The Professor and the Madman — Netflix

How the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) came to be.

You can thank Dr. William Minor and Professor James Murray for your dictionary. Professor Murray was a word nerd and Dr. Minor was majorly out of his mind.

James Murray had always been an intelligent child and was known as a talented autodidact who was especially gifted in languages. With a strong handle on at least six languages (English, Latin, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, and French) and a working knowledge of at least 14 others, the man was invited to Oxford to meet the Delegates of the Oxford University Press in 1878.

The aspiring Murray wouldn’t know that this work would take the rest of his life to complete, and only be published post-mortem (he died in 1915), but he always persisted hungrily to realize the volume in his “Scriptoriums” — make-shift sheds to house his assistants and receive contributions to his work. The public and academic world had heard about this project and would ceaselessly help in sending slips of quotations and citations that greatly impacted the OED. One of these contributors was none other than Dr. Minor.

An American army surgeon who, like Murray, devoted the rest of his life in incarceration and to his work on the OED, the gentleman was one of OED’s greatest voluntary contributors, having helped in the completion of over 10,000 words.

Minor was formerly in the Union Army as a surgeon and the history of those times suggests that the battles played a big part in damaging Minor’s psyche. Sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1868 after erratic behavior, Minor continued to deteriorate and decided to move to London to recuperate. There, he wrongfully shot a man named George Merrett, on account of a possible delusional paranoia (Minor was later diagnosed with Schizophrenia).

At the pre-trial, Minor was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in the Broadmoor asylum, Crowthorne. His US army pension meant he had a more comfortable arrangement than most, and through his many natural skills and intellect, he struck up many relationships around him, including a very surprising one linked to his victim. He managed to accumulate a personal library of antique and rare books that would later prove useful to the information he fed Murray with.” Source:

Murray didn’t know at the time he received all the entries from Minor that he was in a lunatic asylum and incarcerated for murder which became known to the Oxford Delegates and caused Murry much grief. He visited Minor there and they struck up a close friendship because they both were enamored with the other’s intelligence.

In the movie there was much romantic, scholarly, mental, physical drama which added greatly to the movie but was still based on fact. Minor had given over his military pension to the wife and children of the man he killed. He also fell in love with the lady.

He also cut off his testicles and that was the downfall and end to his intellectual help with the dictionary. He went through rigorous mental cleansing, thanks to doctors at the asylum, leaving him less of a man physically and mentally.

Murray spent the rest of his life working on the dictionary. He only thought it would take ten years but it took over forty years to accomplish and still after his death in 1915, was not finished.

Ultimately, this was a very sad movie but one, as a writer, may stick with you. The film doesn’t deviate very much from the happenings in history.

It didn’t get good reviews because not many people care about the actors, Sean Penn (Minor) and Mel Gibson (Murray) but they both did a wonderful job at depicting these characters.

Jo Ann Harris is an author, parent, book devotee, writer, copywriter, and film fanatic. She is an autodidact who learns about everything and rows her own boat. She grew up and worked in Atlanta, Georgia and lived there sixty years. She writes articles about love, hope, personal life stories, advice and poems. She is a published author with an article published in Woman’s World magazine in October, 2017.

Multiple genre writer. Writer for Crow’s Feet, Family and Children, Illumination. Honesty & integrity count. Editor for Wreader. A specialist in eclecticism.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store