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The Professor and the Madman – The Making of a Dictionary

The making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Simon Winchester. Harper Collins. Published in 1998.

The prompt for writing a quick review of this book is that I just started a third title by the same author, Simon Winchester, The Crack at the Edge of the World, and couldn’t help but remember with fondness – yes, I used the word ‘fondness’ in regard to reading a book about how a dictionary was written – when I read The Professor and the Madman. Winchester is to my knowledge the developer and foremost practitioner of an immensely entertaining historical-narrative literary style whereby he lures us into turning page after page (rapidly) of a history book by telling a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story that reads like pulp fiction, and yes, which is set within a larger historical context and moment.

Erik Larson followed the pattern in Devil in the White City , introducing us to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and how it changed the history of America through the lurid tale of a serial killer who was as big as Jack the Ripper before Jack found his first victim. In some parallel ways, Sebastian Junger employed this model, telling us about seemingly mundane things – the deep sea fishing industry, the physics of waves, the types of North Atlantic storms, and a little of the history of Gloucester, Massachusetts – through the sensational story of the crew of the Andrea Gail in his book The Perfect Storm, even better known for the George Clooney movie.

What is the historical setting and importance of the Professor and the Madman? The writing of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), of course. Now, without making any claims of being an academic, I must admit that topic kind of, sort of interested me anyway. I like the history of words and their definitions. But enough to read a book? I’m not sure. Even if it’s less than 300 pages? Still not sure. It may never have reached the top of the stack. But even if you aren’t that interested in what made the OED the finest reference work of its day – and perhaps the greatest reference ever created – the story of Dr. Charles Minor, the man who contributed thousands of entries, all painstakingly researched and neatly written from his home in Crowthorne, England, just 50 miles from Oxford, just might hook you.

What tied Minor to the OED and made his role so remarkable? Was it that he was an American creating something so peculiarly British? Nope. There was no snobbery as a sub theme. That he was a veteran of the Civil War, where he was surgeon for the troops of the North? Interesting, but not interesting enough to bring a dictionary to life. Was it that he maintained a long distance relationship with Professor James Murray – strictly by correspondence – for decades, despite numerous invitations from Murray to attend fundraising dinners or just stop by the office to meet due to his prolific 10 thousand entries? Not even close. Was it that he thought Irishmen were … and that one night he went out and … and because of that he ended up living in … ? Yes. Yes. And yes.

Spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what each “yes” represents, now is the time to stop! [Read more…]

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Peace On Earth, Good Will to All Men

The Simple Blessings of Christmas

Does your attitude proclaim that you are a person of peace and good will?

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?
Bob Hope

Christmas calls us to peace with all people – even those different from ourselves.

It happened in the midst of the fiercest fighting of World War I. It spanned all 500 miles of the Western Front, a jagged ever-changing line separating British and German forces. Newspapers around the world hailed it as miracle.

“All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking, and whining of bullets in flight, machine gun fire and distant German voices,” said Alfred Anderson. “But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other.”

Anderson, who was 108 years old when he spoke those words, was the last survivor of the Christmas Truce of 1914, a spontaneous event that he experienced at 18 years of age and one that he had thought of every day since.

There are numerous first hand accounts from soldiers’ journals of how this seemingly spontaneous outburst got started. But the story most remembered was that a German soldier began singing “Stille Nacht” and his solo soon became a chorus as he was joined by English voices singing “Silent Night.” A British regiment serenaded the Germans with “The First Noel” and the Germans sang back to them, “O Tannenbaum.”

Men from both armies laid down their weapons and crept cautiously and then quickly into No Man’s Land to share food, cigars, drinks – and even play a game of soccer together.

Christmas has always been a time when people of all ages, races, and creeds come together to break bread peacefully. Like the Truce of 1914 sometimes even sworn enemies have laid aside historical and more recent hostilities.

In the Christmas story, a newborn Baby was given gifts by Wise Men from the East, probably Persians from a city in what is now Iran. When these Magi realized that King Herod was a threat to the Baby’s life, they protected him by returning home by a different route in order to keep his location a secret from the madman. This Baby was sheltered during his childhood in Egypt, a country that had fought many wars with his homeland.

When angels sang to shepherds, ‘Peace on Earth, good will to all men,” they announced the simple yet profound truth that enemies can be reconciled; that strangers can become friends; that those who think and believe differently can still be neighbors. Christmas was literally born in strife – but celebrated and protected by “foreigners” who were men and women of peace and good will.

As you experience the Christmas season this year, don’t think that peace is something to be negotiated by politicians between lands and peoples that are thousands of miles from your world. Begin with how you look at those who are different from you. Does your attitude proclaim that you are a person of peace and good will? Move closer to home and ask yourself if there is a relationship where you need to lay down weapons of anger and harmful words? Is there a person with whom you need to call a truce and be reconciled? Not just for a day but from this point forward?

 

the simple blessings of christmas by mark gilroy.

Excerpted from The Simple Blessings of Christmas by Mark Gilroy.

The Lonely Crowd at Christmas

the lonely crowd at Christmas is a short reflection written by Mark Gilroy

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the word seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.

-Taylor Caldwell
It is possible to walk down Fifth Avenue in New York City with a mob of shoppers and window watchers on a Saturday afternoon during the Christmas season . . . to attend a packed church service to experience Handel’s Messiah . . . to stand in a long line at the local movie theater on the opening night of the latest holiday blockbuster everyone has been waiting to see . . . even to attend the neighborhood Christmas progressive dinner with people you know and greet regularly . . . it is possible to do all these things and still feel lonely.
 
David Riesman, a Harvard professor and prominent psychologist of the 1950s, described this “modern” phenomenon as being a member of the “lonely crowd.”
 
Christmas reminds us we are never alone.
 
If you are feeling disconnected, isolated, and alone in the world, well, you’re not alone. As easy as it seems to simply reach out to others, in our fast-paced, media-saturated, competitive, busy, self-centered, preoccupied society, really connecting can be an imposing challenge. Is it any wonder that so many people turn almost exclusively to the virtual world of cyberspace for dating, chatting, socializing, and experiencing relationships rather than savoring flesh and blood encounters?
 

You can do Christmas shopping online to avoid the crowds and connect with friends on Facebook, but you just can’t do Christmas by yourself. So even if you find yourself alone in a crowd at Christmastime, the spirit of the season—the One who came to bring peace to all people, to reconcile God and man, to lift up and redeem people from every walk of life—will touch your heart. Even if you don’t know how to reach out to Him or others, He will reach out to you.
What does it take from you? Nothing more than an open heart. Why try? You just don’t know how, when, where, and with whom you’ll realize you are not alone.
 

“The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

 

The Simple Blessings of Christmas is a 30-day Advent devotional by Mark Gilroy

Excerpted from The Simple Blessings of Christmas.

 

 

Where Should You Post Your Status?

Where should you post your status? Are you in a bar? Would it be awkward to explain to your boss? to your parents? Are you addicted to likes? Is it boring? Have fun following the arrows to the right place to post your status! A shout out to Professor Andres Silva for the following chart on posting our status to the right social network. Ingenious and hilarious!

Where should you post your status?

Are you posting in the right network?