The Dictionary of Lost Words A Novel

$ 10,00

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • “Delightful . . . [a] captivating and slyly subversive fictional paean to the real women whose work on the Oxford English Dictionary went largely unheralded.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress.”—Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Book

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, an Oxford garden shed in which her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip and, learning that the word means “slave girl,” begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.


SKU: 1984820745
Publisher ‏ : ‎

Random House Publishing Group (May 3, 2022)

Language ‏ : ‎


Paperback ‏ : ‎

416 pages

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎


ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎


Item Weight ‏ : ‎

10.1 ounces

Dimensions ‏ : ‎

5.12 x 0.86 x 7.97 inches

Best Sellers Rank:

#12 in Women's Domestic Life Fiction

Customer Reviews:

18,822 ratings

Customer Reviews

1-5 of 10 reviews

  • Victoria Phillips

    This book was recommended by a friend and was a delight to read. The main character is a woman lexicographer in England. The reader is drawn into her life when she is a child working alongside her father, one of the lexiographers responsible for creating the dictionary that determined which words would describe the English world. As a historical novel the work is laudable. The narrative is engaging with a sub-text that philosophical calls into question the early practice of letting only formally educated white men catalog which words were historically worth preserving and passing on into common usage. A sheer delight for the manner in which it uncovers and sheds light on how the words, and therefore the worlds, of women, the poor and the pedestrian among us, became distorted or lost (hence the dictionary of lost words). Oe of the best books of the decade, IMHO.

    December 25, 2022
  • Mercedes Brauchle

    Unparalleled: having no parallel or equal; exceptional.This book covers a gap in history that is truly astounding. The concept (which is based on very real events and mostly real people) is so intriguing, and Pip has fastened it all together with such literary grace. I WILL SAY, that for the first half of the book I was considering giving it a 3 star rating. I liked the storyline but it was a bit slow paced for me. KEEP READING. It really picks up and by time you get to the end you will “get the morbs” (a definitions stolen from the book, which means you will be struck with melancholy) due to the beauty and truth of Esme’s story. So many times the endings of stories disappoint, but not this time. If you love a healthy dose of feminism, are intrigued by words, or just want a good story that will suck you in, then you should most certainly order this book.

    December 25, 2022
  • Amazon Customer

    📚Esme’s life which her Godmother aptly points out as being ‘anything but ordinary’ practically revolved around the Scriptorium and luckily for her, the Scrippy felt “magical”- despite having spent most of her childhood under the table waiting for a slips to get to her. Growing up with her dad, who was devoted to the Scriptorium, it’s “slips” and words, he strived to be both a mother and father to her, according to Ditte, Esme’s wise and worldly godmother.📚Ditte was not only a counsel to Esme over the years but was also a confidante to Esme’s dad. She was also a great believer of his unconventional parenting. Did you know Ditte was based on a real person, Edith Thompson who was involved since the first word was published to the last one in 1928?📚Esme’s unlikely friendship with Lizzie, the maid, and the many deep conversations with her are thought provoking. One particular thought that struck me was Lizzie’s insights that words mean different things to different people. Esme held on to “bondmaid” as a word that was derogatory but to Lizzie, it was a matter of great joy- to be a bondmaid to Esme.📚the book describes the period between 1887 and 1928, poignantly capturing the various milestones and celebrations along the way, in completing the arduous task of publishing the 20 volumes of the Oxford Dictionary. Pip Williams beautifully weaves key events such as the women’s suffrage movement and WW1 during this time.📚Reading the book also led me to do my own research on the history of the dictionary. It has come a long way since Samuel Johnson first published his back in 1755. The dissatisfaction in the dictionaries to date, the quest for obsolete and less common words and quotations and lack of consistency in definitions and synonyms led the Philological society to compile a comprehensive dictionary, telling the history of each and every word in the language📚I have been amazed by the sheer magnitude of the task, the contribution by thousands of people sending in quotations and words, the jobs of the many staff sorting through these “slips” diligently and finding common ground📚While crediting the invaluable contribution made by the Dictionary’s editors starting with Dr James Murray as it’s 1st editor and his incredible teams over the years, the author in portraying Esme’s journey, draws attention to the fact that the dictionary as we know it was mainly the perspective of educated white men, (despite the valuable contribution of women) thereby making Esme’s pursuit for words spoken by women and the marginalised members of society so critical📚the book aptly points out that not only do words mean different things to different people-(brought out in the use of the words bondmaid and “mother”) but also that Of some experiences, the Dictionary would only ever provide an approximation such as sorrow📚the dictionary like the English language is evolving with the second edition having been published in 1989 and the third having commenced in 2000!

    December 25, 2022
  • Kindle Customer

    This deeply affecting book had me seeing the world through Esme Nicoll’s eyes and thinking of words and language in a much deeper way. Williams’ book made me realize how much we take for granted– such as which words are included in a dictionary and which are not. The story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary is extraordinary to begin with, and I love how Williams wove Esme’s story into its history. (Read the Author’s Note!)I became Esme as I read The Dictionary of Lost Words. I felt what she felt. I saw the world through her eyes. The most important people in the world to her (her Da, her Aunt Ditte, her surrogate mother Lizzie, the compositor Gareth) became all-important to me, too. I don’t often have this strong of an emotional response to a book, and when I do, it leaves me a bit discombobulated (in a good way).Williams wove just enough of the actual putting-together of the Oxford English Dictionary into this book to make me feel as though I had a hand in making it, too. Esme’s life spanned the women’s suffrage movement and World War I, and each event in her life shaped her outlook and her dedication to rescuing “lost words”.Character. Story. Time period. The power of words to shape our world. As I read The Dictionary of Lost Words, I thought of words and phrases I’d grown up hearing all the time that are no longer commonplace. I pondered their demise… and wondered what Esme would make of it all. The world Pip Williams created made me think, and it made me feel. How marvelous!

    December 25, 2022
  • 2B

    I’m not sure what I expected at the beginning of this novel … ask interesting story perhaps. But it turns out this story is much more. A walk through history; through language; through words and their meanings. So much was left out of the original dictionary … words that were not ‘proper’ or those which were not contained in literature. The women who were left behind so many years, who were expected to do the necessary tasks, but were never acknowledged and never included. Read it for the story; drink the words like warm tea and think on those lost words, their meanings and the women who labored to bring the spoken words to light.

    December 25, 2022
  • Tannis K.

    I just finished reading the book and I’m ready to start reading it again. That rarely happens for me. Of late I’ve read a number of period and historic novels with female protagonists. They were well written, but none of them reached in and grabbed my heart as this one did. It is a book about words, and those who love words, and the writing style is both poetic and succinct. Visual. Visceral. Glorious use of words to tell both the history of the Oxford Dictionary and the complex life story of Esme. What a wonderful film or limited series this would make, and I can imagine a sequel. Looking forward to more novels by Pip Williams,

    December 25, 2022
  • renee

    Did not have any idea what to expect,but my reading tends to lean towards history and any knowledge about books and book writers of old. Great entertainment and a story I think all would enjoy and gain history they may not have known.

    December 25, 2022
  • Amazon Customer

    A beautifully written historical fiction. The characters are interesting and the story depicts challenges faced by women in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many which continue today in various ways. A very good and enjoyable read!

    December 25, 2022
  • PatVJ

    What a beautiful and unexpected structure! I enjoyed this novel more than anything I have read in the longest time! A gift.

    December 25, 2022
  • Ga. Hair girl

    Great story and very well written!If you are a lover of words and their meanings and a story that wraps around you and takes you back to a time none of us experienced, read this book.

    December 25, 2022

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