Monday, June 04, 2012

Reading the OED by Ammon Shea

I find the concept of this book slightly annoying. On the front cover of my edition is the boast, "I have read the OED so you don't have to." Is this meant as a dare? Because any word lover worth his salt isn't going to be satisfied with such a claim. How are we to know that the author has found the most interesting words?  I feel like going to the library right now and taking down Volume 1: A to Bazouki.

The book is the story of the author's reading through the massive Oxford English Dictionary in one year. The chapters are titled according to the letters of the alphabet and contain a smattering of the  words he discovered along the way. This brings me to my second criticism. Half the fun of the OED is the detailed histories of words. And all that is missing in this book. The definitions provided are sadly brief, and occasionally misleading. (At least Shea admits to this in his introduction.) The entry for Balaamite is particularly disappointing. It seems to be an attempt at humor at the expense of the Bible, and it's quite evident that Shea didn't bother to look at the story in any depth. But this was mild in comparison to the worldly-wise anti-marriage scoff tagged on to the definition for opsigamy.

These gripes aside, I still couldn't resist a book about reading books, and it was a fun read in the main.

Will I add any of the words I read about to my vocabulary? Probably not---well, maybe abluvion. I see that a lot.

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