAD
BEEN CREATED, AS WELL AND SO IT
WAS DECIDED TO PRODUCE, FREE OF
CHARGE TO ANYONE THAT HAD
STUMPED UP 25 POUNDS FOR THOSE
FIRST 12 VOLUMES, IN 1933 TO
PRODUCE A SUPPLEMENT.
AND SO 13 VOLUMES WAS THE
TOTALITY OF THE OED UNTIL, BY
THE 1970s, THEY DECIDED TO
PRODUCE FOUR MORE SUPPLEMENTS.
THE FOURTH OF WHICH WAS
COMPLETED IN 1982.
THEN, IN 1989, WITH THE
ASSISTANCE OF IBM AND SOME
FRIGHTFULLY CLEVER PEOPLE FROM
THE UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO HERE
IN CANADA, SO CANADA PLAYS A
TREMENDOUSLY ROLE IN THIS STORY,
EVERYTHING WAS RE-ALPHABETISED,
A LOT MORE NEW WORDS WERE
ENTERED AND THE SECOND EDITION,
THE EDITION YOU'LL SEE ON, UM,
ON SALE AND IN THE SHOPS TODAY
WAS CREATED.
20 VOLUMES, 658,000 WORDS, TWO
AND A HALF MILLION OF THIS
ILLUSTRATIVE QUOTATIONS FROM THE
SLIPS, THAT IS THE TOTALITY OF
THE LANGUAGE AS IT EXISTS TODAY.
BUT OF COURSE, THAT'S NOT QUITE
THE END OF THE STORY, BECAUSE
WHAT THEY'RE DOING NOW IS, OF
COURSE, PRODUCING THE THIRD
EDITION.
UNDER THE EDITORSHIP OF A MAN
CALLED JOHN SIMPSON AND WITH THE
ASSISTANCE OF LEXICOGRAPHERS,
PEOPLE CALLED EDMUND WEINER AND
PENNY SILVER, THEY'VE BEEN
WORKING ON A COMPLETELY REVISED
THIRD EDITION SINCE THE MIDDLE
OF THE 1990s.
THEY DECIDED NOT TO BEGIN WITH
THE LETTER 'A' AND THE REAL...
THE REASON FOR THAT IS THAT IF
YOU LOOK, OR AT LEAST IF A
LEXICOGRAPHER LOOKS CAREFULLY AT
THE 'A' AND 'B' AND 'C' WORDS IN
MURRAY'S FIRST EDITION, THERE'S
A SORT OF HESITANCY, A SORT OF
RAGGEDNESS.
THEY DON'T REALLY GET INTO THEIR
STRIDE UNTIL 'E' AND 'F' AND
'G'.
AND SO SIMPSON REASONED THAT IF
THEY BEGAN WITH 'A' AND 'B' AND
'C', THEIR OWN HESITANCY AND
RAGGEDNESS WOULD BE OVERLAID ON
MURRAY'S HESITANCY AND
RAGGEDNESS AND THAT WOULD RESULT
IN AN 'A', 'B' AND 'C' WHICH
WOULD HAVE THE SORT OF
LEXICOGRAPHICAL EQUIVALENT OF,
UH, A CAR MADE ON A FRIDAY
AFTERNOON.
SOMETHING ONE WOULDN'T HAVE
TOTAL CONFIDENCE IN.
AND SO THEY MADE THIS EXECUTIVE
DECISION TO BEGIN WITH THE
LETTER 'M' AND SO THEY BEGAN 'M'
IN 1995 AND WE WERE THERE THREE
WEEKS AGO IN THE OFFICE, THEY'RE
NOW ONTO WORDS BEGINNING WITH
'OV' AND SPECIFICALLY PETER
GILLIVER, THE MAN WHO I QUOTED
AT THE BEGINNING, IS WORKING ON
THE WORD 'OVERBURDEN'.
AND THEY'RE LOOKING HUNGRILY
TOWARDS THE LETTER 'P' AND
SPECIFICALLY THE WORD 'PHAT',
P-H-A-T, WHICH THEY'RE KEEN TO
GET THEIR LEXICOGRAPHICAL TEETH
INTO.
IT USED TO BE SAID, IT USED TO
BE SAID THAT THE THIRD EDITION
OF THE OED WOULD BE COMPLETED IN
2010.
WELL, IT WON'T BE.
IT'S GOING TO BE 40 VOLUMES
LONG, IT'LL WEIGHT ONE-SIXTH OF
A TON, IT'LL HAVE 980,000 WORDS
IN IT AND THE COMPLETION DATE
NOW IS RECKONED TO BE JUNE 2037.
WHICH MEANS THAT JOHN SIMPSON
AND EDMUND WEINER AND PENNY
SILVER WILL SUFFER PRECISELY THE
SAME FATE AS FURNIVALL AND
MURRAY AND BRADLEY, THAT THEY
WON'T LIVE TO SEE THE RESULTS OF
THEIR LABOURS, BECAUSE THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS SUCH AN
IMMENSE AND EVER-EXPANDING ENTITY.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH INDEED.

[Applause]

Watch: Simon Winchester on his book The Meaning of Everything