As an undergraduate I was introduced to the magic of the Oxford English Dictionary. Some may question the use of the word “magic” to describe this tome, but for a class full of eager English majors, cracking the spine (well, spines–there are several volumes) of the OED and diving into the deep waters of word meanings and derivations was nothing short of a magical moment. Who knew that finding the first time the word “marshmallow” was ever printed in the English language could hold such fascination?
The OED quickly stepped into the arena of classic reference material soon after its first edition was finally printed in the 1920’s. Classics speak of tradition. And often tradition speaks of the formal or perhaps less-than-daring. What seldom peeks out from behind the covers of such a thing as the OED is the very intense, sometimes unbelievable, story of how it came to be in the first place. In Charlotte Brewer’s book Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED the idea of what a mammoth undertaking it was to even consider compiling the OED in the first place comes to life . The product as well as the process molded many lives and created somewhat of a subculture along the way.
What drives the creation of such a thing as the OED–or any such large, almost unbelievable notion? What occured to me is that such a project or product often really is driven by, well, another take on the O-E-D: the Odd, Eccentric and the Dynamic. Think about it: how many of the incredible, deep and useful products or projects that change our lives had their early stirrings in odd moments? How many were driven by eccentric, passionate individuals who simply knew it would work and stood behind the idea? How about the dynamics that arise from deep conversations or shared actions? Yes, we’re talking innovation-in-action here. (And so, proving that The Oxford English Dictionary has many types of magic).
Here is a small string of O-E-D (Odd, Eccentric, Dynamic) products, programs and personalities off the top of my mind. File these under “inspiration” and/or “find out more”:
Cerritos Library, Martha Graham, Playing For Others, Anythink Libraries, Gustafer Yellowgold, Timothy Ferris, Indievision, The Fun Theory
What’s on your OED list?