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Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by jayasala42, Mar 23, 2024.

  1. jayasala42

    jayasala42 IL Hall of Fame

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    Of late I have been reading-only reading ,mostly not responding to the exchange of thoughts
    I have been simply scanning those mails by SArva Shri Cheeniya, Viswa, Thyagarajan,Srama and many others with awe and wonder with a dictionary in my hand.I was wondering how many words would be in the vocabulary list of these intellectuals..Will it be in millions? No, the dictionary is stated to contain nearly 5 lakhs words only.
    It is very difficult to compile a dictionary.The French Dictionary took 56 years to complete,Oxford English Dictionary took 71 years,German Dictionary took 106 years and
    the Italian Dictionary which was begun in 1863 is not complete even now.
    On any day have you made attempts to know approximately how many words you know in a language which you are capable of reading and writing well?
    Somehow we have the impression that English professors or people who love English will be great scholars with a rich vocabulary.With this impression we imagine that the originator of a dictionary would be a great scholar-uncompare-

    Amazingly Henry Murray ,the creator of Oxford English Dictionary Was the son of a tailor in Scotland.He had studied only upto class V111.He loved playing with words.He was able to recognize many words even when he was 18 months old.He could not attend school after 8th.But the entire village was aware of his intelligence and he was appointed as the headmaster of the village school.when he was 20..he knew twenty languages. By that time his hold on English was remarkable.

    The philological society of England entrusted him with the job of preparing English-English Dictionary.This job had already started in 1857 and was kept untouched for the past 22 years.Murray thought that he might take around 10 years.But when he checked the reference materials, he was stunned.There were millions of reference slips to be incorporated and edited,He had to build a separate shed to keep the slips.He spent all his time in writing the dictionary.All his 11 children helped him.Sometimes a single word took several months.The word'Do' took 6 months.

    Murray died at the age of 78 in 1915. By the time dictionary was written upto the letter'T' only.The complete dictionary was published in 1928 only with 4,14,825 words.Today with all definitions etc it
    will be much more.There have been dictionaries earlier even in 1400. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary had many short comings.
    Some interesting takes:-
    Normally we think that good English authors might know at least 50% of the words in the
    dictionary..But it is surprising to know
    Average native speakers at age 4 already know 5,000 words.
    Average native speakers at age 8 already know 10,000 words.
    Average adult native speakers know 20,000 to 35,000 words.
    Adult native speakers learn around 1 new word a day until middle age.
    Adult vocabulary growth basically stops by middle age
    More statistics about non-native English users:-
    Non-native English users have an average vocabulary size of 4,500 words.
    Non-native English users generally reach 10,000+ words by living abroad
    Non-native English users learn 2½ new words a day while living in an English-speaking country.

    While the vocabulary of even a great author of books living fully in India is likely to be around 5000 to 6000 at the most, I don't dare to estimate the extent of my vocabulary in English.

    No use of lamenting at 83.I will read what I can understand and leave the rest.

    When we see such exchanges of rich vocabulary which we have to understand only with a dictionary on hand,I am reminded of a book

    “ The Professor and the Madman “ by Simon Winchester. He writes of the origin of the Oxford English Dictionary.

    It is known as one of the greatest literary achievements in the history of English letters. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857, took seventy years to complete, drew from tens of thousands of brilliant minds, and organised the sprawling language into 414,825 precise definitions.

    But hidden within the rituals of its creation is a fascinating and mysterious story — a story of two remarkable men whose strange twenty-year relationship lies at the core of this historic undertaking.

    Professor James Murray, an astonishingly learned former schoolmaster and bank clerk, was the distinguished editor of the OED project. Dr. William Chester Minor, an American surgeon from New Haven, Connecticut, who had served in the Civil War, was one of thousands of contributors who submitted illustrative quotations of words to be used in the dictionary. But Minor was no ordinary contributor. He was remarkably prolific, sending thousands of neat, handwritten quotations from his home in the small village of Crowthorne, fifty miles from Oxford. On numerous occasions Murray invited Minor to visit Oxford and celebrate his work, but Murray’s offer was regularly — and mysteriously — refused.

    Thus the two men, for two decades, maintained a close relationship only through correspondence. Finally, in 1896, after Minor had sent nearly ten thousand definitions to the dictionary but had still never travelled from his home, a puzzled Murray set out to visit him. It was then that Murray finally learned the truth about Minor–that, in addition to being a masterful wordsmith, Minor was also a murderer, clinically insane — and locked up in Broadmoor, England’s harshest asylum for criminal lunatics.

    'THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN' is an extraordinary tale of madness and genius, and the incredible obsessions of two men at the heart of the Oxford English Dictionary and literary history. With riveting insight and detail, Simon Winchester,the author, crafts a fascinating glimpse into one man’s tortured mind and his contribution to another man’s magnificent dictionary.
    The review writer of the book said

    “I found THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN both enthralling and moving, in its brilliant reconstruction of a most improbable event: the major contributions made to the great Oxford English Dictionary by a deeply delusional, incarcerated “madman”, and the development of a true friendship between him and the editor of the OED. One sees here the redemptive potential of work and love in even the most deeply, “hopelessly,” psychotic.”

    Let this be a motivation to many others to reach atleast 25% of their knowledge,vocabulary and writing skills.
    I am only a silent spectator.

    Vathsala Jayaraman-M 170
    gamma50g and Ragavisang like this.

  2. Thyagarajan

    Thyagarajan Finest Post Winner

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    Kudos to madam sister @jayasala42 for this article about birth of English Dictionary and the times behind it.
    Nice to know that you have quoted my name too in your wonderment of fellow - members vocab memory.

    2. There is always a huge difference between the number of words remain functional in once memory than the recognition one.

    3. Generally much selection of words depend on the status or the circle or the maturity level of the audience.
    4. When something written for masses of a particular geography, the words one choose to express must be simple and it should be easily comprehensible by laymen. When audience are of highly educated individuals or scientific community or symbosia- the words naturally got to be specific.
    5. From time to time, in Oxford dictionary of English - new words are added and their press do make an announcement. When they included "katamaram" and announced it news column- I wondered.
    6. But English lady is cosmopolitan and outgoing. She borrows words from everywhere and many of her words are rooted in Latin Greek & French.
    7. I was using Oxford concise pocket dictionary during my academics & lifco English- English- tamil .

    8. It is true that lexicographers have had a hard time in compiling the dictionary but now in the era of Google hardly any one buy and use their printed version. Even brail book is available for reading in computer via internet with suitable software installed.
    First time from your article, I noted the history behind in making the Oxford English Dictionary and about - Murray & Minor - the lexicographers.
    9. Somewhere in settings in internet/computer/laptop, one has to select type of dictionary that s/he would like to use. There is a choice. Is it American or British?
    10. I felt the need for using Dictionary more often than in school, when I joined Pitman Shorthand class in 1960-61. The instructor for short-hand speed writing practice would read the day to day editorial from the Hindu.
    11. Before reaching the class at 8 am in a great hurry, I used to read the editorials in advance in nearby corporation-reading- room . And precisely that was the time I began looking for meanings using Lifco Englisg-English-tamil and oxford pocket size lexicons .
    12. I remember to hv walked to Ranganathan Street T Nagar from Triplicane and returned with a stout calico bound Lifco dic . The dic that was priced at Rs 5 and I got a discount of 8 annas and the shorty slim iyengar publisher was kind of enough to grant another 8 annās discount, when he came to know that I walked to Lifco Press from Triplicane.
    13. I guess one would be using while speaking only one word for every 50 or 100 words known to him or her. While writing a story, the author might be using 20 for ever 2000 words known to him.
    14. Many words refuse to come to vocal chords while they are at the back of the head. But suddenly a flash the page or the moment comes to mind where you had seen or heard the word for first time. Pages of Lifco & Oxford dictionaries appeared many times.

    15. Many a time I notice, only after clicking the "post" button to a response,
    better word(s) or latin phrases come to mind or a word that can't be substituted by any other word.
    16. The number of English words and (hackneyed phrases) grown up in size over centuries, yet it is observed for many sanskrit words like dhārmā, she has no befitting equivalent.
    16. It appears to me madam sister had written this write-up many years back and was published in a popular magazine or news paper.
    A Keralite lady by name "mini" in the upper echelon of Oxford University Press used to contribute articles in The Hindu about new words added to dictionary.
    17. Dictionary is very nostalgic for me. Dad pressed my aching calf muscles while I was in sleep. It was the day I walked to & fro triplicane-t nagar to possess lifco dictionary.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2024
  3. Srama

    Srama Finest Post Winner

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    Dear JS ma'm,

    You never stop surprising me with the information you possess and your ability to share it efficiently. Thank you, ma'am. I will be sharing this article with my students. As a non-native language speaker, imagine how I sound to teenagers here with their ever-evolving American English. So many words are nonexistent in the dictionary and I learn word-a-day :) I continue to find English very limiting in expression compared to our native tongues, especially Samskritam, and I struggle to explain the beauty and the meaning from our languages to English. My students, of course, love it - both my struggle and that 'aha' moment when they get it.
    Thyagarajan likes this.
  4. Ragavisang

    Ragavisang Gold IL'ite

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    Wow… one of life’s strangest realities.
    Thyagarajan likes this.
  5. Thyagarajan

    Thyagarajan Finest Post Winner

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    I consider this is the best place to discuss Idiosyncrasy of English and its words with queer spelling.
    When you have nothing better to do, just try answers for these!
    1. If poison expires, is it more poisonous or is it no longer poisonous?

    2. Which letter is silent in the word "Scent," the S or the C?

    3. Do twins ever realize that one of them is unplanned?

    4. Why is the letter W, in English, called double U? Shouldn't it be called double V?

    5. Maybe oxygen is slowly killing you and It just takes 75-100 years to fully work.

    6. Every time you clean something, you just make something else dirty.

    7. The word "swims" upside-down is still "swims"

    8. 100 years ago everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars. Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses.

    9. If you replace "W" with "T" in "What, Where and When", you get the answer to each of them.

    Six great confusions still unresolved
    1. At a movie theatre, which arm rest is yours?
    2. If people evolve from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?
    3. Why is there a 'D' in fridge,
    but not in refrigerator?
    4. Who knew what time it was when the first clock was made?

    Vagaries of English Language! Enjoy!!
    - Wonder why the word funeral starts with FUN?
    -Why isn't a Fireman called a Water-man?
    - How come Lipstick doesn't do what it says?
    - If money doesn't grow on trees, how come Banks have Branches?
    - If a Vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a Humanitarian eat?
    - How do you get off a non-stop Flight?
    - Why are goods sent by ship called CARGO and those sent by truck SHIPMENT?
    - Why do we put cups in the dishwasher and the dishes in the Cupboard?
    - Why do doctors 'practice' medicine? Are they having practice at the cost of the patients?
    - Why is it called 'Rush Hour' when traffic moves at its slowest then?
    - How come Noses run and Feet smell?
    - Why do they call it a TV 'set' when there is only one?
    - What are you vacating when you go on a vacation?
    We can never find the answers, can we?
    So just enjoy the pun and fun of the English language!!
  6. HariLakhera

    HariLakhera Platinum IL'ite

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    It will be interesting to know how many words are no longer in use. H G Wells is said to have used only 500 words in his writings. M K Gandhi tried not to use a word that may need a dictionary to understand.
    The basic purpose of writing is to communicate in a simple language and over time it becomes a habit.
  7. Viswamitra

    Viswamitra Finest Post Winner

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    Dear Smt. Vathsala Jayaraman:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight in your own inmitable style of writing. I agree with your judgment of the vocabulary of Cheeniya Sir, Thyagarajan Sir and Sabitha but my vocabulary is extremely limited. I studied in Tamil Medium school until my 11th Grade and most of English speaking and writing skills, I picked up by listening and speaking with others. I always feel my writing is poor grammatically as well as perfect use of vocabulary. Frankly, Cheeniya Sir mentioned that he also studied in Tamil medium but I always get overwhelmed by his reading habits and extraordinary use of appropriate vocabularies to write his snippets.

    The fact that your articles are regulalry published by the newspaper is a clear indication how well you write. But your article gave me confidence and clarity that even the one who created the dictionary did it more out of hard work than his vocabulary skills. There is hope for someone like me.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2024
    HariLakhera and Thyagarajan like this.
  8. gamma50g

    gamma50g Gold IL'ite

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    @jayasala42 maami,

    We have used the dictionary so many times. It has become so ubiquitous that we don't really pause and think who might have authored it. Your facts are a novelty for me. Thank you for sharing.
    Viswamitra likes this.

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