The Word Detective:
Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary
This event includes a book signing
November 14, 2016
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes JOHN SIMPSON, former Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, for a discussion of his memoir, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary.
About The Word Detective
Can you drink a glass of balderdash? What do you call the part of a dog’s back it can’t scratch? And if, serendipitously, you find yourself in Serendip, then where exactly are you?
The answers to all of these questions—and a great many more—can be found in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language. And there is no better guide to the dictionary’s many wonderments than the former chief editor of the OED, John Simpson. Simpson spent almost four decades of his life immersed in the intricacies of our language, and guides us through its history with charmingly laconic wit. In The Word Detective, an intensely personal memoir and a joyful celebration of English, he weaves a story of how words come into being (and sometimes disappear), how culture shapes the language we use, and how technology has transformed not only the way we speak and write but also how words are made.
Throughout, he enlivens his narrative with lively excavations and investigations of individual words—from deadline to online and back to 101 (yes, it’s a word)—all the while reminding us that the seemingly mundane words (can you name the four different meanings of ma?) are often the most interesting ones. But Simpson also reminds us of the limitations of language: spending his days in the OED’s house of words, his family at home is forced to confront the challenges of wordlessness.
A brilliant and deeply humane expedition through the world of words, The Word Detective will delight and inspire any lover of language.
"Simpson’s memoir features entertaining, culturally revealing stories of many curious words, phrases, and roots. . . . Although scholars and librarians will be particularly interested in the OED history, all readers can enjoy Simpson’s sincere and lively memoir." —Booklist, starred review
"People think of dictionaries as oracles that channel eternal verities about The Language. In fact they are the handiwork of mortals who deliberate about how to make sense of the creative brainchildren and viral fads of hundreds of millions of wordsmiths. The Word Detective is a delightful and revealing look at the human side of dictionaries, with insights galore about the nature of language. (And why does the adjective galore come after the noun?)" —Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and The Sense of Style
"There is a poignant and unanticipated counterpoint to John Simpson’s fine memoir of his time at the OED—for while his majestic dictionary was during his tenure undergoing changes of the profoundest kind, he and his family were dealing with a personal challenge that places all his lexicographic achievements in the most human of contexts. This is a wonderful book, then—but on two levels, both equally revealing, intimate and true." —Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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