It is the final year of the nineteenth century and Peter Winceworth has reached the letter 'S', toiling away for the much-anticipated and multi-volume 'Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary'. He is overwhelmed at his desk and increasingly uneasy that his colleagues are attempting to corral language and regiment facts. Compelled to assert some sense of individual purpose and exercise artistic freedom, Winceworth begins inserting unauthorised, fictitious entries into the dictionary. In the present day, young intern Mallory is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels as the text of the dictionary is digitised for modern readers. Through the words and their definitions she finds she has access to their creator's motivations, hopes and desires. More pressingly, she must also field daily threatening anonymous phone calls.