The Compulsive Copyeditor

July 11, 2009

Twice the Size of Roget’s!

Filed under: etymology,history of English,language evolving — amba12 @ 7:37 pm

Word freaks can now start salivating over the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, in the works since 1965 and due for publication this coming fall.  It includes not only modern and cutting-edge English, but all those delicious historical layers we alluded to recently:

With 800,000 meanings for 600,000 words organised into more than 230,000 categories and subcategories, the thesaurus is twice the size of Roget’s version.

It contains almost the entire vocabulary of English, from Old English to the present day, giving a unique insight into the development of the language. …

The thesaurus is divided into three major sections: the external, mental and social worlds.

The 354 categories cover subjects including leisure, authority, education, faith, armed hostility, philosophy, mental capacity, aesthetics, sleeping and waking, matter, the supernatural and relative properties.

Read the story, it’s quite a cliffhanger.  Back before computers when its evolving contents were scribbled down on slips of paper, the project survived a catastrophic fire because it was stashed in metal file cabinets.  It’s outlived several of its contributors and survived decades of funding and labor shortages, and just when they thought it was done, around 1980, they decided to open it up again to include new words like “speed-dating.”  There went another thirty years.  A sublimely obsessive project that required as much perseverance as the Hubble Space Telescope.  I don’t know about you, but I want one!


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