WILLIAM MINOR (1834 -1920)
Insane Doctor Who Contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary
Compiling the dictionary is no easy task—especially when it’s the Oxford English Dictionary. It wasn’t just definitions that were needed, but sentences as well. A massive project ultimately passed down to editor James Murray, the project was ultimately assembled by an impressive display of 19th-century crowd sourcing. One of the most prolific contributors with tens of thousands of submissions was a man named Dr. William C. Minor. Murray struck up a friendship with the man, and eventually found he was less of a professional, practicing doctor and more of a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he’d been living for decades.
The Oxford English Dictionary (called the OED) is a wonderful, many-volume account of the English language. Most dictionaries simply define words, but the OED is a dictionary of usage. It traces words historically through a sequence of quotations. That way we see how each word came to be used the way it is.
Murray began putting the OED together in 1879. Murray’s biggest problem was collecting hundreds of thousands of quotations. He needed many for each word. So he advertised for volunteers to submit quotations. That worked. Soon bundles of them were coming in.
One of Murray’s most dedicated suppliers was a Dr. William C. Minor. Over the years, Minor supplied tens of thousands of quotations. Murray would invite Minor to come up to Oxford and visit him. Minor always found some excuse not to come. Finally, Murray went to visit Minor. Whether he’d learned Minor’s circumstances ahead of time is unclear. It is clear that he was met at the train station and taken to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.