Tag Archives: dictionary

Words, Words and More Words

Words

Isaac Kaufmann Funk ( 1839 –  1912) was an American Lutheran minister, editor, lexicographer, publisher, and spelling reformer.    He is most well known for  The Standard Dictionary of the English Language published in 1893.   We are told via Wikipedia that “He worked with a team of more than 740 people.  His aim was to provide essential information thoroughly and simply at the same time. In order to achieve this he placed current meanings first, archaic meanings second, and etymologies last. ”

We know that he collaborated with his classmate, Adam Willis Wagnalls and the I K Funk company was renamed Funk and Wagnalls and the encyclopedia was renamed Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia in 1931.  It was later renamed New Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, Universal Standard Encyclopedia, Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia, and Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.quoted the best 10 words in the English language.as :

I read somewhere (?) that Isaac Funk considered the following the best ten words in the English language:

  • Mist
  • Hush
  • Luminous
  • Murmuring
  • Dawn
  • Chimes
  • Lullaby
  • Melody
  • Tranquil
  • Golden

These are in no particular order and I wonder how he arrived at this list of ten.  Certainly they are all gentle words with no harsh sounds or undertones.  Was he a gentle man looking to find equally gentle words?  I wonder

My choice of 10 words would be (again in no particular order):

  • Love
  • Gentle
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Giving
  • Safety
  • Tranquil
  • Tenderness
  • Acceptance
  • Delight

What would your words be.  It’s fun to limit the choice to only 10.  Of course, there are many, many other words I could have chosen.  Why did I choose these?  They are all gentle words and maybe reflect where I am in my life’s journey now.

“But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
and it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year”
As sung by Frank Sinatra – It Was a Very Good Year.

And for me, they have mostly been very good years!

And a final word today from the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE)

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without
living wisely and well and justly.
And it is impossible to live wisely and well
and justly without living a pleasant life.” 

Some recent posts on words –

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Madman, Murderer and Words.

By now you will have recognised realised that I am besotted by words in the English language.  I like the way they look, the way they sound and their meanings.  I can spend whole days following the etymology of words.

Imagine my delight then some years ago to be presented with a copy of “The Professor and the Madman” the story of the compiling of the Oxford English Dictionary and the two men who were so intimately involved in it.

Book cover - Professor and madman

The Professor and the Madman masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the “Oxford English Dictionary”–and literary history.” From the book description on Amazon.

Have you discovered this book yet?  It was written and researched by Simon Winchester and  published in 1999.

We are told that compiling the OED  was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.   As definitions and quotations were collected, Professor James Murray leading the overseeing committee discovered that Dr W C Minor had submitted more than 10,000 words and their quotations.  The committee insisted honoring him at which time the truth came to light.

That truth – Dr Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was  an inmate at Broadmoor, an asylum for the criminally insane.

Dr Minor had served in the Union army as an  assistant surgeon and held the rank of lieutenant. He spent about six months attending to civil war casualties at hospitals in New England before being sent to the front line in May 1864. It appears that following time in the battlefield his mental illness resurfaced.  Because of this he had to leave the army and was sent by his family to convalesce in London.  He settled in a particularly poor part of London (Lambeth) where he supported himself by painting watercolours and playing the flute.  But his mental illness was never under control and while living there he shot and killed a brewery worker who was on his way to work, thinking that the worker was out to seek revenge for an earlier incident while Minor was in the US Army.

Minor gave himself up to the police and was sentenced to be confined in the newly opened Broadmoor Asylum ‘Until Her Majesty’s Pleasure Be Known’

While detained in Broadmoor where he had two cells, a manservant, a large collection of books, and, incredibly, regular visits from Eliza Merrett, the widow of the man he had murdered, Minor heard of the   ‘Appeal for volunteer readers’ sent out by James Murray, in which Murray asked interested members of the reading public to scour published literature for quotations to illustrate the use of English words. Minor, described by the Broadmoor administrators as particularly learned set to work assembling lists of quotations and by the mid-1880s was sending hundreds, and later thousands, of quotations on slips of paper  to Murray and his team at the “famous scriptorium at 79 Banbury Road, Oxford.”

The letters were  signed ‘W. C. Minor, Crowthorne, Berkshire’, and until he called upon Minor,  Murray had no idea that his most assiduous correspondent was an American murderer and an inmate at one of Britain’s most secure and infamous lunatic asylums.

The two men became firm friends united by the complexity of the English language.  Despite this friendship and the benefits of his involvement in the dictionary Minor’s illness became more acute and in 1902, he amputated his own penis in the belief it might curb his troublesome sexual appetite. Following this and prompted by Murray, the  Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, allowed Minor’s release and deportation in 1910.

Minor was farewelled by Murray and his wife and sailed back to New York where on arrival there, he was immediately committed to  St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. He deteriorated steadily, was moved to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane in Hartford, Connecticut and in 1920 died of a respiratory infection

We know very little of his life after returning to the United States but his legacy as a volunteer reader can be found among the pages of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Professor James Murray said of him at the time that “so enormous have been Dr. Minor’s contributions … that we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone” (The Professor and the madman p160).

Associated posts