Plano Reads: Join Second Tuesday Book Club on July 9 for ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’
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Plano Reads: Join Second Tuesday Book Club on July 9 for ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’

Second Tuesday Book Club will meet in person and on Zoom from 7-8pm on Tuesday, July 9, in the public conference room at Schimelpfenig Library, to discuss our seventh book of 2024, The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is the marvelous story of the other dictionary, the dictionary that might have been, could have been. In the margins of the history of the great OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, Pip Williams details the fictional story of Esme, daughter of one of Dr. Murray’s team of lexicographers who are assembling the first complete and exhaustive dictionary of the English language. While the gentleman lexicographers toil away in the Shed, Esme grows up playing under the table, salvaging discarded and overlooked scraps of words, hiding them away, savoring their secret sounds and meanings.

Please email Alice McGoldrick at or Nicole Border at or you may call Schimelpfenig Library at 972-769-4200, if you have questions or comments.

We look forward to seeing you at the library or on Zoom!

The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

Available in Print | eBook | eAudiobook

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, an Oxford garden shed in which her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word “bondmaid” flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip and, learning that the word means “slave girl,” begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. She begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK * “Delightful . . . [a] captivating and slyly subversive fictional paean to the real women whose work on the Oxford English Dictionary went largely unheralded.”– The New York Times Book Review

“A marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress.”–Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Book


Pip Williams was born in Wales and raised in Australia after her parents moved there when she was four years old. A social scientist and researcher by training, most of her published writings before The Dictionary of Lost Words were academic articles and reports.  She always loved writing and wrote for herself, especially poetry.  After some teenage upset she wrote a poem titled “Fifteen”, which was published in Dolly Magazine, a kind of Australian Seventeen or Tiger Beat which Pip enjoyed reading as a teen.  Much later in life, Pip and her husband experimented with living the “good life”, living off the land, raising their own food and producing their own textiles. The couple and their two boys ended up moving to Italy for six months to work on organic farms. When the family returned to Australia, her husband encouraged her to write a memoir of their time.  That became the first non-academic work she published: One Italian Summer: Across the world and back in search of the good life.

Williams first came up with the idea for her novel while reading a non-fiction book about the compilation of the OED, but especially about the relationship between the editor, Sir James Murray, and one of the most active volunteer contributors, who happened to be a prisoner in an insane asylum. As a social scientist she thought that their method of compilation was flawed.  The Oxford English Dictionary was a Victorian era project, begun in 1858 and the first edition not completed until 1928.  Any words included had to have been in existence IN PRINT from the 12th c forward.  Pip realized that most people of the world had been illiterate, most anyone who was educated or literate was male and of a higher social class, and most of the contributors and lexicographers were male.  She wondered, what about words used by women, in the coal mines, in the birthing room, in the laundry?  And then she kept reading the same anecdote about how the word “Bondmaid” was discovered to be MISSING from the OED’s first edition and this caused a huge hullabaloo and Sir Murray was very angry about this omission.  He claimed it was the ONLY word that had been lost.  This got the author thinking about HOW it could have been lost and about what a young girl would think of a dictionary not having words that she heard and used in daily living….and the novel began to take shape.

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