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The Dictionary People

The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary

Sarah Ogilvie



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Chatto & Windus
12 September 2023
The people's history of the first great crowdsourcing experiment of the Victorian age- the Oxford English Dictionary

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; its longest-serving editor, James Murray, devoted 36 years to the project, as far as the letter T. But the Dictionary didn't just belong to the experts; it relied on contributions from members of the public. By the time it was finished in 1928 its 414,825 entries had been crowdsourced from a surprising and diverse group of people, from archaeologists and astronomers to murderers, naturists, novelists, pornographers, queer couples, suffragists, vicars and vegetarians.

Lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie dives deep into previously untapped archives to tell a people's history of the OED. She traces the lives of thousands of contributors who defined the English language, from the eccentric autodidacts to the family groups who made word-collection their passion. With generosity and brio, Ogilvie reveals, for the first time, the full story of the making of one of the most famous books in the world - and celebrates to sparkling effect the extraordinary efforts of the Dictionary People.

Imprint:   Chatto & Windus
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 153mm,  Spine: 27mm
Weight:   465g
ISBN:   9781784744946
ISBN 10:   1784744948
Pages:   368
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  Professional and scholarly ,  College/higher education ,  ELT Advanced ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Sarah Ogilvie teaches at the University of Oxford, and specializes in language, dictionaries, and technology. As a lexicographer she has been an editor at the Oxford English Dictionary and was Chief Editor of Oxford Dictionaries in Australia. As a technologist she has worked in Silicon Valley at Lab 126, Amazon's innovation lab, where she was part of the team that developed the Kindle. She originally studied computer science and mathematics before taking her doctorate in Linguistics at the University of Oxford, and then taught at Cambridge and Stanford. She writes a regular column 'The Joy of Lex' for Prospect magazine.

Reviews for The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary

'Utterly fascinating, entertaining, astonishing and as clever as a box of monkeys... I am bowled over by Sarah Ogilvie's book and every home should have a copy. I completely love it' * Joanna Lumley * 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 * 'An erudite and vivid exploration of the origins of the OED in the first crowdsourcing of contributions from thousands of individuals - including murderers, lunatics and cannibals. Marvellous, witty and wholly original' * Alan Rusbridger * 'Sarah Ogilvie has brought to light in glorious and surprising detail the creation of one of the greatest reference works of all time. She has laboured in the archives to reveal a new history - one that illuminates the astonishing stories of the extraordinary men and women who gave us the OED' * Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian and author of Burning the Books * 'Ogilvie introduces us to a remarkable cast of overlooked and unexpected lives, woven together by a common devotion to a project far ahead of its time. Lovers of history and language will delight in the discoveries Ogilvie shares with us-an alphabetical page turner!' * Casper Grathwohl, President, Oxford Languages, OUP *

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