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242 pages, Paperback
First published September 28, 1998
Despite all the intellectual activity going back to the early 17th century, the age of Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Izaak Walton, Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh & their learned contemporaries, there was no print guide to the English tongue, no linguistic vade mecum for them to consult. Shakespeare's vocabulary was obviously prodigious but how could he be certain that in all cases where he employed unfamiliar words, he was grammatically & factually correct? What prevented Shakespeare, nudging him forward a couple of centuries, from becoming Mrs. Malaprop?The book then moves on the early days of the laborious creation of just such an essential book & the presence of James Murray & others who toil away to see the OED through to completion many years later. If you are a reader who is not particularly keen on the origins of words, this side-story may seem like a distraction but Winchester believes that the structure of a book is as important if not more so than the characters within or the words used to tell a story, another facet that will not please every reader.