Éclair: A Cake, Long in Shape, but Short in Duration

Simon Winchester has a very British name. He has a very British accent. He has a very British sense of humour. He has, in short, everything that I like in a man.

I read Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything (a history of the Oxford English Dictionary) last summer, and it was one of the first books I put on my recommendations page. As I wrote in my review, “Simon Winchester is an incredible writer, and makes his history book read more like a novel. You just have to give The Meaning of Everything a read.” I stand by that; I recommend this book to anyone even slightly interested in the history of dictionaries or English words.

I get it, though – not everyone has the time to curl up with a cup of tea and read for pleasure. Which is why I present you with this:

In 2003, Simon Winchester gave a lecture in Hart House’s Great Hall (where I recently saw a bangin’ July Talk show). TVO filmed it, and made it available to the world via YouTube.

In the lecture, Winchester presents the highlights of his book, interspersed with some dry – British –  jokes. He begins with a brief history of dictionaries – did you know that the first worth-mentioning monolingual dictionary was published in the 17th century? – and then goes on to talk about elephants, hot dogs, and James Murray. He’s incredibly articulate, and incredibly funny.

Even if you only have a couple minutes, skip to any part of the video and watch for a bit. This stuff makes for good cocktail party material.

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