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Publisher's Summary

"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)

WINNER OF THE AUSTRALIAN BOOK INDUSTRY AWARD •

"A marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress." (Geraldine Brooks, New York Times best-selling 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, a garden shed in Oxford where 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 when she learns that the word means “slave girl”, she 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.

©2021 Pip Williams (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Inspired by a wisp of fact - a single word accidentally omitted from the Oxford English Dictionary - Pip Williams has spun a marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress. This is a novel that brings to light not only lost words but the lost stories of women’s lives. It is at once timely and timeless.” (Geraldine Brooks, New York Times best-selling author of People of the Book)

“A lexicographer’s dream of a novel, this is a lovely book to get lost in, an imaginative love letter to dictionaries. Esme’s unusual, word-saturated coming-of-age during the quest for women's rights will entrance language-loving, socially conscious YAs.” (Booklist)

“Williams turns history as we know it on its head in this delightful debut, spotlighting those women and their contributions, using the awe-inspiring power of words themselves to illuminate them.” (Newsweek)

The Dictionary of Lost Words is an enchanting story about love, loss, and the power of language, and what gets recorded and what gets forgotten. Set at a time when women's voices were clamoring more than ever to be heard, it moved me greatly to think how history is skewed by those who hold power - and how important it is that novels like this redress that balance.” (Elizabeth Macneal, international best-selling author of The Doll Factory)

What listeners say about The Dictionary of Lost Words

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Enchanted

Thinking about writing a review for this glorious book was very difficult for me because of the use of language throughout the entire story. In my wildest dreams I would not have concocted a story with so much depth, compassion, empathy — tinged with an historical narrative. The syntax, the use of punctuation, the glorious resilience of words and definitions, brought this story to life. There are no superfluous characters in the book, no unnecessary fillers, no miss step in regaling the glory of words and the confluence of definitions in the moments they are spoken. A great reverence is paid to the genesis of the women’s movement - undyingly beautiful. There are innumerable quotable passages throughout the narrative – so many that I was underlining, and underlining, and underlining - deciding instead to allow the next reader to revel in the superb language. Lizzie, Esme, Dita, Dah, Gareth, Lily, Professor Murray, Tilda. Bert, Angus — all people I wanted to know and have in my life. Following the process of the suffragette movement and the start of WWII, added depth and emotion. I highly recommend this book!!!

10 people found this helpful

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Beautiful and extensively researched.

This book was perfect in every way. It was beautiful. Empowering. Sad. And mostly, it was kind. The depth of emotion I felt for the characters--and their relationships with each other--was reminiscent of what I felt while reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I was gutted several times. For a story about words and their meanings, it is not surprising that this author is a master wordsmith. Her use of language was mesmerizing.

From the author's note: "This book began as two simple questions: Do words mean different things to men and women? And if they do, is it possible that we have lost something in the process of defining them?"

The narration was outstanding. Highly recommend.

3 people found this helpful

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Unexpectedly whimsical yet wise

I did not expect a novel based on the Oxford English Dictionary to be whimsical as well as educational. Although that sounds like a contradiction, I stand by it. Author Pip Williams blends Women's Suffrage and the prelude to WWI in the retelling of how the Oxford Dictionary was created, and in doing so, she illuminates how the words we use or neglect color the world we live in. The Dictionary of Lost Words encapsulates everything I love about historical fiction: neglected lessons on the world experienced through the eyes of beautifully woven characters.

3 people found this helpful

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Poor quality recording

I very much enjoyed this book. However, at one point about 4 hours in the recording became very poor quality for several chapters. It was unfortunate as the book was engaging.

2 people found this helpful

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I Love This Book

I love Esma, Lizzie, Gareth, Dah, Dita,
The story was wonderful, and it was so interesting, the working on the Oxford Dictionary.
Esma and her love of words.

I listened to this book twice, and cried both times. (Dah and Gareth).

The narrator was perfect and I know I’ll listen to this book again and again.

Highly recommended this book

1 person found this helpful

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Enjoyable Story with a Strong Message

I loved it. Well told and strong illustration of the power of privilege. It's amazing to see how deeply rooted misogyny is ingrained in our culture

1 person found this helpful

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Magnificent: beautiful, or deserving to be admired

Definitely the best book I listened to this year, and I listen to a lot, and I loved a lot of them. If you like words, if you appreciate research, if you sense the bias in scientific publications, if you are a feminist, if you like a bit of romance, if you like history, … in fact, if you like books, then listen to this book. I enjoyed every moment, and if I didn’t hear a word because a bus went by, then I rewound so as not to miss a word. (I also learned a couple of new words along the way.) The characters are wonderful and well-developed. The story itself, though fictional, is so real (yes, there are some historical characters, too). The language is beautiful. The story is sensitive and touched so much on my feminism. How hard it was and still is for women to be heard and appreciated! The performance was superb. I loved the book (I think you can tell).

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderful book about words!


This novel encompasses the inception of the Oxford English Dictionary and the original biases of gender...do different words have different meaning based on gender? Many of the women that are mentioned in the book were actual historical figures...how many times were we told if we didn’t know a word...go look it up in the dictionary?

1 person found this helpful

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I Loved It & Fell into It's [Pages]

Lyrical, intimate, historical, intersectional text for our times, very Lemony Snicket meets Animal Dreams. ☆☆☆☆☆

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I really loved this book!

I love words: etymology, lexicography, esperanto.....it's all so fascinating to me. This book is rich and relevant and rewarding. Enjoy!