The Oxford Dictionary

The "Oxford English Dictionary" is one of the most famous dictionaries in our language. This dictionary is an important resource for researchers, students, (and the publisher of the Riverside Review); but there's also a great deal of history, and interesting trivia, associated with this collection of words. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary took seventy years to complete, drew from tens of thousands of brilliant minds, and organized the sprawling language into 414,825 precise definitions. Basically, it is a collection of human intelligence presented to increase our knowledge.
Originally the Oxford dictionary had no university connection; it was conceived in London as a project of the Philological Society when its members became dissatisfied with the available dictionaries of English. In June 1857 they formed an “Unregistered Word Committee” with the goal of finding words not listed and defined in existing dictionaries. The editorship fell to Frederick Furnivall who had great enthusiasm and knowledge, but definitely lacked the temperament for such a long-term project. His energetic start saw many assistants recruited and two tons of readers' slips and other materials delivered to his house. But as months and years passed, the project languished. Then at a Society meeting in 1876 Dr. James Murray indicated his willingness to take over as the editor. At the same time the Society had become concerned about the publication of what it was now clear would have to be a book of immense size. Finally in 1879, after two years of negotiations, the Oxford University Press agreed not only to publish the dictionary, but to pay Murray (who by this time was also president of the Philological Society) a salary as editor. Everyone in the Society hoped that the dictionary would now be completed in another 10 years. Little did anyone know that it would not be until April 19, 1928 when the words from
Wise to the end of W were completed and the full dictionary was bound for publication.
Back in the 1970s I was listening to Paul Harvey on the car radio while commuting to work. He began his broadcast with a story he titled “Pen Pals”. I will try to tell the story as he told it.
“It seems that Dr. W.C. Minors had heard that the great Oxford dictionary was being compiled and wrote to Dr. James Murray and ask if he could be of any assistance. At first Dr. Murray was amused by the offer from this unknown scholar, but he decided to answer the letter and said he would be interested in any suggestions. The next letter from Dr. Minors was a shocker. It contained dozens of items each expertly arranged and constructed in great detail. Dr. Murray was now convinced that he was corresponding with a genius. Letters by the thousands came from Dr. Minors and his work found its way into the Oxford dictionary.”
“During the many years of corresponding Dr. Murray and Dr. Minors never met. Dr. Murray wanted to meet his mystery writer and invited him to be a guest of Oxford University. The letter Dr. Murray received in reply to his invitation was a curious one. In it Dr. Minors said that he was, for physical reasons, forced to decline the invitation. He would, however, be delighted to have Dr. Murray visit him at Crowthorne, England. When Dr. Murray reached Wellington College Station, he was met by a coachman who said he had been instructed to take him to Dr. Minors. Their meeting was the most remarkable revelation of Dr. Murray’s life; however, the two would never meet again.
And now for the Rest of the Story.”
“For you see, the great intelligence of Dr. Minors…the brilliant brain behind a major contribution to the Oxford dictionary…was only partly there. His love for learning could not be constrained, but he had to be locked behind iron bars. Dr. Minors was a convicted mad-dog murderer and was an inmate at the Broadmoore Asylum for the Criminally Insane. You might say that Dr. Murray’s pen pal was actually in the pen.”