When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
A worthy hint from Open Culture website, the enormous Oxford English Dictionary can be explored for free until February, 5 with “trynwoed” as both your username and password.
The Limits to Our Words
With Google N-Gram Viewer, we could witness how pure statistics on word’s usage can provide us with a glimpse into human anthropology. Trapped today in a digital communication and studied recently by cyber anthropologists, nothing should excuse us from expanding the limits of our language and playing with it for a while. Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, compared the limits of our language to the limits of our world. And we are invited on the OED pages to bring the words of English language to the Mad Hatter’s tea party and to become their master.
Apart from clicking through the tea party characters displayed on the dictionary’s homepage and discovering the details behind Lewis Carroll’s inventions, you are also invited to browse through:
- dictionary (from A to Z)
- categories (by subject, usage, origin or region)
- timelines (when words have entered the language)
- sources (quoted authors and works)
- Historical Thesaurus (new feature) – semantic index to the contents of the OED
New design is making the online version truly enjoyable to investigate, and added to it, there is a list of most cited authors and an ‘Aspects of English’ section with research articles on English language.
Evolving English and Mr Tickle
The Oxford English Dictionary will be one of the topics discussed with Linda Mugglestone on one of the events organized at the British Library during its another brilliant exhibition, the Evolving English. “James Murray, editor in chief of the first edition of the monumental Oxford English Dictionary, believed the history of dictionaries was a story of evolution,” the event site explains. The roots of Old English, slang dictionaries, medieval manuscripts, advertisements and newspapers from around the world, everyday texts and dialect sound recordings are explored throughout the exhibition. The users are invited to focus on the excerpts from the most fascinating documents belonging to the English language heritage.
Many video and audio experiments are included in the exhibition among which – the mapping of voices. The participants (even those online) are asked to read out loud from a children’s story “Mr. Tickle” and to record their sound. The recordings thus capture the sounds of spoken English all over the world.
Finally, such a display of diversity of the English language provides us with an encouraging thought. Since our words are still not worn out, perhaps, our minds aren’t either.