Spelling it out: the volunteers who made the dictionary

‘Everything obscene comes from France,’ wrote James Dixon, an eye surgeon retired to Dorking, in 1888. He was provoked by learning of an item called a condom, and explained to his correspondent, James Murray, that this was ‘a contrivance used by fornicators, to save themselves from a well-deserved clap’. Surely the word had no place in the Oxford English Dictionary, of which Murray had for the previous nine years been editor? Murray was persuaded and left it out. Dixon was a useful source of information about words relating to medicine, and Oxford’s team of under-resourced lexicographers relied on the goodwill of such volunteers. Ogilvie’s book is an engaging sideways look

Spotting the mountweazels: The Liar’s Dictionary, by Eley Williams, reviewed

There is a particular sub-genre of books which are witty and erudite, comic and serious and often of a bibliophilic nature: such novels as Elaine di Rollo’s The Peachgrower’s Almanac, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s The Rabbit Back Literary Society or Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. The problem with this form is that it can go badly wrong and teeter into pretentious whimsy. But when it goes right, as with Eley Williams’s The Liar’s Dictionary, it is sheer joy. Although I cantered through the book and welcomed its distraction during lockdown, there are enough hidden jokes and cunningly disguised rabbit holes to make one want to