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Word of Mouth - The criminal lunatic who wrote the dictionary

Word of Mouth // Education // Feb. 21, 2017

Work began in 1857 on the book that would later be known as the Oxford English Dictionary. After five years, the project had reached the word 'ant'.

Why so slow?

The project called on volunteers world-wide to gather quotations to illustrate every sense and nuance of a particular word. This early form of crowd-sourcing attracted dozens of amateur and professional wordsmiths including J R R Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings fame.

In this week's Word of Mouth, Garry Littman tells us the story of Dr William Chester Minor, the gifted young army surgeon from America, traumatised by war, who came to Britain in the late 19th century, murdered a man on the street and was committed to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Garry investigates how this man - a certified criminal lunatic - became one of the primary contributors to the dictionary.

For more information, this thrilling linguistic tale is brilliantly retold in the book The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester and is soon to be made into a film, directed by Mel Gibson, starring himself and Sean Penn.

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