The Oxford English Dictionary was mostly written by a murderer who cut off his own penis and spent a lot of his time in a mental institution. This certainly detracts from the image that I always had of a rather boring, reclusive professor who had nothing better to do than to think of every known word in the English language and its meaning. But while the image that you are probably thinking of right now is of a Jack the Ripper mixed with a Dr Jekyll style of killer, this man who helped our society develop in many ways was far from a natural born madman killer. At one stage he was a doctor who helped people.
William Chester Minor or W.C. Minor as he was mostly known, was a US army doctor who served as a surgeon during the latter half of the US Civil War. During his time with the Union army he was part of the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, which saw heavy casualties on both sides of the conflict. The injuries and terrible loss of life would have been terribly upsetting for a young and impressionable doctor, but as bad as they were one thing played on him worse than anything else. He was forced to brand an Irishman who deserted the Union army with the letter “D” on his face, for deserter.
After the war he was posted to New York where he started visiting prostitutes and living a derelict life. Before long he became delusional and paranoid. When the army noticed this he was transferred to a remote post in Florida. His condition didn’t improve, and he became even more delusional. He was soon confined to a mental asylum.
Three years later, in 1871, he moved to the UK. He settled down into one of London’s slums and continued his life of debauchery. His paranoia and delusions didn’t improve, and it was while in the UK that he killed a man.
One day a young man was on his way to work to provide for his family of six children and a wife. W.C. Minor, due to his paranoia thought that the man was an intruder, and shot the man, killing him. He was found not guilty by means of insanity, and was sent to an asylum once again. Because he wasn’t deemed a danger, he was given comfortable quarters and he could buy and read books. It was while he was in this asylum in Broadmoor that he started his work for the Oxford English Dictionary.
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