Christopher Howse

The Definitive Version

The Word Detective: A Life in Words – From Serendipity to Selfie

By

Little, Brown 366pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Teatime at the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1980s resembled a scene from a Barbara Pym novel. It was taken in the ground-floor room of a grand Georgian building in St Giles’, Oxford, in which millions of slips sent in by volunteer readers filled large grey filing cabinets. In every other office where John Simpson had worked, stock conversation covered football, what had been on television the previous evening and work colleagues. ‘I never heard any of these topics raised at the dictionary tea,’ he writes.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • One woman 'travelled round the south of India with a retinue of 750 people, fourteen elephants, two racing camels f… ,
    • Stuck for a gift idea for Father's Day? Subscribe to Literary Review and get a FREE copy of 'An Impeccable Spy' –… ,
    • 'Gone. All gone. The ease, the pleasure, the effortless eloquence' From May 1995, Margaret Forster's withering rev… ,
    • RT : SO excited to tell you about this event! 😆 The amazing digital colourist, will be joining w… ,
    • 'Peters was unashamed and evidently unshamable, an impostor who wholly inhabited his fabrications and who indignant… ,
    • ‘At every waking moment Barbara Hepworth was aware of herself as a woman paving the way in a man’s world’ From the… ,
    • The entertaining Howard Jacobson is in conversation with Prof John Mullan at the Queen’s Park Book Festival on Sund… ,