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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Osford English Dictionary. Simon Winchester

книга о реальных людях, которые внесли огромный вклад в создание Оксфордского словаря. история невероятная, как будто созданная для киноэкрана. и как раз сейчас идут съёмки фильма с Гибсоном и Пенном, что вызывает одновременно и интерес, и опасение, как бы клюква не получилась, так как акценты можно расставлять по-разному... книгу читать огромное удовольствие: филологический детектив про создание словаря с изумительным языком. а вот и они - профессор и безумец:

Sir James Murray (в центре) - филолог, лексикограф и ключевой редактор Оксфордского словаря с 1879 года и до смерти.

Dr. William Chester Minor - американский хирург, выпускник Йеля, один из важнейших волонтёров, внёсших вклад в создание словаря.

Под катом несколько отрывков, но они все относятся к языку и словарю, так что спойлеров самой истории нет, если что.

And it is still cited as a matter of course—"the OED says"—in parliaments, courtrooms, schools, and lecture halls in every corner of the English-speaking world, and probably in countless others beyond.

It is those with "ears polite," one supposes, who see in the dictionary something quite different: They worship it as a last bastion of cultured Englishness, a final echo of value from the greatest of all modern empires.

But even they will admit of a number of amusing eccentricities about the book, both in its selections and in the editors’ choice of spellings; a small but veritable academic industry has recently developed, in which modern scholars grumble about what they see as the sexism and racism of the work, its fussily and outdated imperial attitude. (And to Oxford’s undying shame there is even one word—though only one—that all admit was actually lost during the decades of its preparation—though the word was added in a supplement, five years after the first edition appeared.)

There are many such critics, and with the book being such a large and immobile target there will no doubt be many more. And yet most of those who come to use it, no matter how doctrinally critical they may be of its shortcomings, seem duly and inevitably to come, in the end, to admire it as a work of literature, as well as to marvel at its lexicographical scholarship. It inspires real and lasting affection: it is an awe-inspiring work, the most important book of reference ever made, and, given the unending importance of the English language, probably the most important that is ever likely to be.

He was, in other words, one of the walking wounded. He had served his country, he had been ruined by doing so, and his country owed him a debt.

Theirs was a near-universal complaint. Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, the leading lights of English literature, had each spoken out, calling for the need to fix the language. By that—fixing has been a term of lexicographical jargon ever since—they meant establishing the limits of the language, creating an inventory of its word stock, forging its cosmology, deciding exactly what the language was. Their considered view of the nature of English was splendidly autocratic: The tongue, they insisted, had by the turn of the seventeenth century become sufficiently refined and pure that it could only remain static or else thenceforward deteriorate.

By and large they agreed with the beliefs of the Forty Immortals across the Channel (though they would have been loath to admit it): A national standard language needed to be defined, measured, laid down, chased in silver, and carved in stone. Alterations to it then could be permitted or not, according to the mood of the great and the good, a home-grown Forty a national language authority.

Swift was the fiercest advocate of all. He once wrote to the earl of Oxford to express his outrage that words like bamboozle, uppish, and—of all things—couldn’t were appearing in print. He wanted the establishment of strict rules banning such words as offensive to good sense. In future he wanted all spellings fixed—a firm orthography, the correctness of writing. He wanted the pronunciations laid down—an equally firm orthoepy, the correctness of speech. Rules, rules, rules: They were essential, declared Gulliver’s creator.

One of his predecessors, Benjamin Martin, explained why: “No language as depending on arbitrary use and custom can ever be permanently the same, but will always be in a mutable and fluctuating state; and what is deem’d polite and elegant in one age, may be accounted uncouth and barbarous in another.” This dictum, which appeared in the preface to still another half-baked attempt at a proper dictionary just a year before Johnson brought out his own, might as well have guided the Great Cham through his entire construction.

Except that here Trench presented an idea, an idea that—to those ranks of conservative and frock-coated men who sat silently in the Library on that dank and foggy evening—was potentially dangerous and revolutionary. But it was the idea that in the end made the whole venture possible.

The undertaking of the scheme, he said, was beyond the ability of any one man. To peruse all of English literature—and to comb the London and New York newspapers, and the most literate of the magazines and journals—must be instead “the combined action of many.” It would be necessary to recruit a team—moreover, a huge team, one probably comprising hundreds and hundreds of unpaid amateurs, all of them working as volunteers.

The audience murmured with surprise. Such an idea, obvious though it may sound today, had never been put forward before. But then, some members said as the meeting was breaking up, it did have some real merit. It had a rough, rather democratic appeal to it. It was an idea consonant with Trench’s underlying thought, that any grand new dictionary ought to be itself a democratic product, a book that demonstrated the primacy of individual freedoms, of the idea that one could use words freely, as one liked, without hard and fast rules of lexical conduct.

Any such dictionary certainly should not be an absolutist, autocratic product, such as the French had in mind: the English, who had raised eccentricity and poor organization to a high art, and placed the scatterbrain on a pedestal, loathed such Middle European things as rules, conventions and dictatorships. They abhorred the idea of diktats—about the language, for Heaven’s sake—emanating from some secretive body of unaccountable immortals.

Defining words properly is a fine and peculiar craft. There are rules—a word (to take a noun as an example) must first be defined according to the class of things to which it belongs (mammal, quadruped), and then differentiated from other members of that class (bovine, female). There must be no words in the definition that are more complicated or less likely to be known than the word being defined. The definition must say what something is, and not what it is not. If there is a range of meanings of any one word—cow having a broad range of meanings, cower having essentially only one—then they must be stated. And all the words in the definition must be found elsewhere in the dictionary—a reader must never happen upon a word in the dictionary that he or she cannot discover elsewhere in it. If the definer contrives to follow all these rules, stirs into the mix an ever-pressing need for concision and elegance—and if he or she is thrue to the task, a proper definition will probably result.
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