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The Dictionary of Lost Words

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  9,224 ratings  ·  1,459 reviews
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 Oxf
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Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 6th 2020 by Affirm Press (first published March 31st 2020)
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Leaf Yes, this novel is standalone/not apart of a series and doesn't require the reader to have any prior knowledge/context to fully enjoy the story…moreYes, this novel is standalone/not apart of a series and doesn't require the reader to have any prior knowledge/context to fully enjoy the story(less)
Sarah The main character does collect some rough or crude language. She doesn't use it in conversation and it's not a prominent part of the dialogue for mos…moreThe main character does collect some rough or crude language. She doesn't use it in conversation and it's not a prominent part of the dialogue for most characters, but her mission is to collect overlooked words, including "dirty" ones. (less)

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MarilynW
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams  

It never occurred to me all that went into compiling early dictionaries. Male scholars worked for decades to compile the words and definitions to go into the first Oxford English Dictionary, words and definitions whose final acceptance was at the discretion of the editors of the volumes. This story describes the garden shed in Oxford where real life lexicographer, James Murray, built a Scriptorium, a shed behind his house, where he and his team of sc
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Nilufer Ozmekik
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is brilliantly well- researched, detailed, refreshing journey emphasizing the importance of words, empowerment and raising the voices of women during the World War I with layered, impeccably crafted, memorable true characters who changed the world with their special and remarkable contributions.

I have to admit: this book needs your patience, attention, full focus. Especially first third is overwhelmingly slow but when you get into the story and lose yourself in the precious world of words
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Keiran Rogers
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have ever published.
A cracking plot about how the word Bondmaid was stolen from the Oxford English Dictionary, but also a book of gorgeous characters. This had me crying like a baby at the end.
Liz
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing

Lovely. Wonderful. Sublime. Delightful. Enchanting. Charming.

This is one of those books whose premise just enthralled me. Esme’s father was one of the lexicographers working on the Oxford English Dictionary. She grew up understanding the power of words. As she gets older, she also starts working on the dictionary. First running errands, but eventually being given more responsibilities.
Fair warning, the first part of the book is a bit slow. It’s not until Esme takes it into her head to collect w
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Marianne
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Some words stretched so far back in time that our modern understanding of them was nothing more than an echo of the original, a distortion. I used to think it was the other way around, that the misshapen words of the past were clumsy drafts of what they would become; that the words formed on our tongues, in our time were true and complete. But everything that comes after that first utterance is a corruption.”

The Dictionary of Lost Words is the first novel by English-born Australian author, Pip
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Annette
The first Oxford English Dictionary was created in 1901 only by men. Archives have proved that there were “female volunteers, assistants, spouses, none of whose contributions were acknowledged.” Where there any words “these scholarly men might have chosen to omit from their version of the English language?” This question becomes the premise for this story.

Oxford, 1887. Esme’s father is “one of Dr. Murray’s most trusted lexicographers,” and she doesn’t have a mother to care for her, thus a blind
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Neale
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
So many times the blurbs on the front and back cover of novels are nothing but hyperbole, the novel failing to live up to exaggerated expectations, but Tom Keneally’s blurb,

“There will not be this year a more original novel published. I just know it.”

This is not hyperbole.

Esme’s mother died, so her father must look after her through the day. Esme is hiding under the placing table, her normal place of residence while her father and fellow lexicographers write the first edition of the Oxford Eng
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DeAnn
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, netgalley-2021
3.5 lexicographer stars

This book is highly researched and opened up a new world to me with the origins of early dictionaries. I never thought much about how a dictionary was put together and updated.

Our main character is Esme, and the book follows her life from a young child through adulthood. She is raised by her father and he is a lexicographer. She frequently joins him at work in the Scriptorium – a repurposed garden shed – filled with scholars researching words, derivations, and definitions
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Carolyn
In her Author's Note, Pip Williams says that the idea for writing this book came from the non-fiction accounts of the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary, which all ignore the contribution of women in this huge undertaking. Her research lead her to discover that there were female assistants, including the daughters of the chief editor James Murray, Hilda, Rosfrith and Elsie who all worked in the 'Scriptorium', a large tin shed in Murray's garden, in sorting, compiling and checking words ...more
Gloria Arthur
Aug 12, 2020 rated it liked it
⭐️3 Stars⭐️
The Dictionary of Lost Words has had so much attention and the cover is quite stunning. I did find the first half of the book slow and a little boring, but because it had such good reviews I kept reading and was so pleased I did. The second half of the book was most enjoyable and it was quite an eye opener into the history of the Oxford Dictionary.

The book is a fictional story revolving around the creation of the first Oxford dictionary. Esme is a young girl who likes to spend her chi
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Gumble's Yard
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Now shortlisted for the 2021 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction

Bondmaid. It came back to me then, and I realised that the words most often used to define us were words that described out function in relation to others. Even the most benign words – maiden, wife, mother – told the world whether we were virgins or not ………. I looked out of the window towards the scriptorium, the place where all the definitions of the words were being bedded down. What words would define me?


The book takes
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Ingrid
Oct 09, 2020 rated it liked it
The history of the Oxford English dictionary is central in this book. A novel has been written around it, in which women's suffrage and the First World War are discussed. Unfortunately I wasn't moved by it in any way.

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Nikki
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical-novel
I really wanted to like this but my pet peeve with historical novels is when the writer can't stop themselves putting modern sensibilities into the actions, words and motives of the characters. It tosses you right out of the world the writer is trying to recreate. In this novel, it felt as if the writer had more than one ideological barrow to push and in the end, I kept losing the sense of the story and felt like I was reading a woke sermon.
My other criticism is the inconsistencies in the main
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Marianne
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Bolinda audio version is read by Imogen Sage, and is an absolute joy to listen to.
“Some words stretched so far back in time that our modern understanding of them was nothing more than an echo of the original, a distortion. I used to think it was the other way around, that the misshapen words of the past were clumsy drafts of what they would become; that the words formed on our tongues, in our time were true and complete. But everything that comes after that first utterance is a corruption.”

T
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Sally Hepworth
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT
Freya
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is a historical fiction gem based on real events. The premise is just so uniquely compelling, not to mention important.

Esme grows up in the world of the Scriptorium, where lexicographers are piecing together the first Oxford Dictionary. They are all men, of course, and the words that make the cut reflect their values and experiences.

Naturally, at the time, women led very different social lives to their male counterparts, rich with their own vocabulary and linguistic conventions – almos
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Kylie Porter
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow, wow, wow.... Just loved this novel. I have always had a fascination with dictionaries and words so this title really jumped out to me. Loved the idea of a book about the compiling of a dictionary and the role of a lexicographer and researchers. Also a fabulous look back at a time when the world was changing for women and the roles they had in life.
I didn't want the book to end.... Which would have to be a ringing endorsement of a great read. Highly recommended if you love the development o
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Jannelies
Where to begin to tell you about this wonderful and heartwrenching story? Maybe at the end - I recommend to read the author's note first. It will especially give readers who have no previous knowledge about the OED, a good start. And o yes: try and find the movie The Professor and the Madman, based on the book The Surgeon of Crawthorne by Simon Winchester. The movie is excellent and when reading the book it helped me visualise 'the Scrippy' and other places.
The author did a formidable job in cre
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Lee
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Five of the biggest stars ever.

Random question: do you read the way you eat? I know I do – voraciously, enthusiastically, a bit too quickly and often with a glass of wine on hand. I know my Mum does too – slowly, thoughtfully, mindfully and without the wine. I thought of Mum as a reader when I started this book. A few pages in I thought: “Mum would love this.” (My love of words and the English language comes from her). Then I thought: “It’s 400 pages long, it will take her months.” And then a bi
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Judy
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What a great debut novel for Pip Williams! This is a novel about the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, and traces the life of a young girl, Esme, who grew up in and later worked in the Scriptorium where the dictionary was written, and the continuous development of the dictionary. Esme's mother died and so Esme accompanied her father to work every day and played under her father's desk while he worked on the dictionary. She was fascinated with words and the context in how they were us ...more
Val
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Touched
To sit in awe, to feel the joy that comes with knowing that a wondrous work of historical fiction is now a part of your soul.

This book follows the story of the lexicographers responsible for putting together the Oxford Dictionary. The author is very descriptive about the process, about the research and debate put into each line and the people who dedicated their lives to the compilation of words. It is critical for the reader’s understanding of the extensive multiple-year long process of
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Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews
*https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com

A name must mean something to be in the Dictionary.’

Adelaide Hills resident Pip Williams released her debut fictional title, The Dictionary of Lost Words in March 2020. Published by Affirm Press, this novel gained plenty of pre release hype, with early readers taken in by unique history of the formation of one of our most staple items in the English language, the Oxford Dictionary.

The Dictionary of Lost Words introduces the central character of Esme, a child
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Lyn Elliott
Jul 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, australia
I’ve just made the mistake of writing a review direct into Goodreads and it’s crashed out leaving no trace.
In short, an interesting idea and setting, but I’m not as enthusiastic about it as many others who suggest it will win prizes.
It’s fine for a light read.
ScrappyMags
...Welcome to the Edwardian Urban Dictionary!

Shortest Summary Ever: Words are Esme’s life as she grows up under her father’s desk where he and other men edit the Oxford English Dictionary - an arduous undertaking that dominates a lifetime. As pieces of paper fall to her by chance, she collects them; these treasured words fascinate and enthrall her. As she grows up and exposes herself to more in the world, new words capture her awe and enter her life - words used by women from all rungs of societ
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Beppie Keane
May 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this novel's reflections on language; on who decides which words are important and which aren't, and the futility of prescriptive linguistics. I found the protagonist to be something of a blank slate -- like an unfilled dictionary slip, which I think was rather the point, in many ways. She exists so that the implied reader -- a white, middle-class woman of the late 20th/early 21st century -- can project herself onto a white, middle-class woman of the late 19th/early 20th century. There ...more
Jeanette Lewis
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aussie-authors
At first I thought I was rereading a book of many years ago but as is mentioned by the author the book by Simon Winchester, The Surgeon of Crowthorne is the book that I remembered and as the author states it centred on the male domination of the Oxford dictionary. This book changes this perspective beautifully and introduces the reader to an alternative endeavour by the main female character of Esme Nicholl.

This is the era of the Women's Suffrage Movement, the struggle for women to be able to v
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Celeste
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is a beautiful book. But I was not prepared for the levels of heartbreak that were going to be present. I kept having to put the book down to try to find my way back into a more positive headspace. Had I read the book in any other stage in my life, I think I would have been able to divorce myself more easily from it and enjoy it more. However, everyone knows this year has been horr
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Angus (Just Angus)
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was such a beautiful novel. Slow moving, but really well written.
Exploring the decades of work that went into the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary, The Dictionary of Lost Words at its core explores the power of words and their three-dimensional meanings. Such a brilliant cast of characters that really moved me.
Alicia
May 31, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book but it has a remote, detached feel. Scenes of direct confrontation were regularly avoided and referred to retrospectively, giving the narrative a passive energy. While it is good practise to allow the reader to fill in the gaps and help create the story in their minds, readers want to SEE certain key confrontations that result in turning points in the narrative. Maybe this was a deliberate tonal decision by the author to illustrate women's passivity generally as described by ...more
Samantha Lin
Wow.

I picked up this book because I was intrigued by the cover and the concept, and because I’d allowed myself three books during my lockdown trip and didn’t have a third in mind.

I first read it in bits, because work has been very full-on. Then I read it in larger bits, because words are magical and I work with words anyway, so it counts as work, right? Then, for the last third of the novel, I stayed up into the wee hours, with non-stop tears and a stuffy nose (that I still have this morning).
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Pip was born in London, grew up in Sydney and now calls the Adelaide Hills home. She is co-author of the book Time Bomb: Work Rest and Play in Australia Today (New South Press, 2012) and in 2017 she wrote One Italian Summer, a memoir of her family’s travels in search of the good life, which was published with Affirm Press to wide acclaim. Pip has also published travel articles, book reviews, flash ...more

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