Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

by Ammon Shea


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399535055
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/05/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 574,763
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ammon Shea is the author of two previous books on obscure words, Depraved English and Insulting English (written with Peter Novobatzky). He read his first dictionary, Merriam Webster’s Second International, ten years ago, and followed it up with the sequel, Webster’s Third International. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Oddly inspiring...Shea has walked the wildwood of our gnarled, ancient speech and returned singing incomprehensible sounds in a language that turns out to be our own."
-Nicholson Baker, New York Times Book Review

"Delicious...a lively lexicon."
-O, The Oprah Magazine

-William Safire, The New York Times Magazine

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Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Shea writes about what it's like to read the world's longest dictionary, and what his favorites words in it were. No matter what you think about the dictionary, this book will make you want to go read one.
NielsenGW on LibraryThing 11 months ago
I own the OED. It is a behemoth of scholarship. In twenty infinitely-packed volumes, one will find the entirety of the English language. Every word that has ever existed in English print. Ever. Ammon Shea makes it his mission to read the entire set over the course of a single year. He spends eight, ten, sometimes twelve hours every day in the basement of the Hunter College Library and explores the indescribable variety of the language. It's basically a collection of twenty-six (one for each letter) short essays, each followed by a list interesting words to showcase the strange and unusual. My favorite: Quomodocunquize¿to make money is any way possible. A quick and fascinating read.
EowynA on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is a fun book for vocabularians, this book consists of twenty-six chapters, one for each letter. The first part of each chapter is the author introducing himself and observations about the process of reading the OED, followed by a series of words he found particularly interesting, with his own definition (based on one of the OED definitions), and a paragraph about what thoughts that word inspired in him. For instance, "unbepissed" means "not having been urinated on; unwet with urine." His comment was "Is it possible that at some time there was such a profusion of things that had been urinated on that there was a pressing need to distinguish those that had not?" Some of his finds resonate with me- tricoteuse (a woman who knits), ruffing (stamping the feet in applause - who hasn't sung "We Will Rock You" while clapping and ruffing along), obdormition (a limb that has fallen asleep), onomatomania (vexation at having difficulty finding the right word). Others are interesting for the story that must exist behind that word, for the word to exist at all - such as unbepissed, lant (to add urine to ale, to make it stronger), leep (to wash with cow dung and water), kakistocracy (government by the worst citizens), gymnologize (to dispute naked, like an Indian philosopher). I give it 4 stars out of 5 to vocabularians, and 3 stars to the general reader.
LisaShapter on LibraryThing 11 months ago
One man's mad and delightful quest to read all of the Oxford English dictionary -- not the 2 volume set with the magnifying glass in the little drawer but the unabridged 20 volume edition. Along the way he attends a conference for people who write dictionaries, he talks about reading in an urban environment, he visits a collector of dictionaries, and he writes down a splendid assortment of wonderful words that you would find in the OED if you only had the time to read it. (It takes him a year of day-after-day day-long dedicated reading.) Each chapter is a short essay that makes pleasant reading and a short, well-chosen list of words. (Mostly words for things you never thought there was a word for.) A wonderful book for anyone who speaks or reads English.(For anyone who dreads that this is just a snobbish vocabulary-building book in disguise, it isn't: it is pleasant, painless, and there wasn't a standard-issue SAT vocabulary word in any of the lists.)
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing 11 months ago
A recent trend in books and movies is the time-limited experiment. The most famous of these is likely the provocative documentary "Super-Size Me," which details the effects of eating only at McDonald's for a month. Authors have tried this too, most successfully A.J. Jacobs, who tried to live strictly according to the Bible ("The Year of Living Biblically") after previously reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica in a year ("The Know-It-All").None of these experiments, however, is as audacious, or seemingly absurd, as Ammon Shea's attempt to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary in one year. The masterwork detailing usage in the English language is 20 volumes long; unlike even an encyclopedia, it is not meant to be read cover to cover. Reading word after word, listing etymology, different usages, and referenced quotations demonstrating each shade of meaning, sounds to be a sisyphean task worse than boring."Reading the OED" does not change this assessment. Despite my affection for the OED (one day, I dream of having those 20 volumes on my shelves for personal reference), Shea's book does not make me want to read the OED, or any dictionary, cover to cover. However, it does detail Shea's rather quixotic need to do so in an almost charming, if incredibly geeky, way.Between an introduction and conclusion, Shea has 26 chapters, one for each letter, which feature an opening essay followed by a selection of quirky words from the OED, playfully defined and commented upon by Shea. The words are playful and entertaining, and the narrative essays range from Shea discovering his love of reading dictionaries to the workmanlike discipline required to read the OED in one year. Interspersed in all of these essays are Shea's peculiarly insightful comments on lexicography, from the selection process (what words get left out) to appreciating the definition of common, flexible, short words to his wonder at the lurking snarky editorial comments. The most entertaining is certainly Shea's trip to a dictionary conference, where he is both in his element, and yet clearly an outsider (some of their reactions about his attempt to read the OED are priceless).Overall, this is an entertaining travelogue of a trip no one else wants to take. Shea's enthusiasm is not exactly contagious, but makes the book a pleasant read, not just for logophiles but for most who appreciate the slightly odd topic explored in an open, friendly way.
391 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, to be honest. I was super-excited to read it, but I couldn't click with the writing style - the author was a bit too misanthropic for my (admittedly, delicate) tastes, and I couldn't quite mesh with his prose.
richardderus on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The Book Report: Ammon Shea, whom I suspect of autodidacticism, was a New York City furniture mover and dicitionary freak living with his recovering lexicographer girlfriend when he conceives of a way to get paid for sitting in a corner and reading: He will, in one year, read the entire 20-volume print version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and report on the experience of doing so, what lexicological gems he found while doing so, and what the experience does to his sneaking-up-on-forty body. (Nothing good, as one can imagine.) I strongly suspect he thought this wheeze up so someone would buy him the whole thousand-dollar kit and kaboodle. I have no evidence to support this conjecture, just a little quiver in my antennae. What the heck, he'll never see this review, so where's the harm?My Review: I confess: I am such a nerd that, at age 11, I set out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (1947 edition) that my mother prized above all her other books. Originally, I approached the task sternly alphabetically. I understood very little of what I was reading, so I abandoned this approach and instead began jumping around to cross-references as entries confused, excited, angered me; I learned a lot more that way, and before six months were out, I got my first major dictionary (Random House Dictionary of the English Language 1966) so I would stop pestering my mother to tell me what words she'd never heard before meant.My mother, my sisters, and my First Great Love all made gentle fun of me at first, but mostly left me to get on with it because it was *such* a relief that I no longer wanted to talk only about cars. The charm of this, inevitably, waned as I discoursed upon late Imperial/early Republican China's woes; motifs in Greek painting; the apple and its manifold wonders (though my mother, the foodie, was more willing to listen to this than most of the other stuff) (oh, and that last is still a source of abiding fascination to me), etc etc. Soon I faced open hostility as I approached, big brown volume in hand, gleam of joy in newfound knowledge lighting my face; I learned quickly how very little fondness most people have for someone smarter than they are, better informed than they are, and unafraid to show it.So imagine my rapturous surprise when my eye lit on this book in the bargain bin! (Sorry, Mr. Shea, but if it's any consolation, it's from the third printing. I owe you a cup of coffee.) There exists in the world a bigger nerd than I am! W00t!I read the book with a delight that's rare, the eager and guilt-laden urgency to see how far *this* big ol' nerd will go out of his cave. It was an impressive distance. He's a very, very curmudgeonly person, at least as he portrays himself; and he's unafraid of social opprobrium, which is laudable in a smartypants.But in the end, much as I liked reading his alphabetical listings of the weird and wonderful discoveries, I was left wanting something more than the brief introductory essays in each letter provided: I wanted some synthesis, which he implies he did; he mentions several times compiling lists of synonyms and antonyms and words that define the same concept in slightly different ways, which lists and definitions I really wish had been in the book.I suspect this is the work of his editor, who then is proof of my contention that no editor is always right, and occasionally should be fought. Oh well. Maybe next book.Still and all, minor quibbles aside, this is a wonderful read and should be read ASAP by word freaks everywhere; and also by those socially inept folk in need of reassurance that, somewhere in New York City, there is a man who can give them a solid run for their awkward money. Recommended.
bell7 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Ammon Shea has already read other dictionaries. This time, he decides he will read the mother of all dictionaries, the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (specifically, the 1989 print edition). This book chronicles his adventures reading, from A to Z. Each chapter, named after the letters of the alphabet, begins with his experiences reading the OED and ends with his favorite words from that letter, a definition, and his reflection of the word. The humorous narration and commentary on words and language made me laugh out loud while I was reading. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and recommend it to anyone who loves words or dictionaries.
megaden on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Read this while in line to vote, got some strange looks.... but nobody else was smart enough to bring a book so they just had to stand there while I was reading about fantastic words!
nbmars on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The author set out to read the entire Oxford English Dictionary in one year. The OED, Shea explains, is not just a dictionary; with its etymologies and usage examples from great literature, it also recapitulates the entire history of the modern English language. And it is fairly thorough: in its 21,730 pages it features fifty-none million words, ¿give or take a few thousand.¿ The letter S takes up four volumes alone ¿ more than 3,000 pages. The most recent print edition fills twenty volumes and weighs 137.72 pounds.Shea loves his dictionaries. He arrays them along his wall, ¿all dust-jacketed in dark blue, with a regal and chitinous gloss, resembling the covering of some beautiful and wordy beetle.¿ When reading them, he claims to find ¿the entire range of emotions and reactions that a great book will call forth from its reader ¿ they just happen to be alphabetized.¿The chapters are organized alphabetically, with a brief survey of word selections from that letter in the OED preceded by some background notes and an accounting of how the author is surviving the reading process. He supplements his selection of favorite words and their definitions with his own elucidations, such as these entries:Accismus (n.) An insincere refusal of a thing that is desired. As in: ¿No, please, I really would like for you to have the last donut.¿Mythhistory (n.) A mythologized account of history.In other words, history.What is the longest entry in the print version of the OED? It turns out to be the word set, which has 155 main senses as a verb, nine as an adjective, 48 as a noun, and one as a conjunction. In the online version, make is the largest entry (because of the greater ease of electronic updating). Shea also makes the interesting observation that the letter W is qualitatively different than other letters: since there is no such letter in ancient Latin, the vocabulary of W is overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon. He notes that reading W is like reading another dictionary!I had high hopes for a book that begins with ¿Exordium (Introduction),¿ but ultimately I was disappointed. The author¿s wit at the beginning of the book gives way to a litany of complaints including headaches, blurry vision, endless cups of coffee, and jeremiads against people who talk when he is trying to read. An inordinate number of his word commentaries have to do with how obnoxious other people¿s children are. I would give the book 3 stars out of 5. If nothing else, it may help cure you of onomatomania (vexation at having difficulty in finding the right word).
crazy4novels on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This compact little book is the perfect gift for an erudite reader. Original, witty, and wildly entertaining, it offers a highbrow alternative to its "book of lists" cousins that often occupy the family coffee table, kitchen table, or bathroom magazine rack. Mr. Shea, a self-avowed word junkie, spent one year reading the Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover, and you'll love the treasures he's brought to light. Chapters "A," "B," and "C" alone are filled with enough amusing word trivia to keep you smiling for a week.Ammon's entries run from the delightfully useful (acnestis -- that pesky area of your back that can't be reached to be scratched), to the evocatively poetic (apricity -- the warmth of the sun in winter). You've got to love a book that introduces you to the term bed-swerver (an unfaithful spouse), even if some of the words hit a bit too close to home (anonymuncule -- an anonymous, small-time writer -- ouch). The next time I'm at a public function and my nerves are rubbed raw by someone's incessant laughter, I'll just smile to myself and think, "this guy is a world-class cachinnator (a person who laughs too much or too loudly) -- he's due for a curtain lecture (a reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed) when he gets home."Seriously, this book is addictive. I'm already poking around in the D's, and contrary to deteriorism -- the attitude that things will usually get worse -- I'm certain that Shea's book will just get better and better. Buy it. Samuel Johnson will be proud of you.
metrorebecca on LibraryThing 11 months ago
You'd never guess it from its subject, but this book is just laugh-out-loud funny. The author makes gentle fun of his obsessions with words, books, and libraries, and, at least for someone who shares his obsessions, it's terrific. I especially liked Shea's chapter on the letter O (stay with me, here), which begins, "I have recently developed a morbid fear that I am turning into one of 'the Library People.' " In the end, Shea's girlfriend assures him that not only has he become a Library Person, but the librarians probably already have a nickname for him.
devenish on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The sub-title of -One Man,One Year,21,730 pages,tells you just where this most enjoyable book is going.Ammon Shea takes us in the slightly less number of pages,223 to be exact on a surprisingly funny journey from Abluvion to Zyxt. He explains an abundantia of weird on wonderful words.Even better than these however are the descriptions which begin each new letter,of his progress and problems on the way through his task. These range from how to house the 20 volumes in the first place,the health problems involved,such as headaches and backache,to the simple one of just finding a quiet place to read.When he is finished,or so he thinks,he is told that he should read the Bibliography too,and this he does,saying that this is the dullest part of all.When he and this book comes to an end he tells us that he thinks that he will read it again 'at leisure'. What a star !On the more serious side he gives high praise to this great dictionary and to the compilers of this fantastic work.What a great cover too.
nemoman on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is a quick and fun read for people who like language. Each chapter introduces esoteric words under a letter in the alphabet. The words are so esoteric, I cannot imagine ever using them in my writing. Hence the words and their meaning will soon be lost to me. It only took me two hours to read this book so there is not alot of bang for the entertainment buck.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eight pages does not a good sample make. Fortunately, the few words shared piqued my interest enough to give a preliminary three stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When my book club chose this book as our next selection, I was certain it would be only slightly less boring than actually reading the OED itself. Thankfully, I was incredibly wrong! The author has a great sense of humor and had great comical insight into the English language.
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