28+ quotes from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

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

Simon Winchester ·  242 pages

Rating: (80.9K votes)


“And after that, and also for each word, there should be sentences that show the twists and turns of meanings—the way almost every word slips in its silvery, fishlike way, weaving this way and that, adding subtleties of nuance to itself, and then perhaps shedding them as public mood dictates.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“Any grand new dictionary ought itself to be a democratic product, a book that demonstrated the primacy of individual freedoms, of the notion that one could use words freely, as one liked, without hard and fast rules of lexical conduct.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“An end to timidity - the replacement of the philologically tentative by the lexicographically decisive." - on the making of the Oxford English Dictionary”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“In the sixteenth century in England, dictionaries such as we would recognize today simply did not exist. If the language that so inspired Shakespeare had limits, if its words had definable origins, spellings, pronunciations, meanings—then no single book existed that established them, defined them, and set them down.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“The language should be accorded just the same dignity and respect as those other standards that science was then also defining.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“God—who in that part of London society was of course firmly held to be an Englishman—naturally approved the spread of the language as an essential imperial device;”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“was the heroic creation of a legion of interested and enthusiastic men and women of wide general knowledge and interest; and it lives on today, just as lives the language of which it rightly claims to be a portrait.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“The English language was spoken and written—but at the time of Shakespeare it was not defined, not fixed. It was like the air—it was taken for granted, the medium that enveloped and defined all Britons. But as to exactly what it was, what its components were—who knew?”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“There is a Sacerdotall dignitie in my native Countrey contiguate to me, where I now contemplate: which your worshipfull benignitie could sone impenetrate for mee, if it would like you to extend your sedules, and collaude me in them to the right honourable lord Chaunceller, or rather Archgrammacian of Englande.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“All of a sudden his books, which had hitherto been merely a fond decoration and a means of letting his mind free itself from the grim routines of Broadmoor life, had become his most precious possession. For the time being at least he could set aside his imaginings about the harm that people were trying to inflict on him and his person: It was instead his hundreds of books that now needed to be kept safe, and away from the predators with whom he believed the asylum to be infested. His books, and his work on the words he found in them, were about to become the defining feature of his newly chosen life.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“One newcomer, asked why he had killed his wife and children, told the superintendent: “I don’t know why I am telling you all of this. It’s none of your business As a matter of fact it was none of the judge’s business either. It was a purely family affair.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“No one had a clue what they were up against: They were marching blindfolded through molasses. And”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“One woman even disparaged Johnson for failing to include obscenities. “No, Madam, I hope I have not daubed my fingers,” he replied, archly. “I find, however, that you have been looking for them.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“Defining words properly is a fine and peculiar craft. There are rules—a word (to take a noun as an example) must first be defined according to the class of things to which it belongs (mammal, quadruped), and then differentiated from other members of that class (bovine, female). There must be no words in the definition that are more complicated or less likely to be known that the word being defined. The definition must say what something is, and not what it is not. If there is a range of meanings of any one word—cow having a broad range of meanings, cower having essentially only one—then they must be stated. And all the words in the definition must be found elsewhere in the dictionary—a reader must never happen upon a word in the dictionary that he or she cannot discover elsewhere in it. If the definer contrives to follow all these rules, stirs into the mix an ever-pressing need for concision and elegance—and if he or she is true to the task, a proper definition will probably result.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“It was an idea consonant with Trench’s underlying thought, that any grand new dictionary ought to be itself a democratic product, a book that demonstrated the primacy of individual freedoms, of the notion that one could use words freely, as one liked, without hard and fast rules of lexical conduct.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“These were the soldiers of the Second Brigade—the Irish Brigade—and they were braver and rougher than almost any other unit in the entire Federal army. “When anything absurd, forlorn, or desperate was to be attempted,” as one English war correspondent wrote, “the Irish Brigade was called upon.” The”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“No language as depending on arbitrary use and custom can ever be permanently the same, but will always be in a mutable and fluctuating state; and what is deem’d polite and elegant in one age, may be accounted uncouth and barbarous in another.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“or of oats (“ a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”),”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“Think simple, Murray kept insisting: Think simple.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“I regret not, sir. I cannot lay claim to that distinction. I am the Superintendent of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Dr. Minor is an American, and he is one of our longest-staying inmates. He committed a murder. He is quite insane.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“The first slips of snow white unlined paper, six inches by four, and covered with William Minor’s neat, elaborately cursive, and so distinctively American handwriting in greenish black ink, began to drift out from the Broadmoor post room in the spring of 1885.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“Minor wants desperately to know that he is being helpful. He wants to feel involved. He wants, but knows he can never demand, that praise be showered on him. He wants respectability, and he wants those in the asylum to know that he is special, different from others in their cells. Though”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“It was a dispute of such gravity—linguists and philologists were known to be mercurial and hold eternal grudges—that”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“His life was merely a slow-moving tragedy, an act of steady dying conducted before everyone's eyes.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“I am a nobody. ... Treat me as a solar myth, or an echo, or an irrational quantity, or ignore me altogether.”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“I regret, kind sir, that I am not. It is not at all as you suppose. I am in fact the Governor of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Dr. Minor is most certainly here. But he is an inmate. He has been a patient here for more than twenty years. He is our longest-staying resident.”   Although”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“And that was about all that he really wished the world to know about himself. “I am a nobody,” he would write toward the end of the century, when fame had begun to creep up on him. “Treat me as a solar myth, or an echo, or an irrational quantity, or ignore me altogether.” But”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


“They were a formidable group—the college dean, Henry Liddell (whose daughter Alice had so captivated the Christ Church mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson that he wrote an adventure book for her, set in Wonderland);”
― Simon Winchester, quote from The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary


About the author

Simon Winchester
Born place: in London, England, The United Kingdom
Born date September 28, 1944
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