Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pg. 99: Charlotte Brewer's "Treasure-House of the Language"

The latest feature at the Page 99 Test: Charlotte Brewer's Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED.

About the book, from the Yale University Press website:
The legendary Oxford English Dictionary today contains over 600,000 words and a staggering 2,500,000 quotations to illuminate the meaning and history of those words. A glorious, bursting treasure-house, the OED serves as a guardian of the literary jewels of the past, a testament to the richness of the English language today, and a guarantor of future understanding of the language. In this book, Charlotte Brewer begins her account of the OED at the point where others have stopped — the publication of the final installment of the first edition in 1928 — and carries it through to the metamorphosis of the dictionary into a twenty-first-century electronic medium.

Brewer describes the difficulties of keeping the OED up to date over time and recounts the recurring debates over finances, treatment of contentious words, public vs. scholarly expectations, proper sources of quotations, and changing editorial practices. With humor and empathy, she portrays the predilections and personalities of the editors, publishers, and assistants who undertook the Sisyphean task of keeping apace with the modern explosion of vocabulary. Utilizing rich archives in Oxford as well as new electronic resources, the author uncovers a history no less complex and fascinating than the Oxford English Dictionary itself.
Among the praise for Treasure-House of the Language:
"This is an enthralling account of the personalities and events that shaped the history of the OED. Charlotte Brewer illuminates the commercial realities of dictionary-making as well as the hopes, worries, and working practices of those who compiled and administered the project. This sympathetic yet judicious 'biography of a book' is a major contribution to lexical historiography, and a delight to read."
Professor David Crystal

"Charlotte Brewer is a scholar of formidable learning, and she has produced the most searching study yet of the greatest dictionary ever."
Randolph Quirk, Past President of the British Academy

"The English-speaking world has undergone a fundamental change in the 120 years from the publication of the first part of OED; Charlotte Brewer shows how such change is reflected in the Dictionary itself. She presents the endeavours of the editors, their triumphs, their errors, and their inconsistencies, much of it revealed here for the first time. This is a highly readable account."
E G Stanley, University of Oxford

"Intrepid dictionary lovers will eat it up."
Read more about Treasure-House of the Language at the Yale University Press website and learn more about Charlotte Brewer and "Examining the OED."

Charlotte Brewer is a fellow of Hertford College, Oxford, and CUF lecturer in English at Oxford University. She has published extensively on topics related to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Page 99 Test: Treasure-House of the Language.

--Marshal Zeringue