“The Dictionary of Lost Words” is a captivating novel by author Pip Williams that takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through the intricate world of words and the hidden stories they hold. Set against the backdrop of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this book weaves a tale of a young girl’s fascination with language, the evolution of lexicography, and the importance of the voices that history often overlooks.
The story begins in the late 1800s, in a garden shed adjacent to the Scriptorium, where lexicographers are meticulously compiling words and their definitions for the first edition of the OED. Esme, a young girl, stumbles upon the world of words while exploring the shed. Her father, a lexicographer, introduces her to the magic of language, sparking a lifelong passion for words and their meanings.
As Esme grows, she begins collecting words that are omitted from the dictionary, those whispered by women, children, and the working class. These “lost words” tell stories of the lives and experiences of those who have been marginalized by history. Esme’s journey becomes a quest to preserve these words and the narratives they represent.
The novel beautifully explores Esme’s coming-of-age and her determination to ensure that the words of ordinary people find their rightful place in the OED. Along the way, she encounters the suffragette movement, the struggles of working-class women, and the power of words to effect change.
“The Dictionary of Lost Words” has received widespread acclaim for its compelling storytelling and unique perspective on language and history:
The Guardian says, “Pip Williams’ novel is a mesmerizing exploration of words as living entities, carrying within them the voices of generations. It’s a tale of discovery, rebellion, and the enduring power of language.”
The New York Times hails it as, “A beautifully crafted novel that delves into the hidden corners of language and the untold stories behind it. Esme’s journey is a testament to the resilience of forgotten voices.”
Goodreads users have given the book an average rating of 4.2 stars, with readers praising its rich historical context and Esme’s compelling character.
Booklist notes, “A meticulously researched and beautifully written novel that shines a light on the often overlooked history of women and their contributions to language.”
“Words are like people, they change and grow over time, but their roots remain. It’s our duty to unearth those roots and let the voices of the past be heard.” – Pip Williams, “The Dictionary of Lost Words.”
“A dictionary is a portrait of a moment in time, but it’s also a reflection of the people who create it. The words we choose to include or omit say as much about us as they do about the language.” – Pip Williams, “The Dictionary of Lost Words.”
“In the world of words, there are no boundaries or hierarchies. Every word, no matter how obscure, has its own story to tell.” – Pip Williams, “The Dictionary of Lost Words.”
“Esme’s journey reminds us that history is not just the story of kings and conquerors; it’s the story of everyday people and the words they leave behind.” – Pip Williams, “The Dictionary of Lost Words.”
Q : Is “The Dictionary of Lost Words” based on a true story?
A : While the characters and specific events in the novel are fictional, the book is inspired by the real history of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The author, Pip Williams, conducted extensive research to accurately depict the world of lexicography and the challenges faced by women and marginalized communities in having their voices heard.
Q : What is the significance of the “lost words” in the book?
A : The “lost words” in the novel represent the words and expressions that were often excluded from early editions of the Oxford English Dictionary because they were considered too common, too regional, or spoken by marginalized groups. Esme’s mission to collect and preserve these words highlights the importance of acknowledging and valuing the contributions of ordinary people to language and culture.
“The Dictionary of Lost Words” by Pip Williams is a remarkable novel that invites readers on a profound exploration of language, history, and the indomitable spirit of those who strive to make their voices heard. Through its captivating storytelling, memorable characters, and thought-provoking themes, this book celebrates the beauty and power of words in all their forms, reminding us that every word has a story, and every voice deserves to be preserved.