“Reading the OED” by Ammon Shea
By Ammon Shea
256 pages. Audio: 5 hours and 9 minutes
You know you must be really hard up for reading material when you resort to reading the dictionary. Not just any dictionary—the Oxford English Dictionary. And not just the Oxford English Dictionary—the unabridged version. And so, the cover of the book proclaims One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. I do not know what possessed Ammon Shea to undertake this project but I, for one, am delighted he did. He saved me the trouble.
Preachers make their living with words. This is a book about words. The chapters are ingeniously titled: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z. Now if those aren't chapter titles that make you want to dive in, then I don't know what would!
Each chapter of Reading the OED includes Shea’s favorite words from each letter of the alphabet, the OED definition, and his utterly entertaining commentary. When I first started reading the book I quickly grabbed a note card to write down all of my favorite words so I wouldn't forget one. But the note card wasn't going to allow me nearly enough room! In fact, I rather rapidly abandoned making any notes at all because all of the words were so good I would have wound up just copying the whole book. I can't spoil the joy of learning these words but I have to give a couple of examples so you will know what you are getting into:
Gymnologize (v.) To dispute naked, like an Indian philosopher.
There are only several plausible reasons I can think of for having an argument while naked, and none of them happens to involve Indian philosophers.
Acnestis (n.) On an animal, the point of the back that lies between the shoulders and the lower back, which cannot be reached to be scratched.
I am very glad I found this word early in my reading of the OED—the fact that there existed a word for this thing which previously I had been sure lacked a name was such a delight to me that suddenly the whole idea of reading the dictionary seemed utterly reasonable.
Ah, with words and witty commentary like that, what’s not to love? Okay, I will admit that not all of the words are as entertaining as those. But I can almost promise you that if you read a few words from this book every day, you will become utterly obnoxious to the loved ones around you because you will be constantly pestering them with the refrain “you’ve got to hear this word.”
I doubt it will make you a better preacher, though it might increase your appreciation of the resourcefulness of the English language. You might discover that when you say, “I wish there were a word for that!” that there actually is one. So get this book and become obnoxious. Go to the letter U and look at the fourth word. I dare you not to laugh.