The Oxford English Dictionary is one of the principal historical dictionaries in the English language. It was initially published in 1895 by the Oxford University Press. Today, the Oxford dictionary has a total of 270,000 words. Did you know a single individual majorly contributed to the dictionary?
Dr. William C. Minor was a major contributor to the original Oxford English Dictionary. He was a diagnosed schizophrenic who lived in an asylum. He was able to submit over a thousand words to the dictionary.
Who is Dr. William Minor?
William Chester Minor was born in Jafna, Sri Lanka in June 1834. He was the son of Congregationalist Church missionaries who were originally from New England.
He was then sent to the US to finish his Medical Degree at Yale. By 1864 he was accepted by the Union Army as a surgeon. He served at the Battle of the Wilderness where several men suffered horrendous injuries. During his time in service, he was tasked to punish a Northern soldier by branding him with a “D” for deserter. The said soldier then played a role in his dementia delusions. (Source: Yale School of Medicine)
Was William Minor Mentally Ill?
After the Civil War ended. Minor was transferred to New York by the army. There he spent his off days consorting with prostitutes of the red-light district. This odd behavior caught the attention of the army, and he was transferred to Florida.
In 1868, his paranoia progressed that he was admitted to the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s mental asylum in Washington. After 18 months at the asylum, he showed no improvement at all.
He went to London in hopes of improving his mental condition. But instead, he continued his dissolute life. His paranoia led him to fatally shooting a man in February 17, 1872. At the trial, Minor was found not guilty by the reason of insanity and was again sent to an asylum. At this time, he was still receiving his pension from the US Army. This got him comfortable living space in the asylum, and he was also able to buy books.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital when he was deported back to the United States. (Source: Yale School of Medicine)
How Did He Contribute to the Oxford Dictionary?
During his stay in London, he heard that the Oxford English Dictionary was looking for volunteers. He dedicated the remainder of his life working for them. He was one of the top contributors with his vast knowledge of quotations and words.
James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary heard about Minor’s story and visited him.
We could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone.James Murray
(Source: Yale School of Medicine)
What Happened to Minor?
By 1902, Minor’s health started to deteriorate. He was having delusions which lead to him cutting off his penis. This convinced Murray to seek help for Minor. They had him sent back to the US with the help of Winston Churchill’s secretary. He died in a Retreat for the Elderly Insane in Hartford, Connecticut in 1920. (Source: Yale School of Medicine)