The Professor and the Madman Essay

This essay has a total of 1025 words and 5 pages.

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman, written by Simon Winchester, is a biography about the making
of the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester, who is an author, journalist, broadcaster
and foreign correspondent, has written for many magazines and newspapers distributed
worldwide. In an interview between Winchester and a host of C-SPAN, Winchester was asked
where the idea for the book came, he replies “Well, it came to me in a rather bizarre way.
I was reading a book on lexicography in the bath one morning, as one does, I suppose, just
before breakfast, and it was a book--a wonderful book called "Chasing The Sun" by a man
called Jonathan Green. And it had a reference--it said, 'Readers will be familiar with the
extraordinary story of Dr. W.C. Minor, an American lunatic murderer, who was a
prodigiously energetic contributor to the OED.' And I remember sitting up in the bath,
Archimedeslike, dripping and saying, 'Well, I know nothing about this.'” Winchester’s
main foundation for this book is to clarify the tale of the making of the Oxford English

The formation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 and took seventy years to
finish. Tens of thousands of individuals organized the expansive language into 414,825
exact definitions. The story begins with the grisly murder of George Merrett, by William
Chester Minor the former U.S. Army officer and qualified surgeon. On February 17th of 1872
in the early morning William Minor had been sleeping, when he awoke to some “noises” of
someone in his flat. He sat up and saw someone standing at the foot of his bed. He
proceeded to chase the individual into the street, and shot at the “person” as they
attempted to flee. He ended up shooting the first person that came into view apparently,
and this person was George Merrett. Merrett had never met W.C Minor and had been heading
home after a long day at work. W.C Minor was arrested. While in prison, he appeared to
act exceptionally strange. One of the guards told the jury that Minor accused him of
paying people to enter his room and molest him while he slept. This evidence clearly
showed that W.C Minor was insane and was sent to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane,
Broadmoore. The judge stated that he would remain there “until her Majesty’s Pleasure be

Professor James Murray, an extraordinarily educated former schoolmaster and bank clerk,
sent out an announcement about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, asking for
literary contributions. From his cell in Broadmoore, Minor came across this announcement
and began contributing examples from his massive collection of new and scarce antique
books. Minor had an enormous collection of books in his cell, which were not available to
Murray and the staff, where the dictionary was being created. Thousand of neat and
well-written quotes and examples came from Minor over several years to Oxford. Murray was
only fifty miles away from where Minor was living, and had no idea that Minor was
committed to an asylum. On several occasions Minor had been asked to visit Murray In
Oxford, where they could meet and discuss the dictionary. Minor declined all invitations,
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