The art of reading for the OED: Joy Winnington

The art of reading for the OED: Joy Winnington

Having introduced the OED’s five reading programmes in the first blog post of this ‘the art of reading the OED’ series, the programmes’ editors handed over to Ruth Mateer, a reader for the UK Reading Programme, to share her thoughts on reading for the OED.

In this next post of the series, Joy Winnington, a reader for the Science Reading Programme (SciRP), shares her experience of the work and the titles that have especially inspired her:

I am a chemistry graduate of the 1970s, who after completing a PGCE went on to teach Chemistry & General Science before becoming Principal of a sixth-form college. After a career break travelling in South America and Nepal, I retrained in TESOL and thereafter ran a series of English Language colleges in Oxford. When I ‘retired’ from that, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on the Science Characteristic Project for the OED, work which I found both interesting and quite compulsive! Oxford University Press (OUP) later approached me to ask if I’d be interested in working with the OED Science Reading Programme (SciRP), which I’ve been doing since 2012. I have since read 82 books and 54 periodicals for the programme and feel proud of the number of quotations which have resulted.

I find the work very stimulating, if at times a little frustrating – for example, A Structural Account of Mathematics proved unfathomable; I don’t think I understood a single page and congratulated myself on completing it! It’s good to know that I don’t have to understand everything I read, nor remember it. It has introduced me to some amazing books which I would probably otherwise never have come across and have gone on to purchase my own copy of many of them. These include Bad Pharma, The Tell‐Tale Brain, Epigenetics Revolution, Furry Logic – Physics of Animal Life, Physics of the Future, Our Necessary Shadow, Weapons of Math Destruction, with the top spot being occupied by Adventures of the Anthropocene by Gaia Vince – a book which everyone should read!

Periodicals too have been interesting, with BBC Focus now featuring in my regular reading matter, and undoubtedly the strangest being Racing Pigeon Pictorial International! Sometimes a book has had a real impact on my life, for example, The Astronomer’s Tale, a truly inspirational semi­‐autobiographical account of Gary Fildes’ developing (previously closet!) interest in astronomy. This inspired me to visit the dark sky region in Kielder, near the Scottish border, to experience the observatory there which he was instrumental in establishing (just a pity it was a cloudy night!) but nevertheless it has sparked a real interest in astronomy for me.

As I combine the freelance work for OUP with teaching ESOL, it’s a good combination to utilize my qualifications and experience. Whenever I’m asked what I do, people are always quite intrigued by it without actually grasping what exactly it involves, often thinking it must be some kind of proof-­reading – all good publicity for the OED nevertheless.

A selection of the words which have stuck with me are: disgustology, blenderising, Dr Strangelove syndrome, dude-ified, puffarazzi, psychological arrow, fence‐sitting and the fact that you seem to be able to use the suffix -bot to just about anything to create a robotic form or it! On the other hand, the prefix smart may render it a computing device.

Texts which have proved most prolific in their catchwords include Nature and Scientific American periodicals, The Secret Life of Birds, Machine Learning, Netymology, Ecology & Evolution of Flowers, Trypanosomes After the Genome, Life on the Edge. It’s quite strange to read anything these days without looking for catchwords and reaching for my highlighter!

I wait for new material with great anticipation, wondering whether it’ll be something I might have chosen to read for myself and despite initial groans on receipt, have often been pleasantly surprised. I have learnt so much, both factually, stylistically and linguistically – and my regular Scrabble opponent would vouch for my broader range of unusual vocabulary, often featuring ‘x’ and ‘z’!

Read the next post in the series with Scholarly and Historical Programme reader John Healey.

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The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.