Saturday, November 26, 2016

Book review: The Word Detective by John Simpson

Year published: 2016
Date I finished reading: November 26, 2016
Genre: History, memoir, English
Rating: B
Review: The Word Detective is the story of John Simpson's time working at the Oxford English Dictionary.  He applied for a job in 1976 after his girlfriend (and later his wife) saw an ad and thought it might suit him.  He stayed for 35 years, rising to become the chief editor of the  famous dictionary.

The Word Detective is partly about words.  Simpson looks at various words in depth, showing their etymology and how their meaning changed over time.  It's partly about Simpson's personal life - marriage, children and so on. It's partly about what it takes to be a lexicographer (one note: You shouldn't love words).  But mostly it's about moving the Oxford Dictionary into the 21st century, putting it first on CD-ROM and then on the Internet, updating words, finding editors and all the parts of editing the massive dictionary.

I found it quite interesting, but it's a bit repetitive (how many times do we need to be told that the OED was behind the times?).  Except for this, Simpson writes with a nice style. He has a very dry English sense of humor, and his love of his former job comes through quite clearly.

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