30 July 2008

My biggest book of words

Today, my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary arrived in the post. It didn't actually fit in the letterbox of course. The United States Postal Service had placed the box it came in into a massive sack as the box was coming apart due to its weight.

How exciting:

  • Two volumes, beautifully presented in a slipcase, with a ribbon and coloured endpapers, and each volume bound in quality Oxford-blue leather
  • Includes one year's access to the Oxford English Dictionary Online
  • Contains more than 600,000 words, phrases, and definitions, with coverage of language from the entire English-speaking world, from North America and the UK to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the Caribbean
  • Contains all the vocabulary current in general English from 1700 to the present day, with senses organized chronologically, as well as earlier major literary works, including Shakespeare and the Authorized Version of the Bible
  • Fully updated with 2,500 new words and meanings based on the ongoing research programme of Oxford Dictionaries and the Oxford English Corpus
  • Draws on the latest research from the OED project including more than 4.500 antedatings and thousands of new quotations from recent writers
  • Includes a never-before-published introductory essay by David Crystal on the History of English
The ridiculous thing is that it cost about $150 on Amazon in Australian dollars and Oxford are charging 250 Pounds for it which is well over $500! The only mystery is how a used Roman bus-ticket dated 16 July 2007 ended up inside Volume 1, considering that it was brand new and still shrink wrapped. Anomalous, yet unperturbing.

I am reading a book by Simon Winchester called Bomb, Book & Compass: Joseph Needham and The Great Secrets of China. Joseph Needham was a communist, gymnosophist, Fellow of the Royal Society and the British Academy. He wrote millions of words on China's past scientific achievements. The funny part is when his peers at Cambridge describe him as 'eccentric' - practically a compliment; but also slightly 'unsound' - the worst pejorative available in such circles. Entertaining. The book doesn't answer why China's economic and technological growth stalled as the Renaissance was kicking off in the West. This was "Needham's Grand Question," and the jury is still out as to whether he managed to answer it.

Sumangali has been reminicsing recently about her time in China.

I thought I would give this book a go because I greatly enjoyed The Surgeon of Crowthorne. There is something particularly mad about the madness of Englishmen. I like that, you can quote me if you want.

Last Wednesday a friend revealed anthimeria to me. It is using words the wrong way. Shakespeare invented a few words that way as the link shows. A more contemporary example is Calvin telling Hobbes, "You are weirding me out." That's because weird is an adjective not a verb. It is hard to think of an example, perhaps, "I flummoxed down the road." Except that flummox is already a verb.

The next day I attended a course on Parliamentary Writing. My attempts to start a discussion about anthimeria fell on largely deaf minds; but I did learn that concatenation is bad writing. It means lumping verbs together unnecessarily, e.g. 'it is necessary to make a determination' is better as 'it is necessary to determine.' 'Give consideration to' should be 'consider.' The '-ion' is the giveaway. It is a real hallmark of turgid bureaucratese. Okay, the word turgid is more or less redundant in the previous sentence, but, "I turgided the answer," is pure anthimeria.

Good writing should do two things: be enjoyable and convince.

If I had my own Grand Question, what would it be I wonder?

Either "What's for dinner?" or "Why is it so hard to get an early night?"

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