Excerpt from The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Meaning of Everything

The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

by Simon Winchester

The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester X
The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2004, 286 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Both, same, seem, get, give, they, them, and their all stem from these northern, ice-bound people too. Skirt, sky, scathe, skill, and skin employ a well-known two-letter Scandinavian beginning. And we can somehow understand that the gloomy antecedents of Ibsen would have given to English the likes of awkward, birth, dirt, fog (perhaps), gap, ill, mire, muggy, ransack, reindeer, root, rotten, rugged, scant, scowl, and wrong. There is rather less obvious connection with cake, sprint, steak, and wand - though these jollier words did indeed come from the Norsemen too. As did Thursday - or rather, it was modified by them, since an earlier version of the day that honoured Thor did in fact appear in Old English itself.

But for all this, Old English was first and foremost a home-grown language - by far its greatest component being the Teutonic stock of words gifted by the Jutlanders and Frisians and Angles who began to drift into the population in the wake of Hengist and Horsa. The total accumulation of Latin and Norse loanwords (and a triflingly small number of probable French lendings, too--among them words like prisen, castel, and prud, which equate to today's prison, castle, and proud) amount to no more than three per cent of Old English's word stock; Germanic words account for almost all the rest. And though we glibly say that the language as written and spoken 1,000 years ago is recognizable to the modern ear - it is certainly more so than the Celtic of the very early British - the numbers suggest otherwise: something like nine out of every ten of the Old English words have since fallen into disuse. It was really not until Old English began to transmute itself into Middle English that we start to see and hear and read something that is a simulacrum of what we see and hear and read today.

Copyright Simon Winchester 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Oxford University Press.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Immortalists
    The Immortalists
    by Chloe Benjamin
    On a summer day in 1969 in New York City, the Gold children agree to seek out a mysterious ...
  • Book Jacket: The Kites
    The Kites
    by Romain Gary, Miranda Richmond Mouillot
    Published by New Directions for the first time in English, Romain Gary's The Kites tells a story of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Kites
    The Kites
    by Romain Gary, Miranda Richmond Mouillot
    Published by New Directions for the first time in English, Romain Gary's The Kites tells a story of ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Hearts of Men
    by Nickolas Butler
    Set mostly in the woodlands of north Wisconsin, Nikolas Butler spins a familial saga that explores ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

A story that is at once quirky, charming, heartbreaking, suspenseful and poignant.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Days When Birds Come Back
    by Deborah Reed

    A graceful testament to endurance, rebuilding, and the possibilities of coming home.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Driest Season

Win One of 50 Copies of This Exceptional Debut!

A deeply affecting story of loss, heartache, and—finally—hope.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A J O A Thousand M B W O S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.