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Thursday, 31 January 2013
Home arrow Writers and the dictionary arrow Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)
Auden was a famous, even notorious dictionary reader. He once declared that if marooned on a desert island, he would choose to have with him 'a good dictionary' in preference to 'the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable, for, in relation to its readers, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways'.[1]

The following pages provide an outline sketch on Auden and dictionaries and a more detailed analysis of his treatment in the OED (Auden & OED Supplement and Auden's quoted works).

[1] Auden 1963: 4.  Billy Connolly specified the OED as his desert island luxury for the BBC radio programme in July 2002, while Lord Birkett said he would do the same in 1953 (The Times, 22 June 1953, p. 3). The idea was apparently first stated by The New Statesman in or before 1915, as reported in The Periodical, 15 September 1915, p. 16, and was repeated by Stanley Baldwin in his speech at the Goldsmiths' banquet to celebrate the completion of OED in 1928. We thank Peter Gilliver for his help here.

Auden and dictionaries
Auden in OED Supplement

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