The Dictionary of Lost Words

By Pip Williams

Esme is the daughter of a lexicographer working on the first compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary in this historical fiction novel that includes many real details about the making of the OED. She grows up in the Scriptorium, the shed that Professor Murray and his team of lexicographers use to collect, define, and organize the words that volunteers all over the world send them for placement in the dictionary. As she grows into a young woman, Esme begins to notice that there’s a difference between the words that common people, especially the poor, the uneducated, and women, use and the words that end up published in the dictionary. She begins to collect words for her own dictionary, the Dictionary of Lost Words.

This book is a fascinating perspective on how language and the way we learn it affects our understanding of and interaction with the world around us. Our perspectives are shaped by what we know, and what we know comes from how we communicate. Esme learns alternate ways of communicating because of the experiences she has as a woman and her friendships with other women. Ultimately, The Dictionary of Lost Words is a story about standing up for yourself and what you know, even if others dispute your definition of knowledge.

Reviewed by Erin Cousins, Circulation