Wow, what a story The Dictionary of Lost Words was. There was so much to take to heart, so many leads in new directions. I was a emotional mess when I closed it.
I have a habit; one I refuse to get control of. I’m always looking for books to buy and read. I know! It’s crazy. I mean, buying them is one thing, but READ them too! I’m nuts! But it’s true. Wherever I am, I MUST browse any book section, and I cannot resist books about books, libraries, writers, or words. It doesn’t matter who wrote them or when, they are instantly tossed into the basket.
You know I’m kidding. They are carefully placed into the basket away from other items that may endanger them.
I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams at Costco a few months ago and it did not disappoint me. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about it, and it was slow to start, but then it just started to snowball, and I ended up devouring the last half in a mad rush to get it all in, as if someone might take it away from me. Much in the way I eat tacos, I might add.
Sitting here trying to tell you why I loved it has had me stumped. Like I said when I started reading it, at first, I thought I had already read it but then realized that it’s set inside a true story about the making of the Oxford Dictionary, which I’ve watched a movie about recently. In this book, the fictional character, Esme, grows up in the room where her father works helping create that first dictionary.
Doesn’t seem that fascinating until she gets deeper into the story. It spans from 1886 to 1928. Think about that. What else was going on in England at that time? A lot. And this book is all from a woman’s point of view. There were ideas about words, how they are used, what was considered vulgar. Women’s suffrage and World War I. Relationships (my favorite) and growing up female at that time, so different than my life. And “Esperanto,” a whole language “made up, in a way. It’s meant to be easy enough for anyone to learn – it was created to foster peace between nations.” I need to know more about THAT.
I closed it crying it was so beautiful. My husband thought someone had died.
It raised so many questions for me, so much I want to look deeper into, starting with women’s suffrage.
When I started thumbing through the book, thinking of what to share, I got stumped. I just sat here with a cup of coffee, staring out at the desert. It was all too much.
But then it hit me. I’m trying to convey the whole book to you when what I really want to do is tell you how it made me feel and that I think you should read it too. So here I am.
I’ll leave you with a few of my most favorite quotes. It was hard to pick just a few. The whole book was beautiful. I’m going backwards through the book, looking for my highlights.
“If war could change the nature of men, it would surely change the nature of words, I thought.”
Yes, it does. Every war brings with it new words, some funny like “boo-koo” and some not so funny, like new definitions of horror and despair that get us no where.
“Say it,” he said.
“Whatever is on your mind.”
I searched his face. I didn’t want anything to change the way he looked at me, but I also wanted him to understand me completely.
This went right into my soul. Have you felt this way? I have.
“Well, it’s easy to say the right things– “ she glanced towards me “– but words are meaningless without action.”
“And sometimes action can make a lie of good words,” Gareth said.
“People have always taken different roads to get to the same place,” Gareth said when he turned back to face us. “Women’s suffrage won’t be any different.”
Much of her words on women’s suffrage reminded me of the Civil Rights Movement.
“You are correct in your observation that words in common use that are not written down would necessarily be excluded. Your concern that some types of words, or words used by some types of people, will be lost to the future is really quite perceptive. I can think of no solution, however. Consider the alternative: the inclusion of all these words, words that come and go in a year or two, words that do not stick to our tongue through generations. They would clog the Dictionary. All words are not equal (and as I write this, I think I see your concern more clearly: if the words of one group are considered worthier of preservation than those of another…well, you have given me pause for thought.)”
So many languages of the past, whole cultures, are lost because that civilization never wrote anything down. Once writing was invented, things changed. That doesn’t mean those people had nothing of importance to remember. But how do you document what isn’t written? Those smart phones, the ones everyone has in their hands, recording just about everything…game changer.
“Mostly I set the type. I’m a compositor.” “You make the words real,” I said, finally looking at him. … “I prefer to say that I give them substance – a real word is one that is said out loud and means something to someone. Not all of them will find their way to a page. There are words I’ve heard all my life that I’ve never set in type.”
There were so many more wonderful quotes that gave me pause. But this next one grabbed hold of my heart. I’ve committed it not only to memory, but to a small post-it on my fridge.
Just because we have wounds and scars, doesn’t make us less useful. We’re only chipped, not broken. We keep going on in this life.