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Five Little-Known Facts about Britain’s Literary Heritage

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle offers a taste of the literary trivia on offer in his new book about literary Britain

Today, this blog turns five years old. I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported it since its beginnings on 1 December 2012, whenever you happened to discover us. And as it’s our five-year anniversary, today seems like a nice moment to tell you a bit more about my new book, which is full of interesting literary trivia about Britain, and which I unveiled in a fact-filled blog post last month.

British history is steeped in interesting literary associations and connections. My new book, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape (John Murray), gathers together some of the lesser-known and more surprising facts about Britain’s literary past. For instance, did you know…

A Manchester librarian invented the world’s most famous thesaurus as a way of coping with depression. The terms ‘Roget’ and ‘thesaurus’ have become, happily, synonymous: although dictionaries of synonyms existed before Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) published his Thesaurus in 1852, Roget was the first person to apply the term ‘thesaurus’ to such a book. By the time Read the rest of this entry

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Five Fascinating Facts about William Gibson

Interesting William Gibson facts

1. William Gibson popularised the term ‘cyberspace’ in a short story of 1982. Defined as ‘the notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs’, cyberspace first appeared in fiction in William Gibson’s 1982 story ‘Burning Chrome’ (no relation to Google Chrome, we’re told), a story about a couple of freelance hackers. (Before it was published, Gibson read this story out at a science fiction convention – to an audience of four people.) But contrary to a widely held belief, William Gibson did not actually coin the term: it had originated, surprisingly, back in the 1960s when two Danish artists styled themselves as Atelier Cyberspace, after ‘cybernetics’, a term invented by Norbert Wiener way back in 1948 in his book Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. (‘Cybernetics’, by the way, comes from the Greek meaning ‘steersman’ or ‘pilot’.) Gibson, however, helped to bring the term ‘cyberspace’ to a much wider audience, especially after the success of his smash-hit cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, in that uncannily dystopian year, 1984. Read the rest of this entry

Seven Things You May Not Know About Punctuation

In this special guest post, Caroline Taggart offers some little-known facts about punctuation marks, to mark the publication of her new book, The Accidental Apostrophe: … And Other Misadventures in Punctuation

Did you know

1. The Victorians were crazy about hyphens?

Jane Austen’s nephew Edward Austen Leigh, composing a biography of his aunt in the 1860s, had occasion to mention the joys of spring in the country, including early primroses, anemones and the first bird’s-nest. That hyphen makes it absolutely clear that he means the first nest (of the season) belonging to a bird, rather than a nest belonging to the first bird. A bit over-precise by today’s standards, you might think.

2. Charles Dickens could work six semi-colons into a single sentence?

It’s right at the beginning of Great Expectations, and it’s a masterpiece: Read the rest of this entry