Books: Logomania

CAUGHT IN THE WEB OF WORDS: JAMES A.H. MURRAY AND THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY by K.M. Elisabeth Murray Yale University Press; 386 pages; $15

With its splendid hoard of half a million words, the Oxford English Dictionary is the central bank of the language —a trove of Latinate abstractions. Old Frisian or Old French oddments, fubsy eloquences of Middle English and exotic intrusions from the Arabic. It contains a million and a half quotations to show the historical progress of language, the way its vocabularies have stirred, matured in meaning and eventually decayed....

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