Word nerds of the world rejoice: the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is here! After 44 years of work, 4,000 pages, and 800,000 meanings the first ever historical thesaurus is ready to answer everything you ever wanted to know about the history of our language. The book chronologically and thematically arranges all the words from the mother of all English dictionaries, the OED. What this means is that you can view the history and evolution of words from their Old English incarnations through their many linguical permutations and on up to their present day forms. So if you’ve been itching to affect the terminology of, say, a seventeenth century Pilgrim, or perhaps want to give a fresh shine of authenticity to your annual basement production of Beowulf, then the HTOED may be right up your alley. And for all the writers out there, this new tool should serve as the antidote to trite prose and muddled meanings. If you’ve ever tried to use a regular thesaurus (or the dreaded thesaurus function in your word processing program of choice), then you know that few so called synonyms are actually that. Most words have very subtle shadings of their own which can end up tweaking their meaning just enough to make them a tad unsuitable for expressing the exact idea that you’re trying to get across. And this is where the HTOED should prove to be vastly beneficial to word seekers, as each category is broken down again and again into multiple (and often humorously precise) sub-meanings, making it possible to get closer than ever before to exactly that word. But before you expire in a swoon of wordly delight, beware, the pricetag, like the thesaurus itself is as breathtaking as it is hefty. There are, however, plans to put the HTOED online to be used in conjunction with the online version of the OED. For more information on the history of the book and the daunting task of its creation, read this fascinating post from Good Magazine.
In Other Words
November 15, 2009