After the (perhaps surprising) success of the novel The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words by Simon Winchester it appears that Mel Gibson has bought the film rights and is set to star alongside Sean Penn in the real life drama of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Originally planning on creating the film himself Gibson has handed the directorial reins to writer Farhad Safinia who is probably best known for his epic adventure film Apocalypto and will instead play the role of Professor James Murray, the man who began compiling the dictionary in 1857. Sean Penn is rumoured to be in negotiations with Gibson to play retired army surgeon W C Minor, who submitted more than 10,000 entries to Murray while imprisoned at an asylum for the criminally insane
A monumental 50 year task requiring thousands of volunteers the OED began as a Philological Society project of a small group of intellectuals in London (and unconnected to Oxford University) Richard Chenevix Trench, Herbert Coleridge, and Frederick Furnivall, who were dissatisfied with the existing English dictionaries; and although talk of a comprehensive English dictionary began in 1844 it would not be until June 1857 that they would begin forming an “Unregistered Words Committee” whose objective was to search for words that were unlisted or poorly defined in current dictionaries. This is where W C Minor comes in; one of the volunteers, William Chester Minor submitted a vast amount of definitions to the editors of the original OED and it was not until very late in the editorial phase that it was discovered that Minor was at the time incarcerated in an Asylum for the Criminally Insane after fatally shooting a man during a period of paranoia.
So it seems that the world leading resource for researching the English Language has its origins steeped in mire and thanks to a book that was repeatedly rejected until Harper Collins’ editor Larry Ashmead decided to champion its publication with his belief that “we can make lexicography cool” that we may see how the OED began life writ large upon the silver screen.