The beginning of William Chester Minor's life was ordinary but successful. Born to Congregationalist missionaries in 1834 Sri Lanka, Minor was later sent to America and studied anatomy at Yale Medical School. After graduating in 1863, he served as an army doctor. Later in life, he became one of the largest contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary (the largest etymological reference book out there) by providing examples of quotations of words throughout history to show how the definitions shifted over time. Minor's research got more and more efficient with time, and he was praised repeatedly by the OED staff for being a major asset to the dictionary's compiling. However, there's something about him that none of the etymologists knew about until 1891 - he was a clinically insane murderer doing everything from his asylum. The wife of the man he killed was sympathetic and brought him books, and he dipped into his own personal library to become a prolific volunteer, but the fact remains that Minor was a paranoid criminal. In 1902, he chopped off his own penis due to his mental problems, then slowly slid into dementia until his eventual death in 1920. It's so intriguing to me that one of the major forces behind the most important etymological tool
of today was a mentally ill felon.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd