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The Dictionary of Lost Words (2020)

by Pip Williams

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6704126,703 (4)85
In 1901, the word 'Bondmaid' was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it. Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the 'Scriptorium', a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme's place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word 'bondmaid' flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world. Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women's experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words. Set when the women's suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It's a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.… (more)
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» See also 85 mentions

English (40)  Dutch (1)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
women participating in OED creation; also WW2, suffragettes--wibderfyk
  18cran | Dec 5, 2021 |
Brilliant book. A wonderful story based on an amazing ongoing project. Loved the people real and imagined. Of course the history was amazing as well. ( )
  shazjhb | Nov 25, 2021 |
Combining fact and fiction, this book spans the years of the development of the first Oxford English Dictionary (roughly the late 1800's - 1920s) through the eyes of a fictional character, Esme Nicoll, the daughter of one of the contributors. As a child, Esme sits under the table in the Scriptorium where the contributions to the dictionary are being sorted. She begins finding discarded words and storing them away. Thus begins her interest in collecting words that are commonly used but have not been deemed appropriate for the dictionary, and particularly words used by females. Interwoven through the narrative are the women's suffrage movement and WWI. I have already read 'The Professor and the Madman,' and wanted to step back into this fascinating world. At the end of the book, I was able to see a picture of some of the major contributors to the books, including James Murray and his daughters. Very interesting.

. ( )
  peggybr | Sep 16, 2021 |
I enjoyed this a lot. It is unexpectedly sad at the end. I did have some issues with it and those were the "issues" which were a bit too much in your face at times. Could have been more subtle. I also felt that some of the characters were portrayed too modern for the time it is supposedly set in. But these are small things and for a type of novel I don't normally read, I really did enjoy it. ( )
  infjsarah | Sep 15, 2021 |
Esme grows up at the Scriptorium where her father works for the dictionary, hiding under the table as men attempt to define the English language. Starting with grabbing a fallen slip for "bondmaid," Esme begins collecting words of all sorts - but particularly those that are overlooked.

I love words and dictionaries, and I knew from the start that this would be a near-perfect book for me. Esme's coming-of-age story is a good read, but the real strength of the book is the meditation on language, what "makes it" into the dictionary and polite usage, and the words that don't because they're spoken by the poor and illiterate or by women or are considered vulgar (but are no less part of the language). "Bondmaid" really was accidentally left out of the dictionary, and other details about the dictionary's making and the words included or left out, are accurate, allowing the fictional character of Esme to blend seamlessly with historical characters. As Esme grows into adulthood and older and the dictionary gets closer to completion, both the first World War and women's fight for suffrage bring into relief the inadequacy of language to fully express the totality of human experience. ( )
  bell7 | Aug 31, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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Voor mam en pap
For Ma and Pa
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Vóór het vergeten woord was er nog een ander woord.
Scriptorium.
Prologue February 1886 Before the last word, there was another.
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In 1901, the word 'Bondmaid' was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it. Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the 'Scriptorium', a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme's place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word 'bondmaid' flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world. Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women's experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words. Set when the women's suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It's a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.

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