Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Q. What does the Oxford Dictionary of English have in common with
Harry Potter, A-Z Maps, and anything written by Terry Pratchett?

By Juliet Evans, OUP UK Publicity Manager, Dictionaries and Reference

A. They’re all in the list of ‘Top Ten Most Stolen Books in the UK’!

Weighing in at a rather hefty 6.6lb and measuring 11 by 8.5 inches, the Oxford Dictionary of English is no lightweight. Even so, it has appeared in a list of top 10 books which are ‘the most stolen’ from independent UK booksellers, published in The Times on 6 February 2009.

We guess it’s a dubious honour for Oxford Dictionaries to be on the ‘most wanted’ list of book thieves, but we’re in good company, as you can see from the list below.

The Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE) joins an eclectic mix of strictly practical reference books, fantasy and crime fiction, and children’s literature. All – except ODE – are paperback and/or portable.

“Notably, ODE is the only dictionary to appear in the Top Ten,” says Catherine Soanes, editor of ODE, “You’d have thought that our smaller dictionaries, such as the Pocket Oxford or the Compact Oxford, would have been more pocketable (or hideable in a bag or coat) but book-pilferers obviously think that, with its 350,000 words, phrases, and meanings, ODE is the one worth risking prosecution for. Thank goodness that thousands of readers prefer to follow the legal route and buy their copies – and at £35, they don’t need deep pockets to do so.”

It seems that the ’literature lifters’ come in all shapes and sizes – from old ladies, to students, and from mums with prams (the ultimate getaway vehicle?) to people working within the publishing industry itself. So it seems you just can’t trust anyone these days. And you know you have to be very suspicious of people with long coats too – no book is ever to big to steal…

Of course, the loss of so many books has a very detrimental effect on booksellers, particularly on the small family-run independent stores. The Times reports that there have been cases of books being ‘stolen to order’, or placed online, and there have even been stories about books being passed around in pubs. It’s interesting to note that crime writer Martina Cole’s books appear at number 7 on the ‘most stolen’ list.

We talked a bit more to Patrick Neale of Jaffé and Neale Bookshop in the Cotswolds area of England, who says, “In my Waterstone’s days dictionaries were very popular with the thieving community. I never found the pub where all these ‘knocked off’ Oxford Dictionaries were being ‘fenced’. I wonder if the thieves checked that all their terminology was in there. I really don’t know where all those dictionaries went. But I suppose they were used for pub quizzes…”

Patrick says that he now has to keep a particular eye on local walking maps walking out of the door of his bookshop. But could it be that, in the form of traditional English Morris dancers (shown in the picture above), he has found the ultimate deterrent to would-be thieves, we ask?

Ten most stolen books from UK shops

1. London A-Z maps
2. Ordnance Survey maps
3. Terry Pratchett novels
4. Harry Potter books
5. Lonely Planet travel guides
6. The Lord of the Rings
7. Martina Cole novels
8. Jacqueline Wilson novels
9. Oxford Dictionary of English
10. The Highway Code

Recent Comments

  1. Lauren

    A dictionary? Are you kidding me?! Do you know how embarrassing it would be to get caught sneaking out of a Waterstone’s with a dictionary tucked up in your coat? And then escorted from the store, sadly mumbling, “I just wanted to learn…” I am beyond amazed.

  2. Sunday Links « Other Stories

    […] The Oxford Dictionary of English is one of the UK’s most stolen books. […]

Comments are closed.