©2024 Fable Group Inc.
3.5 

The Dictionary People

By Sarah Ogilvie
The Dictionary People by Sarah Ogilvie digital book - Fable

Publisher Description

A WASHINGTON POST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION FINALIST • The New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice • A history and celebration of the many far-flung volunteers who helped define the English language, word by word.

“Enthralling and exuberant, Sarah Ogilvie tells the surprising story of the making of the OED. Philologists, fantasists, crackpots, criminals, career spinsters, suffragists, and Australians: here is a wonder book for word lovers.” —Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit


The Oxford English Dictionary is one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and yet, curiously, its creators are almost never considered. Who were the people behind this unprecedented book? As Sarah Ogilvie reveals, they include three murderers, a collector of pornography, the daughter of Karl Marx, a president of Yale, a radical suffragette, a vicar who was later found dead in the cupboard of his chapel, an inventor of the first American subway, a female anti-slavery activist in Philadelphia . . . and thousands of others. 

Of deep transgenerational and broad appeal, a thrilling literary detective story that, for the first time, unravels the mystery of the endlessly fascinating contributors the world over who, for over seventy years, helped to codify the way we read and write and speak. It was the greatest crowdsourcing endeavor in human history, the Wikipedia of its time.  

The Dictionary People is a celebration of words, language, and people, whose eccentricities and obsessions, triumphs, and failures enriched the English language.

Download the free Fable app

app book lists

Stay organized

Keep track of what you’re reading, what you’ve finished, and what’s next.
app book recommendations

Build a better TBR

Swipe, skip, and save with our smart list-building tool
app book reviews

Rate and review

Share your take with other readers with half stars, emojis, and tags
app comments

Curate your feed

Meet readers like you in the Fable For You feed, designed to build bookish communities
app book lists

Stay organized

Keep track of what you’re reading, what you’ve finished, and what’s next.
app book recommendations

Build a better TBR

Swipe, skip, and save with our smart list-building tool
app book reviews

Rate and review

Share your take with other readers with half stars, emojis, and tags
app comments

Curate your feed

Meet readers like you in the Fable For You feed, designed to build bookish communities

7 Reviews

3.5
“This is about the Oxford English Dictionary and the people whom helped it come about. I was pretty amazed with this book and how it kept me engaged throughout the whole “alphabet”. I loved getting to know the dictionary people - whose extraordinary stories shined through this book. You will meet a whole lineup of characters whose submissions made up the OED. Some of the characters come from wild stories, from everyday family business, to murders, inventors, queer contributors, etc. It was a delight to hear these stories and be able to recognize the people behind them. I would definitely recommend this book and will be sharing the information and stories I learned! “The creation of the OED was a huge crowdsourcing project that ran from 1858-1928 where members of the public contributed quotations from books they read that gave a sense of the meaning of a word.” Such a fun and interesting read!”
“review - https://booksteacupreviews.com/2023/08/21/the-dictionary-people-by-sarah-ogilvie/ The Dictionary People is well-researched and informative nonfiction compiling the contributors of OED, Oxford English Dictionary, some mentioned in the prefaces in each section of OED (fascicles) while some not that author found mentioned in Dr James Murray’s address book of volunteers. The Dictionary People started with the preface- how the author found Murray’s address book and how that motivated the author to find more about the volunteers mentioned in the address book that took her on a wild journey of finding out about people who contributed to the dictionary and made it successful with its all-encompassing and all-embracing vision. It was interesting to know how this biggest crowd-sourcing project wouldn’t have been possible without thousands of volunteers (exactly around 3000) who gave their precious time and worked indefatigably for the dictionary without any payment and out of goodwill and how we might not know about them (or at least those who are not mentioned in prefaces) without Murray’s methodical notes in his address books and some of the letters he kept that mentioned where they lived, what they read, time frame they worked for dictionary and also some of the personal information that included marriage dates, friendships, and deaths. I was surprised Murray worked with such small payments (£ 9000 for ten years. so he gets £900/year and that didn’t include expenses for the Dictionary like papers, books to send to volunteers, and payments for staff working under him!) strict timelines and the pressure of completing the dictionary doing many things like editing the words and verifying their sources, living with his big family, keeping in touch with volunteers, follow-ups about the books he sent and slips they sent back, and many other things. It’s just sad he didn’t get to see him completed. The Dictionary People shows the author’s enthusiasm that is quite infectious and it’s obvious from the very first chapter how much the author loved the dictionary and its history and how much she researched about the volunteers and contributors to write this book, how difficult it might be to find information about people who aren’t alive now and find the documents related to people worked for the dictionary that started in 1857 till its completed in 1928 covering seventy years of its making. It sure is no small feat and the author’s efforts are commendable. However, I think the execution could be better or more interesting. While the idea of including volunteers in A to Z format- with each alphabet titled contributors’ professions/ hobby / characteristics like A for archeologists, C for Cannibles, murderers, lunatics and so on… some alphabets were regardless of hobbies like B for Best contributors and H for Hopeless contributors.. – was very interesting and stories of the volunteers were very well represented in just few pages, I found the connections between different volunteers under the same alphabet was not smooth. Sometimes it went off track including the timelines and Murray’s struggle and other bits that weren’t about the particular volunteer and hobby the author was discussing. I agree with what one of the reviewers said, sectioning the book as per profession or hobbies is the problem. I could see writing book instead with only males / females / queer contributors could have made it easy to follow. Also, there wasn’t any chronological order also made it hard to follow who worked in which timeline. As my copy is eARC I didn’t have an appendix with a list of contributors discussed in the book that I would have liked to refer to later and I think it should be included as there was so much information, so many names mentioned that I never could tell who was discussed in which alphabet. It is impossible to remember everything in every chapter and no reader, nor even an enthusiast of the dictionary can read this in one go with this much information. It took me almost a month to read this book and if you even ask me to list just the title of all A to Z letters I would have to refer to the Content list in the beginning. I also found some of the stories a bit boring especially when I was nearing the end of the book. (It might be partially because I just wanted to finish the book) It is often a little tedious to read some chapters which made me use Murray’s initial choice of word for dictionary for this book as well, exhaustive. But yes, for nerds who love OED and is fascinated by the dictionary (not just words), its making, the methods they used, who made it successful and stories of many volunteers about how they came to be part of the dictionary would surely enjoy reading The Dictionary People. Overall, The Dictionary People is informative, fascinating and well-researched nonfiction about the contributors of OED, Oxford English Dictionary, without whom success of OED would not have been possible. However, this often was exhaustive read and dull at some points. So it might not be for everyone.”

About Sarah Ogilvie

SARAH OGILVIE is a linguist, lexicographer, writer, and technologist. Raised in Australia, she has lived and worked in both the United States, teaching at Stanford, and Britain. She currently teaches at Oxford University, where she develops and directs a new degree integrating humanities with technology.

Start a Book Club

Start a public or private book club with this book on the Fable app today!

FAQ

Do I have to buy the ebook to participate in a book club?

Why can’t I buy the ebook on the app?

How is Fable’s reader different from Kindle?

Do you sell physical books too?

Are book clubs free to join on Fable?

How do I start a book club with this book on Fable?

Error Icon
Save to a list
0
/
30
0
/
100
Private List
Private lists are not visible to other Fable users on your public profile.
Notification Icon
Fable uses the TMDB API but is not endorsed or certified by TMDB