The Word Detective by John Simpson


Can we just get something out of the way? Isn’t that the most terrible book cover you’ve ever seen? It looks like something an eight year old obsessed with clip art on Microsoft Word would’ve made.

But despite its horrific cover it was quite a pleasant read. The Word Detective acts as a memoir covering the four decades Simpson spent editing the Oxford English Dictionary. Sprinkled throughout his reminisces are frequent asides about the history of different words. As a book/English language lover, obviously this is just my cup of tea. For example, why are English people called Pommies in Australia? The short version: immigrant -> Jimmy Grant -> jimmygrant -> pomegranate -> Pom/Pommie. Simpson answers other pertinent questions such as where does the burpee come from and how does one properly define a salad?

In case you’re not as fascinated by linguistic gobbledygook as I am, you should know that Simpson gets quite personal as well. Some of the most interesting and moving passages in the book concern Simpson’s experiences raising a non-verbal child.


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