John McGrath, who maintains the collaborative dictionary Wordie and blogs at Errata, pinch-hit for lexicographer Ben Zimmer a couple of weeks ago at the Oxford University Press USA blog. McGrath interviewed Ammon Shea, who read all 300,000 dictionary entries in the Oxford English Dictionary and lived to tell the tale in the forthcoming Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. (Shea is also the co-author of Depraved and Insulting English.)
Asked whether the project had yielded any insights, Shea replied:
[O]ne insight that I’ve had about lexicography is that it is fun. Dictionaries are fun. They really are amazing creatures, and I think that they are underused. A number of highly educated and dedicated people have worked terribly hard at filling these books with all sorts of fascinating information about the language we use, and most of us just use them to see if we’re spelling a word correctly; it’s like using a great novel as a paperweight.
Shea estimates he devoted nine or ten hours a day, five days a week, for the better part of a year to his project. "I would sometimes wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and begin reading," he says, "just because I almost always had a feeling that I was about to get to something terribly interesting."
Still, he admits: "The letter Q was boring as hell. And I didn’t much care for X either."
The other 24 letters proved much more entertaining. Some of Shea's favorite discoveries:
Apricity – The warmth of the sun in winter
Bouffage – An enjoyable or satisfying meal
Ignotism – A mistake that is made from ignorance
Onomatomania – Vexation with being unable to find the right word
Peracme – The point at which one’s prime has passed
Psithurism – The sound of leaves moved by the wind
Sialoquent -Someone who spits when they speak
Velleity – A mere wish or desire for something, unaccompanied by any action of effort
I'm especially partial to onomatomania, a condition with which I'm all too familiar.