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Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary: With additional material from A Thesaurus of Old English Hardcover – Oct 15 2009

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 4448 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Har/Chrt edition (Oct. 15 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199208999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199208999
  • Product Dimensions: 31.2 x 16 x 24.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 7 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #157,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"I am one of those who is intrigued by the way in which language evolves. To see the development of the English language set out in this way will bring endless pleasure to any lover of words. This work is, quite simply, fascinating." - Alexander McCall Smith, Author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

"I've been waiting nearly all my life for a book like this -- as it turns out, literally! I am thrilled that the Historical Thesaurus is now a reality. The only problem is that I may dive in and never come out again. This is a word lover's dream." - Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

"Here is a work in which you can lose yourself and find your language. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is so thorough and readable that it resembles other thesauri in name only. Finally the OED has a worthy counterpart." - Ammon Shea, Author of Reading the OED

"Every line generates fresh insights. It is at once awe-inspiring, humbling, motivating, moving. It actually made me gasp with amazement - and I mean out loud - several times, and I can't recall lexicology doing that to me before! It's amazing how these entries make you feel so much closer to the history of the language than was previously possible. The OED gave us individual trees, but never a sight of the whole forest or helpful pathways through it. The thesaurus does precisely that. It heralds a new era in the historical study of English." - David Crystal, author of Txtng: The Gr8 Db8

"The HTOED is truly a monumental work of scholarship and is certain to be the thesaurus by which all others are judged. It's a browser's joy, and writers of all stripes are sure to find it indispensable!" - Erin McKean, author of Totally Weird and Wonderful Words

"The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary will be outstanding & indispensable & so much fun! Who would have thought that 'Smacker' (one who gives loud kisses) came in in 1611! At the same time as the first St James Bible." - Melvyn Bragg, author of The Adventure of English

"A treasure-trove for anyone intrigued by word histories. Those browsing through this fascinating storehouse will discover the (sometimes surprising) first dates of many well-known words and phrases. They will also find a stockpile of enticing words which have faded out of use. An addictive hoard for those who love words." - Jean Aitchison, Emeritus Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication Oxford University

"One-of-a-kind...this is a landmark achievement that all academics and large research libraries should own." --Library Journal

"The world's most comprehensive thesaurus." --Poets & Writers

"This is a extraordinary work." --Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

"No words of mine can express the magnificence of this monument to our huge and often beautiful language." --Elspeth Barker, Literary Review

"Startling and amazing...the HTOED is a godsend." --Mark Peters, Good

"Once again, Oxford UP has proved itself the leader in English lexicography, and it will be a long time before speakers of other languages have anything remotely similar to this arweor lic/reverend/canonizable work of scholarship." --Stephen Dodson, Languagehat

"The ultimate volume for the word-fetishist." --New Yorker "Book Bench"

"An astounding intellectual achievement." --Dayton Daily News

"A dizzying power to have at your fingertips, and I bet that historians, sociologists, philosophers and literary critics will soon wonder how they got by for so long without it...indespensible." --New York Times Magazine

"One of the reasons why the Historical Thesaurus of the OED is so welcome is that it restores those principles to their rightful prominence, which will enable readers to trace the living language in all of its historical glory. Roget would have approved." --Weekly Standard

"Deserves a place on the academic shelf because it indeed leaves Roget, Webster, and even other Oxford thesauri far essential purchase." --College & Research Libraries News

"Worth the wait." --Booklist Starred Review

"Rarely does a wholly new kind of reference work appear, and more rarely still does such a work seem indispensable upon its release. Whereas a historical dictionary shows the ideas associated with a given word over the centuries, the Historical Thesaurus shows the words associated with a given idea. The knowledge compiled in this 40-year project is stunning and promises to revolutionize the study of the language by making wholly new kinds of questions possible. The work is absolutely crucial to any scholarly collection. Essential." --CHOICE


About the Author

Professor Christian Kay is at the University of Glasgow. Professor Jane Roberts is at the University of London. Professor Michael Samuels was formerly at the University of Glasgow. Irene Wotherspoon was formerly at the University of Glasgow.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're interested in knowing that a 'honeymoon' was once a 'honeymonth' you will be delighted with this. It is expensive, but good value. The words are not defined, but the date of first usage is given, then subsequent occurrences, with subtle shifts in meaning. It's fascinating to then research what was going on at the time. Lots of changes after the beheading of Charles 1, for example. I spent a full afternoon watching the ways the words for family members evolved. Oddly, there still isn't a word for 'my ex-wife's new husband's children from his first marriage'. Historically, they would be 'cousins'. You can know stuff like that if you own this. It's also attractive to look at.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa4fcd840) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
87 of 90 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa45fbc18) out of 5 stars Don't be a "Dasiberd", Buy this Thesaurus Jan. 4 2010
By Wild Bill - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading a review that described this thesaurus as being written in a code of its own, virtually unintelligible, I felt compelled to provide some updated information. When I first received the thesaurus I found looking up words with the provided thematic system of classification somewhat daunting. The Historical Thesaurus of the OED uses a thematic system of classification and is organized into three major sections: I The external world; II The mental world; III The social world. From these broad catagories you can simply narrow down your search into more specific catagories. An example of this structure is 02 The mind ....02.02 Emotion....02.02.22 Love.... Terms of endearment.... Overall, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary contains almost 800,000 meanings, organized into more than 236,000 categories and subcategories. The concept is fantastic and if you are having trouble coming up with a synonym the thematic system is very effective albeit somewhat slow.

It wasn't until several days into using the thesaurus that I stumbled into the second volume. The entire volume (all 2,109 pages of it) are dedicated to words with references to sections in volume 1 for their synonyms. Volume 1 is the Thesaurus itself, organized according to the semantic categories outlined above, while Volume 2 is an alphabetical Index listing the majority of the synonyms in Volume 1. You can approach the content of the Thesaurus in different ways: either by looking up a single lexical item in the Index and be directed to the appropriate section in the main Thesaurus, or by browsing by semantic category directly, and seeing words in their context of both historical development and the overall organization of meaning.

To get a flavor of the workings of the thesaurus and a sample page go to Oxford University Press web site (Sorry but Amazon will not let me insert the link, just think "OED", then search the site for historical thesaurus, then click on the link Read more about "the largest thesaurus in the world" link).

I was very hesitant to shell out $$$ for book I didn't know if I would like, but retrospectively I don't regret the purchase and have had a lot of fun with it. I also purchased the CD ROM version 4.0 of the dictionary Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Version 4.0 (Windows & Mac) and have found it to be equally useful. I believe anyone who found this thesaurus to be an "Indecipherable Code" may not have explored Volume 2. Hope this review helps.

dasiberd Obs.

Also dasy-, daysy-, dasa-, dose-, dosa-, dossi-, doziberd(e, dosebeirde.

[The better form is prob. dasyberd = dazy-beard: see dazy a. inert, dull. Mätzner compares LG. dösbârt, and the same notion appears in Lowland Sc. dulbart, dulbert = dull-beard, dullard.]

A stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa488b24c) out of 5 stars A New Introduction to Your Mind Jan. 18 2010
By Fog Eater - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was about to send this back because I had the same reservations expressed in other reviews. The relatively small print! The bizarre organization! I had a very negative initial reaction. I put the two heavy and unwieldy volumes back in their box, wrapped them up and had them ready to send back to Amazon. Then I decided not to be too hasty and to give the volumes a second look. On the second look -- both volumes open side by side -- I fell in love.
The Oxford Historical Thesaurus is an inexhaustible intellectual gift to all English speakers. The lucidity of the categories gives you a new way to approach your language and a new way to approach the concepts in your own mind. Being able to watch words evolve from Old English to our modern time allows you to see the arrival and development of cherished concepts -- the slow blooming of a branch as bud after bud opens off the central stalk. In the end even the typeface is pretty easily readable, (despite its relatively small font size). These books are an enduring invitation to jubilation.
Users of English owe an immense debt of gratitude to the researchers and compilers at the University of Glasgow and the University of London and all the teams of people who helped them over the long years of their labor.What they have built strikes me as far bigger even than their labors - a truly inexhaustible gift to English speakers.
49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa488b294) out of 5 stars Worth the Wait. Oct. 6 2009
By Sam - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, Amazon has the wrong dimensions. Each book is about 11.5" by 9" with the entire cased set equaling 11.75" by 9" by 5.25". For those of us who own the Deluxe Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the height is a perfect match with the depth being just barely .25" shorter. Essentially, they match. The slipcase is not the usual shiny blue used on the Compact OED or in the Deluxe Shorter. It is made of the same material as the cloth hardcover book binding. This set is heavy and, as usual, Amazon uses virtually no packing materials so be prepared for damage in shipping as the slipcase will dent.

The above description provided by Amazon pretty much describes the text, although the format is very unusual so be prepared to spend some time reading the "how to" section. Otherwise it will make little sense. This book set is essentially worth it only for a reader who truly enjoys the history of English.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa45fb7b0) out of 5 stars Great for browsing, but extremely difficult to use May 27 2011
By SmallButMighty - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Several reviews on this site laud this book as a priceless contribution to the English language and a must for all those above-average students who like big words and aren't busy writing ungrammatical sentences at college. In truth, the premise of the project is fascinating--tracking the development of concepts across time by examining the words which speakers of English have attached to those concepts. The possibilities would be endless. However, the positive reviews seem only to describe the intellectual jubilation which reviewers have felt when they BROWSE through the thesaurus, rather than actually attempt to USE it. I do not deny that browsing its pages is a pleasurable experience, but if one is interested in doing real research, the bizarre and confusing design is a monumental obstacle to overcome.

For example--I went to the thesaurus intending to investigate the development of the concept "hope." What other words have English speakers used to describe the modern concept of "hope," I wondered? How has the language changed over time in this respect? Accordingly, I opened volume II of the thesaurus, the index. I flipped to page 711 and looked at the first entry under "hope": "n.|02.01." Following the advice of an intellectually stimulated reviewer on this website, I noted down the reference and turned to volume I, the thesaurus. After spending around 45 seconds searching for the correct page, I found this: " (n.)." Delighted, I read on: "bend in coast." Hmm...that wasn't the "hope" I wanted. Oh, of course! Silly me! Section 01 is "The External World!" The "hope" I want is in Section 02, "The Mental World!" I then turned back to the index and noted down the first reference in the second section: "n." After spending another 45 seconds searching for the right page, I found "" and saw "belief, trust, confidence." That was much closer, so I read on. Seeing again that none of the entries really matched the sense of "hope" I was looking for, I turned back to the index. There were five other noun references for "hope," all on different pages, with absolutely no way to differentiate between them. Gee, isn't this fun?

If you call that kind of quest "elegant" and "intellectually stimulating," then buy this thesaurus. Unfortunately, most people call it "a complete waste of time." I honestly cannot see a way to do it any faster. Since the index does not list any meanings or distinctions of any kind between terms, it's impossible to know before turning to the thesaurus which reference you need to look for in order to find a particular concept. This is a fatal flaw.

It appears that the editors made their design decisions on the assumption that people would either only be interested in browsing or would come with research questions different from the ones I enumerated above. Yet those questions seem to me both legitimate and intuitive, and this thesaurus utterly fails to answer them. The draw of a work like this is that it's the reverse of the OED. With the OED, one can find all the meanings that a word has had over the history of the language. In theory, a historical thesaurus would reverse the process and allow one to find all the words which have been attached to certain concepts over the history of the language. If this is the case, the thesaurus should be organized by placing all historical terms under the CONTEMPORARY term for the concept. The only explanation I can come up with for this awful design is that the editors were trying to make it possible for users in the future (the far future--when words used now have new meanings) to find terms without knowing the meanings which words had when the thesaurus was originally printed. This difficulty could have been avoided by modifying subsequent editions so that they are always organized by the most contemporary usages of terms. Once again, perhaps I have misunderstood the purpose and use of these books, but I cannot fathom what other kinds of serious research questions one would bring to a work like this.

In summary: interesting to browse, almost impossible to use for historical research.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa486ba98) out of 5 stars Laborious System of Locating Particular Words Jan. 15 2010
By Chris - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I agree that volume one is a pleasure to browse through. When you are at leisure, it's fun to see what words were used to refer to a particular meaning throughout the times. But when you have to use volume two (the index) to locate a particular word in volume one, it's a real pain. For example, when you want to look up "idiot" in volume one, there are eight entries listed in volume two the index. Just take the first entry, it's like this:|01. It is such a long string of similar numbers that locating it in volume one is a rather laborious process. Well, I already have so many agonizing numbers to deal with in my life that this is really the last straw.

It's OK when you just want to browse through volume one for fun. But when you want to look up a particular word, it's a rather frustrating process.

But volume one alone is such a great work that overall I would still give this item four stars.