“Words, More Words” | practice English with Spotlight


Hello. I’m Ruby Jones. And I’m Mike Procter. Welcome to Spotlight. This programme uses a special English method
of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no
matter where in the world they live. Anyone learning a new language will know the
value of a good dictionary! This word book is helpful in understanding
the meaning of words. Dictionaries can show people how and when
to use words properly. Often, language students will carry a small
dictionary with them all the time. Or, they will keep a larger copy at home to
help them with their studies. But imagine having a dictionary made up of
20 separate books – and weighing 62 kilogrammes! That is the size and weight of the Oxford
English Dictionary, or OED. Experts consider the OED to be the highest
authority on the meaning and pronunciation of the English language. In an earlier Spotlight programme, we told
the story of Ammon Shea. Shea is a man from New York. He spent a whole year reading the OED from
beginning to end! Our programme also described how the dictionary
project began in 1879. James Murray was the man responsible for gathering
information for the first version of the dictionary. He planned to include the history and meanings
of a huge number of words. That is, all the words in the English language
from the 12th century to the modern day! This was a very slow job. So, Murray gathered a large team of helpers. Their aim was to finish the dictionary within
ten years. However, after five years the team was still
working on the letter ‘a’! Murray then understood that he needed more
helpers. And so, he published a public notice. It said: “An appeal to the English-speaking and English-reading
public! To read books and make copies for the new
English Dictionary! … We want a thousand readers – and we are
sure that we will get them. They will help towards completing the work
within the next three years. They will help us gather all the information
we need to prepare the Dictionary.” So, how exactly did these readers help? First, each reader chose particular words
to research. The readers then read both ancient and modern
books. As they read, they searched. They searched for useful quotations. Each quotation was a sentence that used one
of their chosen words. The quotation showed how the book’s writer
used that particular word. For each word, the readers wrote the name
of the book and the quotation on a piece of paper. The readers then sent these pieces of paper
to the research team. The researchers received about a million of
these quotations! And they developed a method of organizing
them all. They placed them in alphabetical order depending
on the word they explained. This meant that Murray and his team could
see how the people’s use of a word changed over time. James Murray noticed that one man in particular
was very helpful. Over some years this man sent thousands of
quotes to the dictionary team. His name was William Minor. He became involved in the dictionary research
in an unusual way. Marina Santee tells us his story. Doctor William Minor was from the United States. He had served as a military doctor in the
American civil war. He saw terrible events during that time. And they deeply affected his mental health. His family sent him to London to recover – far
from the memories of war. But, Doctor Minor still continued to suffer
from periods of great mental confusion. He did not know what was real and what was
imaginary. During one of these times, Minor shot and
killed a man. So, the authorities put him in a prison for
insane criminals. While he was in prison, Minor read about Murray’s
appeal for help. So, he began to put together a long list of
quotations. He sent this list to Murray – and many more
lists after that. Minor did not tell Murray that he was writing
from prison. And it was not until many years later that
Murray discovered the truth about his faithful helper! Murray went to visit Minor in prison. And the two men became friends. In 1910, the British government permitted
Minor to return to his family in America. And Murray gave Minor a present to take with
him – the first 6 completed books of the new dictionary! People can still see the results of Minor’s
work printed on the pages of the OED today. The complete OED was first published in 1928. Since then, the English language has continued
to develop. So the publishers have continued to make changes
to the OED. They planned to publish a complete second
version by 1989. They wanted to offer not only a printed book
– but a version for computers too! A huge group of workers gathered together:
project leaders, word experts, computer engineers. 120 people entered all the existing written
information into computers. They also had to include 5000 new words and
meanings! 50 readers searched every computer file for
mistakes. The chief dictionary editor is John Simpson. He organized a team of word experts. They examined the computer version of the
OED word by word. And, thanks to an army of workers and modern
technology, the second edition appeared on time! The Oxford English Dictionary marked its 80th
year in 2008. It exists as a 20-part book. But you can also buy a CD version – and you
can visit the OED website online. All through the dictionary’s history, the
OED editors have known that people have been their main resource. That is still true today. John Simpson says: “There is no longer one English – there are
many Englishes. Words are flooding into the language from
all corners of the world. Only a dictionary the size of the OED can
really capture the true richness of the English language… We now have an online edition – and I would
be very happy to have many new readers helping us to map the past, the present and the future
of English.” Today, the OED has a webpage that invites
people to send in new English words that they have found – or new meanings for old words. You can find a link to that page on the Spotlight
website, www.radioenglish.net. Look for the script page of this programme. It is called ‘Words, More Words’. The writer and producer of today’s programme
was Ruby Jones. The voices you heard were from the United
Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You are always welcome to email Spotlight
at [email protected] Thank you for listening today, goodbye.

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