Soldiers, violence and the Oxford English Dictionary

We heard on Friday that soldiers returning from war are more likely to commit violent crimes than the rest of the population. I don’t think most people will be surprised by this, and I don’t want to go into a discussion of PTSD or masculinity or the shitty way we treat our soldiers when we’re done with them.  I thought I would share this instead:

Various notable scholars and literary figures have worked as clerks, volunteers or researchers on the OED throughout its 150-year history […] but possibly the most notorious was the convicted murderer William Chester Minor.

Minor had been a surgeon in the Union Army during the American Civil War […] Haunted by the horrors of the war, Minor suffered from severe dementia and paranoid hallucinations and was discharged from the army. After a period of incarceration in a lunatic asylum, Minor moved to England in 1871. On 17 February 1872, in London, Minor shot and killed a man during an attack of severe paranoia and was charged with murder. He escaped hanging on the grounds of insanity and was incarcerated in Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane. […]

When [OED editor] James Murray advertised for volunteers, Minor wrote to him offering his services and unaware of his background, Murray accepted. A prodigious reader, Minor became one of Murray’s most diligent and effective researchers, sending hundreds of judiciously chosen quotations and citations into the OED team. It was only after several years that Murray became aware of who his star contributor was and visited William Minor in Broadmoor to thank him personally for all of his hard work.

Extract from The Story of English by Joseph Piercy, published 2012.

(This post has been edited to correct an error in the dates, which I made when I was typing out the extract. Thanks to the reader who pointed out the mistake.)

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