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Book review: Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

It took me a while to get to The Dictionary of Lost Words, after hearing rave reviews about it, and I have to say it was well worth the wait.

I loved the story of Esme that Williams weaves into the true history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. And I found her angle of the ‘women’s words’ that were deemed unsuitable for it to be clever and revealing.

Set in a shed in Oxford where editors and lexicographers matched words with their meanings, The Dictionary of Lost Words follows the daughter of a lexicographer as she grows up during the making of the dictionary.

From her childhood to the time when she works in the shed, known as the ‘Scriptorium’, she collects words that have been rejected or mislaid, especially those used by women or describing women. Later, she starts to collect words spoken by women at the market, those campaigning for women to gain the right to vote and people on the streets.

I loved the combination of history and lexicographer in the book, which also touched upon the suffragette movement and World War I.

Having worked at Oxford University Press in Australia and lived in Oxford for just over a year, it was fascinating to read about the role of my former workplace in history and picture the beautiful streets of Oxford. At a time when travel is impossible, this factor was particularly welcome; it’s the best I can do while travel is off the cards for the foreseeable future.

Now I’m looking for a book that will get me through the current Melbourne lockdown – I think something cheerful is in order … maybe Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

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