Current Issue #488

Book Review:
The Dictionary of Lost Words

A fictional account of the real-life events surrounding the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary, this book is much more than a snapshot of linguistic history.

Adelaide author Pip Williams takes a young girl, Esme, as her protagonist, huddled beneath a sorting table in a garden shed over which her lexicographer father and his team labour and debate which words merit inclusion in the dictionary.

She is there because her mother died and her father is raising her with the help of an Irish maid, not much older than Esme herself. In her childlike way, Esme realises the importance these words hold in the eyes of her father and his learned colleagues and begins to collect occasional word slips that float down from above, unnoticed.

This illicit collection becomes the theme for Esme’s life as she and the dictionary grow, World War One always looming, but not intrusively so, in the background.

The book gently questions what biases were in play when words were selected for this respected tome through the eyes of the young Esme and her own experiences as an educated woman of this era and touches on suffrage, single parenthood and many other themes along the way. The writing style is deeply engaging and any lover of language will be intrigued by the constant references to the historical provenance of various terms.

Author: Pip Williams
Publisher: Affirm Press

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Amanda Pepe

Publishing Director/Editor
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Amanda is a journalist, editor and publisher who has dedicated much of her career to independent media in South Australia. She is currently editor and publisher of The Adelaide Review.

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