In spite of her resistance to dictionaries and her satirising of alphabetised projects, Woolf figures in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED2, 1989) as the author
or occasion of 263 citations. Her style and reception are recorded (Woolfian, A and B Adj. and n.) and her language, from the most trivial letter or the most famous novel, is docketed, labelled and defined. In just one quarterly instalment of the
online edition (OED3, 2000–) 40 new citations were included (for entries between maggot and massively, and encompassing maidenhood, male, masculinist and masterpiece) — an indication
that Woolf will be a major contributor to the dictionaries of the future. Though she has never yet dislodged any words from the lexicon (Three Guineas, 184) she continues to introduce new ones, while reviving, misusing and unsettling others.
The article analyses the relationship between a writer’s words and the very different, systematic, ordering of language that
is the business of the lexicographer. It aims both to place Woolf in the context of the Dictionary, and to rescue her, as woman and writer, from the field of definition and the authority of the dictionary maker. It also offers a new approach to Woolf’s
style, tone and vocabulary, her influence by and on other writers and her reception by both “literary” and “non-literary” readers. In exploring the process by which she was “read” for the Dictionary, and tracing her presence
(and absence) within it, we may come to appreciate Woolf’s scepticism about “putting living people into books”; but will also find ourselves looking in new and unexpected ways at her actual words and the uses to which she and others have