This dictionary has been compiled and edited by Michael Quinion.
After Cambridge University, where he studied physical sciences, he joined BBC radio as a studio manager. “The job was a fascinating blend of techie and creative artist,” he says. “Though at times you were dogsbody, equipment operator and referee rolled into one”. After that, he helped to start local radio in Britain, at BBC Radio Brighton, where he produced programmes about the countryside, books, consumer affairs, religion, student life and the local and general elections. He then moved to Plymouth, where he helped to start a breakfast-time two-hour sequence of news and local features.
A chance encounter with the warden of a local visitor attraction led him to make a slide-tape programme for its visitors. “I didn’t know this was new; it just seemed interesting. It was only when people began to come from all over Britain to see it, and then ask me if I could make one for them, that I realised.” For four years he ran his own business making interpretive audio-visual programmes for most national agencies in Britain and many visitor attractions.
Another chance encounter led him to his next post as curator of the Cider Museum in Hereford. He planned and developed this museum from an idea in the trustees’ minds to its opening, running research and conservation projects and raising funds by the then new way in modern Britain of a public scratchcard lottery. “One woman in a group I was lecturing to said it was bad enough to be creating a visitor attraction about alcoholic drink, without using gambling to pay for it!” He wrote two books about orcharding and cidermaking, one just called Cidermaking from Shire Publications, the other A Drink for its Time, published by the Museum.
After that he returned to working for himself, writing scripts for exhibitions, taking on a freelance curatorial role, creating audio-visual programmes, and became more closely involved with planning visitor attractions. In 1986 he co-founded Touchstone Associates, a consultancy business that undertook feasibility studies, tourism planning, visitor facility planning, and the development of visitor attractions.
After leaving that business in the early 1990s, he provided many thousands of examples of new and unusual words for the Oxford English Dictionary, which indirectly led to the creation in 1996 of his language site World Wide Words. Following Ologies and Isms, his next book, Port Out, Starboard Home: And Other Language Myths (Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds in the US), was published by Penguin Books in 2004, was serialised in the Daily Telegraph and reached the British best-seller lists. Later, Gallimaufry, about words that are vanishing from the language, was published by the Oxford University Press and Why is Q Always Followed by U?, a collection of some 200 questions and answers from the Q&A section of World Wide Words, came out worldwide in Penguin Books.
These days he has moved away from authorship and etymology to focus on voluntary work, creating and maintaining web sites and databases for local charities, particularly the Thornbury Volunteer Centre.