Love the English language?
If you have a fascination with the English language, love finding the derivation of words, and are the sort of person who looks up a word in the dictionary and, one thing having led to another, still have your nose buried in it half an hour later, you should buy a copy of David Crystal’s Words in Time and Place, published by Oxford University Press.
It serves as a great introduction to the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, a major work of scholarship which presents a timeline for thousands of words, showing how their meanings have changed over centuries and how each period of history has shown a fashion for particular words and usages.
Crystal’s book, like the Thesaurus itself (or indeed any thesaurus) divides words into sets or groups. A dictionary, being purely alphabetical, does not do this, of course. He has chosen groups which will entertain general readers and sharpen the appetite of more serious wordsmiths to delve into the main Thesaurus if they have not already done so. So words for dying, fools, prostitutes, pop music and hotels are chosen, among others. The source of the main Thesaurus is extraordinarily rich. There are over 1100 words in all semantic and grammatical categories for dying, for example!
Value to Publishers and Copy-editors
Imagine you are a historical novelist and you need the right word to put in period context. Did people “pass on”, “pass over”, “pass”, “meet their Maker”, “expire”, or simply “die” in 1850 or 1700, for example? The Thesaurus will give you rich fodder. Editors and copy-editors will find it a valuable reference tool if they deal with historical matter; publishers of any size should have the two-volume work on their shelves or supply their staff with the online edition. Historical accuracy is often overlooked in the editorial process and nothing devalues a book more than inaccuracy (or poor proofreading, of course). For me a book can easily be spoiled by typos or small errors, however much I am enjoying it up to the point I encounter them. And words or phrases which jar because they are out of period (unless intentionally) have the same effect (if I happen to know they are, of course; I’m no expert).
There is never an excuse for a publisher or author who presents a book riddled with errors. We are all human and the odd slip gets through in any book. But competent, well-trained copy-editors and proofreaders should be employed to make a book as near perfect as possible. A little priggish, perhaps, but what’s the point of an otherwise excellent piece of work being ruined by carelessness? Books like David Crystal’s and the main Thesaurus itself make us all aware of the minefield that awaits anyone who writes historical fiction or non-fiction.
David Crystal is, of course, one of the leading authorities on the English language; he has written many highly-respected books and been a regular broadcaster as well as a leading academic. Please have a browse in the Chapterhouse bookshop for more titles by Crystal.