Posts Tagged ‘OED’

A tour of my library – part four

August 12, 2019

The travel writing section is the largest new one in my library, growing over the last fifteen or twenty years as my interest in travel writing has developed. It’s not systematic: there are areas I have deliberately explored and others I ignore completely. Deserts and the ancient Silk Roads both fascinate me. So, there is much on the Near East, the Middle East and Central Asia, lots on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but little on Africa unless it’s the Sahara, and very little on the United States. The colder parts of the world don’t figure much, either. And, as I have explained in other, more detailed posts on travel writing, I have by and large tended to avoid recent writing because travel has become tourism, too easy relatively speaking: I like to read about exploration and travel where rather more effort and difficulty is involved. For this reason, I have collected a fair number of accounts of travel from several centuries ago, and also accounts by non-Westerners, for their different perspective on the world. I think my most interesting discovery was probably Ibn Battutah, a traveller from the Arab world who travelled in the early fourteenth century and far more widely than did Marco Polo

I’m gradually disposing of my reference section, which, to put it bluntly, has pretty much been made redundant by the internet: there will be an article, invariably reliable, well-referenced and usually with numerous links, in Wikipedia. My local library now offers me the OED online for nothing. I have one or two literature reference books, and quite a few atlases, and they will now suffice. Maps on the internet do not cut the mustard for me. I have the large Times Comprehensive Atlas which I love, and various historical atlases and collections of old maps. I did, however, recently splash out on Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies translated into English. He was a seventh century encyclopaedist who put together and wrote down everything that was known in his time, and is now rightly the patron saint of the internet. It is fascinating to contemplate how others viewed the world and interpreted it in the past, and to realise that at some future date, our world-view may seem just as quaint to our successors.

Some readers of this blog will also know of my love of JS Bach’s music, and there is a small section of the library consisting of biographies, guides to his world and the places he lived and worked, and some reference books which I use when listening to his church cantatas. The most useful of these was the first book I ever acquired from Amazon in the days before it became the behemoth I now strive to avoid Melvyn Unger’s Handbook to Bach’s Sacred Cantata Texts. It contains texts of all the cantatas, in German, word-for-word translated and then a proper English version, set out in the manner of a classics ‘crib’ from many years ago. It also has all the relevant biblical readings to go with the texts, so that everything I need as I listen is on a single page.

There’s a sizeable religion and theology section, with bibles and other church service books, books on the history of religion, Christianity and Islam, which I have developed an interest in over the years; this joins up with my fascination with travel in those parts of the world. There’s also a reasonable number of books on Quakerism. The oddest book in the collection is probably a fine copy of the Liber Usualis which I acquired secondhand for a song when I was a student in Liverpool, and recently discovered was worth quite a lot. It’s basically a monastic service book with music, for the masses of every day of the church year; the music is four-stave plainchant, and the rubrics are all in church Latin too.


Words, words, words…

October 20, 2014

As Hamlet put it. I have always loved words and been curious about them, no matter what language they were in. And so, I cannot imagine ever being without a dictionary. For many years, Chambers has been the one-volume of choice, and I think we are well on the way towards wearing our our third copy in this household. It succeeds most of the time, and is the dictionary of necessity for a crossword fiend like myself. But, it’s not big enough – doesn’t have enough words in it. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary was my mainstay during my student years, though suffering from not being updated – the edition I bought in the 1970s dated from forty years previously…

And so to the greatest of them all – the OED itself. It does seem to have everything I want in it, definitions, pronunciations, etymologies and examples of usage through time. I bought a micro-edition, all twenty volumes in one, nine pages to a page and a beefy magnifying glass to read them. The school I taught in invested in the CD-ROM version when it was first published. And now, wonder of wonders, I have free online access to the latest version through my local public library. You can’t browse it as you can a printed book, but if electronic books were invented for any purpose at all, surely it was things such as this.

French is the only other language I feel (almost) fully functional in; at university we were ordered to move on from the limitations of bilingual dictionaries such as Harraps‘ (which I still have and is my first port of call) to the monolingual Petit Robert, which I still find to be the most useful and wide-ranging. When it’s not up to the mark, then there is the Littré online, which I rarely need to call on.

And then there’s my own personal dictionary, a notebook in which I’ve collected most of the words which have baffled me at some time, when I’ve either been not within reach of a dictionary or too lazy to get up and fetch it, so I’ve jotted down words to look up later, and kept them. Two of my favourites: aglet  (which ex-students of mine may recognise) and eleemosynary, which just looks so baffling…

The internet has spawned many websites offering to broaden our knowledge of language(s). One of the oldest, and one of my favourites, is language hat, who posts regularly on a very wide variety of topics, though sometimes with a little too much Russian for my liking, and A.Word.A.Day has posted thematically linked words and definitions for many years, too. This idea was too good to pass up on, so the OED now also delivers a new word to my inbox each day, as does Word Spy, who concentrates on neologisms. And, if you like vulgarity and are not too easily offended, then there’s always the Urban Dictionary.

I always used to urge my students to learn a new word everyday, and try to, myself. I’ll be dust long before I’ve exhausted the OED…

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