Who had the idea of sexing up this book's original title, Reading the Oxford English Dictionary? Either you like the idea or you don't. Shea is a dictionary-obsessed New Yorker who spent a year reading the OED. The consequences were a pounding headache after the first three hours, a bad back and a "significant deterioration" in his eyesight.
On the plus side, the OED was "a great read", which inspired this charming work. Shea relishes obscurities, which encompass "mumpish" (sullenly angry) and "illywilly" (cherishing malevolence). With "jive-ass", he expresses doubts about its definition as "a person who loves fun" (it usually means flippant or insincere), though the OED's hesitation ("a word of fluid meaning") is worthy of Jeeves.