rgsteele1-thumb.jpg One of the most valuable works in the English language was the writing of the New English Dictionary. Begun in the 1850s and finished in 1927, it strove to define all the words in the English language and to list its different uses through quotations from book that used them.

Aside from the dictionary working group headed by Dr James Murray, readers were asked to contribute words that they came across in their reading of books. But I’m sure very few know that one of its best contributors to the writing of the dictionary was a Dr William Minor, an American confined in an English asylum at Broadmoor.

His life was fascinating, in a sordid sort of way. He believed that people visited him at night and provoked him to do all manners of things. He was deeply religious and he would look at women and feel guilty about his thoughts. But he controlled his feelings to the point that he cut off his manhood. It is believed that his madness was a result of what he saw and experienced in the Battle of the Wilderness where he worked as a surgeon.

Although his insanity is distracting, he was highly intelligent. For over twenty years he meticulously researched for words, mostly from rare books, to contribute to the New English Dictionary, which we now know as the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Strange Case of the Surgeon at Crowthorne
History of the Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary: Word of the Day