Caught in the Web of Words (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
Literary scholarship is rarely considered a noble and heroic undertaking; such terms are usually reserved for mountain-climbing, or other equally dangerous activity. But the Oxford English Dictionary is justly termed the greatest dictionary in the language, and the model for other national dictionaries. In over sixteen thousand pages, it chronicles the definitions and first appearances of practically every word in the English language, illustrated with copious quotations from original sources, both literary and subliterary. That it was ever done is miracle enough; that it was done by chiefly voluntary labor in an age before computers and typewriters makes of it a truly monumental achievement. Caught in the Web of Words is the story of the making of that dictionary, told from the perspective of the man chiefly responsible for its appearance.
James A. H. Murray’s labors were truly herculean, carried out at great personal cost and sacrifice. Without his special learning and special determination, the work would never have been done. All who care about the English language are forever in his debt. This is, therefore, the story of a noble and heroic undertaking, the story of a noble and heroic man. It really consists of two parts, an account of Murray’s life in preparation for his work on what is known everywhere as the OED, and a description of the work on the dictionary itself. As his biographer, who is also his granddaughter,...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
Economist. CCLXIV, September 24, 1977, p. 140.
New Republic. CLXXVII, November 12, 1977, p. 33.
New York Times. October 19, 1977, p. 29.
New York Times Book Review. October 30, 1977, p. 13.
New Yorker. LIII, November 21, 1977, p. 222.
Newsweek. XC, November 7, 1977, p. 98.
Saturday Review. V, November 12, 1977, p. 30.
(The entire section is 35 words.)