Today’s daily desk copy request: Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman for a class on the elements of inquiry.
The Professor and the Madman is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary—and literary history. Begun in 1857, the compilation of the OED was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
So it comes as no surprise to me that the OED was formed in part by a madman, because honestly, what is the OED if not CRAZY COOL? Where else will you find such a massive collection of insults, culled from the greatest minds of the English speaking world? And they’re perfect for classroom use! Just take the OED entry for “crazy”…
Say your students can’t sit still:
“Remove not from the place where you be, sithence you are weake and crasie.”—Abraham Fleming from Panoplie Epist, 1576
A student asks if they can hand in their final paper in July:
“Lord child…are you crazy?”—Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania Gazette, 1732
No better way to get your message across than to drop some Benjamin Franklin on them! Students love him—he’s like the Justin Bieber of the Founding Fathers, a true Renaissance Man.