When Ammon Shea set out on his great safari, his great odyssey, it wasn’t to the plains of Serengeti or the peak of Everest. Ammon Shea set out to conquer the Oxford English Dictionary — to read, in one year, all 21,730 pages.
At 137 pounds, the Oxford English Dictionary spans twenty volumes and 59 million words — with two and a half million quotations illuminating the deepest vaults of the English language.
At 155 pounds, our slender guest today, Ammon Shea, read every last one of them — nearly his weight in OED entries. That’s like reading a John Grisham novel a day for a year. And, says Shea, every bit as page turning.
Feeling “onomatomania”? Vexation at not finding the right word? He’s got you covered. Need a word for the place on your back you can’t reach to scratch? He’s got that too.
This hour, we’re reading the OED with author Ammon Shea, sailing far and wide on the ocean of the English language.
Have you plumbed the depths of the great dictionary behemoth? Or do you just dust off the dictionary to win at Scrabble? Do you know your acnestis from your petrichor? Join the conversation.Guests:
Ammon Shea joins us from New York. He's the author of "Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, and 21,730 Pages" and co-author, with Peter Novobatzky, of two previous books on obscure words, "Depraved English" and "Insulting English." He read his first dictionary, Merriam Webster's Second International, ten years ago, and followed it up with the sequel, Webster's Third International. Ammon has worked as a street musician in Paris, a gondolier in San Diego, and a furniture mover in New York City.
And joining us from New York is Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. For the Third Edition of the OED, he has revised the words American, Big Apple, Indian, jazz, not!, prep, pretzel, punk, railroad, rap, Republican, and thousands of others. He's author of "The F Word," an exhaustive history of one of English’s most used words. From 1996 to 1999, he wrote a language column called "Jesse's Word of the Day."
This program aired on August 19, 2008.