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  1. #1
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    "Possibly pornographic" 1852 book sought; OED asks for public's help in the matter

    Oxford English Dictionary asks public to help track down mystery book

    The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing to the public for help after being unable to trace a mysterious, possibly pornographic, 19th-century book from which a number of its quotations are derived.

    Meanderings of Memory, by one "Nightlark", is dated to 1852 by the OED, and appears in 51 entries for the dictionary, including "couchward", "extemporize" and "fringy". Veronica Hurst, the OED's principal bibliographer, said its shadowy existence was discovered when a member of staff was working on the entry for "revirginize", for which Meanderings of Memory is the earliest citation.
    ---
    The book could not be traced in any library catalogue or database, so Hurst was contacted; she expected to track the book down within 10 minutes.

    "That turned into half an hour, and I was no further along the line to solving it – I looked on Google Books, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in short I looked everywhere I could think of and couldn't come up with anything," said Hurst. "We're not usually completely floored, but this time we're stumped."
    ---
    So staff decided to ask the public for help. "It really has captured people's imaginations," said Hurst. "One theory is that it could be pornographic, or in some ways a clandestine publication that didn't get recorded in the normal way … I certainly did incline to the hoax theory – people have made quite a lot of effort from time to time to get into the OED, so maybe a 19th-century Oxford man thought he could fool us."
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    But a member of the public has since found another mention of Meanderings of Memory, in a Sotheby's catalogue from 1854, and Hurst is now leaning towards the hypothesis that the book could actually be a very small piece of work, possibly poetry, running to just five to 10 pages.
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    "Some of it sounds ethereal and scholarly poetic, and then suddenly you're down to the ground with an entry like 'lump' – 'I the mattress spread, And equal lay whatever lumps the bed'. Some of them are just a bit funny," she said.
    ---
    much more at Guardian link above

  2. #2
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    Maybe one of the many colorful contributors to the OED was pulling a fast one. The story of the writing of the OED is fascinating. Reading about it is a hobby of mine. The editors had correspondents from all over sending in little slips of paper with citations for words. One prominent contributor was incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane, for instance.

    A couple of my favorites of the handful of books about the origins of the OED. Both are by Simon Winchester.

    The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

    The Meaning of Everything: The Story of The Oxford English Dictionary

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    Quote Originally Posted by STEADFAST View Post
    Maybe one of the many colorful contributors to the OED was pulling a fast one. The story of the writing of the OED is fascinating. Reading about it is a hobby of mine. The editors had correspondents from all over sending in little slips of paper with citations for words. One prominent contributor was incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane, for instance.

    A couple of my favorites of the handful of books about the origins of the OED. Both are by Simon Winchester.

    The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

    The Meaning of Everything: The Story of The Oxford English Dictionary
    Two great reads, those.

  4. #4
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    I agree those two books are great reads.



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