New web resource detailing 1,000 years of the English language launched

New web resource detailing 1,000 years of the English language launched

Issued: Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:04:00 GMT

Most people will have ended up a little worse for wear after having one too many, however you’d probably never think of yourself as having been puggled, half-shaved or stocious.

If these words mean nothing to you then you might need to consult the new Historical Thesaurus of English (HT) web resource, which launches today. The HT is the only online resource to make every English word from the last 1,000 years and its meaning available to the public and fully searchable.

The HT contains a record of nearly 800,000 words used at any point over the last millennium. It also contains links to their synonyms and records when the word came into and disappeared from use.

The new website uses information developed through the Historical Thesaurus of English Project, the printed version of which was first published in 2009 after 44 years of painstaking work by academics at the University of Glasgow. The new website is being launched on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the project and provides a clear and easy to use resource for both scholars and members of the public alike.

Since it started on 15 January 1965, the HT project took 230 linguists to complete and is still being added to today. It is the world’s only complete historical thesaurus published in any language, making it by far the largest and most complete thesaurus of English from any period.

Alongside the more obscure and archaic entries the Historical Thesaurus also contains references to various concepts and experiences that are still relevant today such as how we talk about foreigners, characterise being in love, or even how many words we have used over the centuries to describe being drunk.

The HT offers an unparalleled resource for studying the subjects, items and ideas that people talk about throughout history and the words they use to describe them. These may range from the rare or obsolete to those which have been in daily use for hundreds of years or introduced recently.

The site allows anyone to access the Historical Thesaurus’ unparalleled record of the English language, answering questions such as:

  • How many words are there for being drunk?

193, including whittled, pottical, cup-shot, muckibus, half-shaved, sprung, malty, peloothered, and stocious.

See http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/category/?id=46961 for more.

  • What concept in English has the most words representing it?

‘Immediately’, with 264 words meaning this across the last thousand years. Includes toot-suit, bang-slap, yesterday, as soon as look at you, in a whiff, off the reel, in two twos, upon the nines, presto, promiscuously, incontinently, syne.

See http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/category/?id=89060 for more. This large category is closely followed by those for words meaning stupid (248) and excellent (224).)

  • How did people express affection to each other in English?

There are 103 words in the terms of endearment category, including darling (used from Old English onwards), my dove (c1386–), my ding-ding (1564-1602), mopsy (1582-1706), bawcock (1599-1862), wanton (1605-1812), bagpudding (1608), my cabbage (1840–), prawn (1895), luv (1898–), snookums (1919–), and lamb chop (1962–).

See http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/category/?id=130547 for more, if you can stand it.

Dr Marc Alexander, Senior Lecturer in English Language and the current director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, said: “We are delighted to be able to launch this new online resource which will make the vast and completely unique contents of the Historical Thesaurus available to the public as never before.

“We hope that this will be of great use to historians, writers, and linguists, but we also encourage anyone with an interest in the English language and its history – or just the history of the English-speaking peoples – to explore this fascinating resource.”


Media enquiries: nick.wade@glasgow.ac.uk / 01413307126

Notes to editors:

  • Financial support for the Historical Thesaurus of English has been provided over the past fifty years by the Arts and Humanities Research Board/Council, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the British Academy, the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, the Leverhulme Trust, the Modern Humanities Research Association, and the University of Glasgow.
  • The new website is designed to be used on mobile phones and tablets as well as desktop and laptop computers, and also has comprehensive About pages with information, photographs and links about the project and its history. Each page has a unique URL to allow people to share Historical Thesaurus categories by email and social media.
  • The Historical Thesaurus is also available as part of the online Oxford English Dictionary at http://www.oed.com, which is free to use in the UK with a local authority library card.
  • The principal editors of the Thesaurus were Christian Kay, Jane Roberts, Michael Samuels, and Irené Wotherspoon, and the project directors Professor Michael Samuels (1965-1989), Professor Christian Kay (1989-2014), and Dr Marc Alexander (2014–present).
  • The printed version of the Thesaurus is the 2009 Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press. Royalties from this book go directly to support our postgraduate scholarships and undergraduate prize fund: http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/scholarships-prizes/.