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
  • 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 Noise of Time
    by Julian Barnes
    Confession: I do two terrible – some say unforgivable – things while reading a book. First...
  • Book Jacket
    Smoke
    by Dan Vyleta
    In Dan Vyleta's universe, set in an alternate Victorian England, people engaging in sinful thought ...
  • Book Jacket: Golden Hill
    Golden Hill
    by Francis Spufford
    Spufford brings American history to raucous life through the story of Mr. Richard Smith, a ...

Win this book!
Win The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

"Possibly her best yet. A sensuous, sumptuous, and spellbinding novel." - Kirkus Reviews

Enter

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Necklace
    by Claire McMillan

    For readers of The Nest, the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family secrets.
    Reader Reviews

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T H Are B T O

and be entered to win..

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

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.