August 20, 2007

"A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary"

Shakespeare was not even able to perform a function that we consider today as perfectly normal and ordinary a function as reading itself. He could not, as the saying goes, "look something up." Indeed the very phrase - when it is used in the sense of "searching for something in a dictionary or encyclopedia or other book of reference" - simply did not exist.

Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman, Page 80.

As one of the founders of the eloquence of the modern English language, (or rather the eloquent side of the modern English language) Shakespeare is a legend. How many words were coined by the Bard of Stratford upon Avon? (Apparently over 1700 of our common words. He did it "by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.") You go Shakespeare.

This wonder and genius of Shakespeare might be somewhat diminished, however. Or rather, tarnished a little. So Shakespeare couldn't look things up. How many of those coined words and phrases were merely a 'well, no one is telling me it's wrong!'

I am not Shakespeare, nor do I claim even a minor percentage of the genius that he possessed, but honestly - I bet he threw up his hands in frustration a time or two. What with trying to make everything fit into iambic pentameter? I'd have made up some words too if I couldn't grab a handy thesaurus or dictionary. (I actually might do it anyway, iambic pentameter tries on me very quickly.)

And so, as a small tribute to the Shakespeare we know and love, there might not be 'a method in the madness.'

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 10:15 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack