Hardly Harmless Drudgery: A 500-Year Pictorial History of the Lexicographic Geniuses, Sciolists, Plagiarists, and Obsessives Who Defined the English Language

Godine. Apr. 2024. 520p. ISBN 9781567928075. $65. REF
Lawyer/grammarian/lexicographer Garner (law, Southern Methodist Univ.; Legal Writing in Plain English, Third Edition) and Lynch (English, Rutgers Univ.-Newark; You Could Look It Up) deliver an utterly delightful history of lexicography. Their reference book originated as a companion catalogue to an exhibition showcasing the Garner Collection, the largest privately owned collection of English dictionaries. It fully stands on its own, however, as a charming romp through the history of English-language dictionary-making. Consisting of brief biographical sketches of lexicographers, it is filled with fabulous images and descriptions of their work. Arranged chronologically in short historical vignettes, the book gives readers much to ponder and be amused by. Readers will learn of British, American, Old English, Middle English, law, medical, slang, and digital dictionaries, among many others. Far from being “harmless drudges” as the famous 18th-century lexicographer Samuel Johnson called his colleagues, they are revealed to be quite an eclectic group of people who included extroverts, introverts, plagiarists, scholars, amateurs, curmudgeons, and scoundrels, many of whom apparently died penniless.
VERDICT Highly recommended for all word lovers curious about the people who codified English vocabulary throughout time.
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