There is something a little bit strange about deciding to read a dictionary from start to finish, and when the dictionary in question is the Oxford English Dictionary it is also an epic undertaking.Â The OED is not the 1300-page Concise Oxford Dictionary that is in many homes, nor even the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary that some of us are lucky enough to have, but the full 20-volume encyclopedia-sized version.
I have enough trouble with 700-page novels and would never even contemplate tackling a 21,730-page reference book.Â The very idea just makes me think of the autodidact in Sarte’s La NausÃ©e who was attempting to read all the books in a library. In order.
There does seem to be some sort of pay-off to this undertaking though – being able to understand what Will Self is on about for a start; but also there are some fantastic words lurking in the OED that can only be found there, specifically “Gove”.
Apparently it means “to stare stupidly”.Â Â That will now be forever in my mind whenever I see Michael Gove mentioned in print.Â The only thing is that it sounds too good to be true, like finding out that the word ‘cameron’ means insipid or that ‘clooney’ means smooth.Â Gove is too obscure to be in my Concise or Shorter dictionaries so I’ll just have to bow to the superior knowledge of somebody who is focussed enough to read the full version.