Skip to Main Content (Press Enter)
The Dictionary People by Sarah Ogilvie
Add The Dictionary People to bookshelf
Add to Bookshelf

The Dictionary People

Best Seller
The Dictionary People by Sarah Ogilvie
Audiobook Download
Oct 17, 2023 | ISBN 9780593788554 | 669 Minutes

Buy from Other Retailers:

See All Formats (3) +
  • $19.00

    Oct 15, 2024 | ISBN 9780593469989

    Preorder from:

  • $30.00

    Oct 17, 2023 | ISBN 9780593536407

    Buy from Other Retailers:

  • Oct 17, 2023 | ISBN 9780593536414

    Buy from Other Retailers:

  • Oct 17, 2023 | ISBN 9780593788554

    669 Minutes

    Buy from Other Retailers:

Buy the Audiobook Download:

Listen to a sample from The Dictionary People

Product Details


“Sprightly, elegant. . . . Engrossing. . . . Lively and entertaining. . . . The real joy of The Dictionary People is to be reminded that any group of people pinned at its intersection will still burst forth every which way, a tapestry of contradictions, noble and ignoble, wild and banal. In the lives of these uneminent Victorians, Ogilvie has shown us that humanity, even for word nerds, is always—as Jane Austen might put it—sprawly, fragmented and irrepressible.” The New York Times Book Review
“[A] delightful grab-bag of brief biographies. . . . Again and again, The Dictionary People emphatically demonstrates that even seemingly dry-as-dust scholars weren’t that at all. . . . [To] all the ‘unsung heroes’ celebrated in The Dictionary People, we owe much of our appreciation of the range, beauty and history of the English language.” The Washington Post

“Ogilvie’s history unites a choice selection of these fascinating personalities still further, turning aspects of their colorful lives into the driving force of this absorbing book.“ The Wall Street Journal

“Ogilvie, whose book sets out to tell as inclusive a history as possible ofthe dictionary, takes palpable pleasure in such idiosyncratic details that reveal the range of people busy with what was an enormous undertaking. . . . Readers who delight in obscure or obsolete words will delight in The Dictionary People. . . . At it’s heart, though, this is a book about people, about individual efforts and collective achievement. . . . Highly readable and enjoyably digressive, it is one to approach at leisure forenlightenment and entertainment.” Air Mail

“As is true of so many of the most important things in an everyday life (the earth, for instance) we take for granted, we never pause a moment to wonder: How did this get made? The Oxford English Dictionary is, especially in my life, such a wonder. In The Dictionary People—a lively, funny book, full of eccentrics—Sarah Ogilvie finds all the magical characters who contributed to making the Dictionary. This is an exquisitely written book.” —Jamaica Kincaid
“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

“Sarah Ogilvie has brought to centre stage a gallery of remarkable characters quite as astonishing, hilarious, terrifying and beguiling as any found in Dickens. The ‘ordinary’ people who helped create the Oxford English Dictionary reveal themselves to be anything but ordinary. At the back of it all we are reminded that words themselves are not abstract units of meaning, they are every bit as alive, elusive and enchanting as the people who devote themselves to their study. The Dictionary People serves also, incidentally, as a marvellous record of the incidentals, the daily details, manners and modes of 19th century life. An unmissable wonderful achievement.” —Stephen Fry

“While bringing to life a host of passionate volunteers, Ogilvie also charts decades of social, economic, and cultural change, mapped by words. A fresh, vibrant, entertaining history.” Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

“Whether it’s Wordle, Spelling Bee or Blossom, families and friends are finding daily enjoyment (and, yes, frustration) in learning new words. That’s the exact audience that will be delighted to discover The Dictionary People, Sarah Ogilvie’s captivating, enchanting history. The story of how Ogilvie—a linguist, writer and lexicographer—found her way to this project is almost as fascinating as the history itself. . . . Through their devotion and love of language, the unsung heroes of the Oxford English Dictionary have helped us understand our world better. Ogilvie’s passion for the Dictionary People is palpable and con­tagious, making this book a sheer delight.” 
Bookpage [starred review]

“Astonishing . . .  Ogilvie cleverly organises her book as an alphabetised dictionary, running from A for Archaeologist to Z for Zealot by way of N for New Zealanders. This allows her to produce short, punchy biographical essays that never outstay their welcome.” —Kathryn Hughes, The Sunday Times (UK)

“These stories about the ensemble of, for the most part, unfancy but always unexpected Oxford English ‘dictionary people’ are a perfect dose of hope. The pages come alive with humor, surprise, passion, charm, empathy, intrigue, humanness, and love. I’d prescribe it for any reader who is working against the odds to bring vision into reality.” —Anna Deavere Smith
“[A] charming debut. Ogilvie not only introduces readers to a fascinating cross-section of Victorian society, but notes the groundbreaking nature of the OED project. The whimsical narrative is also educational, providing extensive insight into the process used to trace the origins of words. Readers will be enthralled.” Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed)
“Ogilvie’s enthusiasm for the [Oxford English Dictionary] Readers . . . is infectious, and this book is a delight to read.” —Laurie Unger Skinner, Booklist

“Ogilvie has done her research: she has really dug into a huge array of people. I love words and I cherish my OED, with its magnifying glass – so having the background of it explained was fascinating.” —Val McDermid, The Guardian


Looking for More Great Reads?
21 Books You’ve Been Meaning to Read
Back to Top