Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Some Dictionary History For Tuesday...!

Some of us may still use the dictionary from time to time, but that number is probably shrinking from day to day.

When you stop and think about it, the making of the dictionary is no easy task. I can only imagine the research that would be involved in such an undertaking. The following article from KnowledgeNuts offers a small glimpse into just what a strange and tedious job this must have been.

The Killer Lunatic Who Helped Write Your Dictionary
By Debra Kelly on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Compiling the dictionary is no easy task—especially when it’s the Oxford English Dictionary. It wasn’t just definitions that were needed, but sentences as well. A massive project ultimately passed down to editor James Murray, the project was ultimately assembled by an impressive display of 19th-century crowdsourcing. One of the most prolific contributors with tens of thousands of submissions was a man named Dr. William C. Minor. Murray struck up a friendship with the man, and eventually found he was less of a professional, practicing doctor and more of a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he’d been living for decades.

The Oxford English Dictionary is notable in that it’s not just a handy book that’ll tell you the meanings of words, it’ll also tell you how to use them. Compiling it meant that its editor, James Murray, didn’t need to just define words, but he needed sentences that showed their proper use. (Murray actually inherited the project from others, and it took an awesome 70 years to complete.)

Proving that you don’t need the Internet to launch a successful crowdsourcing campaign, Murray took out some newspaper ads and asked for contributions to his dictionary. They started coming in by the truckload, with one name popping up continuously throughout 20 years of Murray’s involvement with the project: Dr. William C. Minor, Broadmoor, Crowthorne, Berkshire. Over the course of two decades, Minor contributed tens of thousands of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Murray struck up a friendship with this regular contributor, originally assuming that the man was, as his title suggested, a doctor at the manor house he’d given an address for. A chance meeting with a visitor in the late 1880s made him a little suspicious that it wasn’t the case at all, when he was thanked for his kindness toward “poor Dr. Minor.” It was only then that he did some research and found that he had been conversing with a patient, not a doctor.

Or, more accurately described, a lunatic.

To those who knew him as a young man, William Minor was quiet and sensitive—not one you’d expect to see on the battlefield. Yet Minor joined the Union Army as a surgeon after leaving Yale’s medical school, and was a firsthand witness to the horrors of 1864′s Battle of the Wilderness. Dealing with battlefield casualties is bad enough, but there was also a massive fire that swept through the field. Afterward, the doctor with the delicate disposition was ordered to brand a “D” on the face of an Irish deserter. It’s that event that was long thought to have been the one that pushed him over the edge, and certainly led to not only his irrational, paranoid fear of the Irish, but also caused his delusions that eventually led to murder.

He moved to England after the war. Walking home one night, he heard someone behind him. Convinced that it was the Irishman stalking him for revenge, he shot and killed George Merritt, whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was ultimately found not guilty for reason of insanity and committed to Broadmoor until he was deemed safe for release back into the populace.

(Oddly, one of his constant contacts outside the asylum was Merritt’s widow, who not only accepted his apology but frequently visited him with gifts—usually books, a passion of his even while he was confined at Broadmoor.)

It was ultimately James Murray who championed Minor’s cause, and the doctor was released in 1910—on order from Winston Churchill. He spent 28 years locked away at Broadmoor, and still made significant, staggering contributions to one of the English language’s premier reference books. After his release, he moved back to the United States and died in 1921, at his home in Connecticut.

I reckon it just goes to show that even though you may be a lunatic, you might still be of some service. In other words, crazy doesn't always mean stupid!

Coffee out on the patio this morning. We can watch the hummingbirds.


Chickenmom said...

Fascinating article, Mr. Hermit! I still use a dictionary, but the small type is getting harder and harder to see. Will enjoy your hummingbirds - ours are gone until next year.

linda m said...

I too still use the dictionary, but like Chickenmom find the small print hard to read. I've also been known to use Webster online. Guess some people aren't as crazy as they would have people think. I find this article fascinating. Coffee outside and watching hummingbirds sounds terrific. Most of our summer birds have left for the year.

JO said...

I gave up the dictionary because I could never seem to find the words I was looking for. Maybe a more expensive one might have worked. Quite a story about the coming of the dictionary.

So the hummers found your place as a winter home or will they move on?

Sixbears said...

When I graduated from college my English professor gave me a copy of a book about that guy. Hope he wasn't implying anything . . .

HermitJim said...

Hey Phyllis...
I do know what you mean about the small print, believe me!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Linda M...
One thing about living so far south, we get a lot of birds that hang out here all Winter.

I'm glad you liked the article.

Thanks for dropping in today!

Hey Sixbears...
Does kinda make you wonder, doesn't it? I hope you have put it to good use over the years.

Thanks for the visit today!

Rob said...

I never thought about the amount of work that went into making a dictionary!
I had a large one (bigger is better with dictionaries as far as I'm concerned) that we got rid of when we downsized to the RV.

Last winter we were down by the gulf in Rockport Texas and there were hummingbirds there when we arrived, they left about a week later. That had to have been mid October when they disappeared.

Rob said...

When I need a dictionary now I google "dictionary (& what ever the word is I'm curious about)".

Some day I'll need to look up a word & won't have the internet...

Mamahen said...

Interesting ...I don't use one as often these days n mostly online when I do, but enjoyed learning about how they came about :))