Mad Man’s Dictionary

Before the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928, all the existing dictionaries were incomplete and deficient. This called for a complete re-examination of the language from Anglo-Saxon times onward, little did they realize just how enormous of a task they were undertaking.

The OxFord English Dictionary

In 1879, the project was handed over to Oxford University and James Murray to begin working on. It took 50 years to publish the English Oxford Dictionary, finishing with over half a million words. Not only did the dictionary contain definitions of each word, but also the history of each. The Oxford English Dictionary effectively displays each word’s, “subtle changes of shades of meaning, or spelling, or pronunciation…and when each word slipped into the language” (Winchester 26).  The Oxford English Dictionary is the indisputable foundation of the English language.

The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester


In the book The Professor and The Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, the author Simon Winchester does an exceptional job of describing just how the Oxford English Dictionary was composed. Along with the creation of the English Oxford Dictionary Simon Winchester shares the story of an insane murderer who was important to the completion of the English Oxford Dictionary.

There are two protagonists in the story “The Professor and The Madman” James Murray and Doctor William Chester Minor. James Murray was described as “precocious, serious little boy” who had an “impassioned thirst for all kinds of learning” (Winchester 33). Murray would be invited to work as an editor with Oxford University to work on the Oxford English Dictionary in 1878. It was anticipated to take 10 years to complete the Oxford English Dictionary, five years after the initial launch they had only reached ‘ant’. James had certainly underestimated the vast amount of time it would take to complete the project.

James Murray 

I can connect to James Murray underestimating the time it would take to complete the dictionary because I always run into the same problem. I have trouble procrastinating, thus, I put aside assignments and responsibilities up until the last day. I don’t respect the amount of time a project will take for me to finish and certainly recognize while I work on it.

William Chester Minor was around the same age as Murray, he went to Yale to study and became a physician. After words, he was sent off to serve traumatizing service in the American army during the Civil War. In the course of the civil war Minor was forced to brand the face of an Irish deserter. Becoming progressively paranoid William Minor began carrying his revolver on him every time he went out, convinced an Irish mugger was going to attack him. Without surprise William Minor ended up murdering a man he assumed to be breaking into his home to poison him. William Minor was found not guilty because he was found to be insane, in consequence he was incarcerated at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.william_chester_minor

I see the story becoming about the friendship of James Murray and William Minor. Since they are of similar ages and both have a passion for words it would be nice to witness a lifelong friendship develop.

Works Cited

Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and

the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins

Publishers, 1998.

Taylor, Charles. “The Professor and the Madman.” 2000. 14


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