Calling all Sherlocks: The OED Needs You

Dictionary[I spotted this story on The Guardian website and it just captured my imagination, so I had to write about it!]

Veronica Hurst, principal bibliographer of the Oxford English Dictionary has asked for the public’s help – to find a book.

The 19th Century book Meanderings of Memory, by the mysterious “Nightlark” has been cited a grand total of 51 times in the Oxford English Dictionary, but is nowhere to be found. So Hurst has launched an appeal in the hope that someone may be able to trace the writing.

A member of staff working on the entry for “revirginize” (for which Meanderings is the earliest citation) discovered that the book wasn’t to be found on any library catalogue or database, and so contacted Hurst in the hope she could track it down.

After 30 minutes of searching, she realised that this was no ordinary missing book: “… I was no further along the line to solving it – I looked on Google Books, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in short I looked everywhere I could think of and couldn’t come up with anything… We’re not usually completely floored, but this time we’re stumped.”

In fact, the only evidence they could find was a note in a booksellers catalogue with the description: “Written and published by a well-known connoisseur with the epigraph ‘Cur potius lacrimae tibi mi Philomela placebant?‘ ” (Loosely translated as: ‘why did my tears please you more, my Philomel?’)

Suspecting a hoax (“… people have made quite a lot of effort from time to time to get into the OED, so maybe a 19th-century Oxford man thought he could fool us.”) Hurst has appealed for the public’s help.

Since then, a further reference to Meanderings has been found – in a Sotheby’s catalogue from 1854 – and the current theory is that Meanderings of Memory is in fact a very small piece of (possibly pornographic) work (poetry?), and only probably 5-10 pages long.

The search is ongoing.

Have you heard about Meanderings of Memory and can you help the OED?

On the subject of tracking down books: what extremes have you gone to for that special book?

Photo Credit: Dictionary at the Evansville Public Library: greeblie on Flickr

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