Saturday, June 12, 2004

Self defined. "In later years Murray liked to tell of a dream he had that illustrated Samuel Johnson's likely reaction to his appointment. Boswell seemingly asked the Great Cham, 'What would you say, Sir, if you were told that in a hundred years' time a bigger and better dictionary than yours would be compiled by a Whig?' Johnson merely grunted. 'A dissenter?' Johnson shifted, a little uneasily, in his chair. 'A Scotsman?' Johnson started, and began to speak: 'Sir...' But Boswell persisted. 'And that the University of Oxford would publish it.' 'Sir,' roared Johnson, unable to contain himself. 'In order to be facetious, it is not necessary to be indecent.'" - Simon Winchester, The Meaning of Everything
Murray, you will have guessed, is James Murray, of Oxford English Dictionary fame. Cf, if you get the chance, Max Beerbohm's for-and-against versions of how Johnson would react to the restoration of his house in Gough Square. You'll have to go to the house to do so, because they are written in pencil on a caricature hanging in the hall. But it's probably worth it.
[The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester, Oxford, 2003. Vast store of juicy anecdotage roughly connected to the construction of the OED. The devil's side of the bargain is a somewhat slack-minded approach to history and lexicographical crit, and an authorial presence so insistent you could slap it.]

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