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Paperback Caught in the Web of Words: James A. H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary Book

ISBN: 0300063105

ISBN13: 9780300063103

Caught in the Web of Words: James A. H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary

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Book Overview

This biography of the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary is based on original documents. It is an account of how the dictionary was compiled, the problems the editor had to solve and the endless difficulties which nearly led to the whole project being abandoned.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings


James Murray was a prodigy. He learned languages, geography, botany at an early age. He lived in Scotland. He was intrigued that his border language was identical to that of Northumberland and so that the English-Scots boundary had no linguistic significance. He was always learning, always collecting knowledge. In two years at school he learned four languages. After school he was tutored in two more by a family friend, Italian and German. His family did not send him to grammar school at Melrose because there were other boys to educate. He became an assistant master when he was seventeen. By 1857 he was developing an interest in philology. Seeing Anglo-Saxon put him into a high state of excitement. He moved to London and started to work at Russian. He wrote THE DIALECT OF THE SOUTHERN COUNTIES OF SCOTLAND. James Murray was respected by Morris, Ellis, Sweat, Skeat--men instrumental in revolutionizing the science of etymology. In 1868 at the Philological Society Murray encountered Frederick Furnivall. Furnivall was an inveterate founder of organizations for the study of English. Murray became an editor of the dictionary project of the Philological Society after the first editor, Herbert Coleridge, died. Borrowing the method of work from the Germans, Coleridge had started in 1860 with fifty four pigeon-holes. James Murray was named editor in 1877. Ultimately there were sixteen thousand pages of the OED. Murray died in July 1915. The last portion of the dictionary appeared in 1928. Supplements to the dictionary were issued in 1933 and 1972. There are two appendices, notes, and an index in this very good book.

Fascinating history of a great man and a great work

This is really two books in one: the life story of James Murray, first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and the tale of the dictionary itself. Both are lovingly told. It's a must read for anyone interested in dictionaries or linguistics.

"J. Murray more major than W.C. Minor"

Elizabeth Murray, the granddaughter of James Murray, who was the chief editor of the huge Oxford English Dictionary on which every serious scholar of English continues to depend, has written an excellent biography of the greatest English lexicographer, and done more: she has also given an insight into his personality, and, yet more importantly, into the whole scholarly world of philology, lexicography etc. in Victorian England, and the difficulties which beset the creators of the dictionary. I recommend the biography most highly, and feel that all fans of *The Surgeon of Crowthorne* (chiefly on Dr W.C. Minor) should read this - preferably BEFORE that book (so as to get a sense of context), but otherwise after. - Joost Daalder, Professor of English, Flinders University (see "More about me')

this is the one that should have been the bestseller

Finally, days after writing a review of the Madman and theProfessor, I remembered that this was the book that I enjoyed so muchmore. While the author of that book went for the cheesy effects and Victorian tricks, this author concentrated on the making of the dictionary itself and the extraordinary devotion of Murray. It is inspiring to read about people back in those days who really devoted their lives to invention and intellectual pursuits. Once you read the description of the scriptorium and how Murray farmed out assignments to literally thousands of readers, you'll appreciate why the OED is such an important reference work. If not for marketing, this book would be the best seller about the making of the OED. A great read from start to finish.

A compelling account of one of the great Lexicographers

Well, how many books can keep you amused when stuck in limbo flying from the East Coast to San Francisco for two days? This one certainly did. The author has written an excellent study of the person(s), times, and scholarship devoted to the creation of the great Oxford English Dictionary. This revolutionary work fused burgeoning studies in comparative philology of the English language with the rich tradition of literary history and language found in Johnson's earlier efforts.Murray, an autodidact from a rich tradition of self-taught scholarship in the Border counties of Scotland, proved to be the perfect man for the gargantuan task of editing the OED. He devoted 40 years of his life to the effort after achieving remarkable personal and academic success in English and Scottish philology.This is a charming, learned and very readable biography about a man and a masterpiece created to chronical the English language. His family, times and good humor are recorded in this intimate yet scholarly biography. Thank you, Ms. Murray, for letting us into the Scriptorium!
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