The Dictionary People

Sarah Ogilvie


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Chatto & Windus
7 September 2023
ISBN: 9781784744939
384 pages

From the publisher

'Enthralling and exuberant ... Here is a wonder-book for word-lovers' Jeanette Winterson

'Utterly fascinating, entertaining, astonishing and as clever as a box of monkeys 
... I completely love it' Joanna Lumley

What do three murderers, Karl Marx's daughter and a vegetarian vicar have in common?
They all helped create the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary has long been associated with elite institutions and Victorian men. But the Dictionary didn't just belong to the experts; it relied on contributions from members of the public. By 1928, its 414,825 entries had been crowdsourced from a surprising and diverse group of people, from astronomers to murderers, naturists, pornographers, suffragists and queer couples.

Lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie dives deep into previously untapped archives to tell a people's history of the OED. Here, she reveals, for the first time, the full story of the making of one of the most famous books in the world - and celebrates the extraordinary efforts of the Dictionary People.

'Full marks to Sarah Ogilvie... guaranteed to grab those of us obsessed with books, language and mysteryFinancial Times

'[An] astonishing book' Sunday Times

Touching ... The oddities [of language] enliven the book
' Observer *Book of the Day*

affectionate and accomplished book' TLS

'Engaging' Spectator

'Marvellous, witty and wholly original' Alan Rusbridger

'Glorious and surprising' Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian and author of Burning the Books

‘A fascinating and delightful exploration of the Victorian world … Wonderful’ Nicola Shulman, TLS Podcast