The Dictionary People

The Dictionary People

The unsung heroes who created the Oxford English Dictionary



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

A lively, entertaining, and illuminating read. I loved itSusie Dent

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.

** A Financial Times, TLS and Daunt Books Book of the Year 2023 **

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

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


  • Marvellous… An unmissable, wonderful achievement
    Stephen Fry

About the author

Sarah Ogilvie

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.
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