Friday, April 30, 2010

Quote: The Meaning of Everything

We know these things, but we do not really know why so many people gave so much of their time for so little apparent reward. And this is the abiding and most marvellous mystery of the enormously democratic process that was the Dictionary--that hundreds upon hundreds of people, for motives known and unknown, for reasons both stated and left unsaid, helped to chronicle the immense complexities of the language that was their own, and that they dedicated in many cases--such as the Thompson sisters did--years of labour to a project of which they all, buoyed by some set of unfathomable and optimistic notions, insisted on becoming a part. The Thompson sisters of Liverpool, Reigate, and Bath, living an otherwise blameless and unremarkable (though moneyed) suburban life in three most ordinary English towns, left no greater memorial than the work they performed for the greatest literary enterprise of history. They became footnotes in eight-point Clarendon type in a preface to a volume of that enterprise. That was truly their only reward--and yet in all likelihood they, and scores of others like them, surely wanted no other.
Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

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