Historical Thesaurus - bringing new understanding to the English language

Forty-four years of research culminated in the acclaimed publication in 2009 of the 'Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary'.

It has been described as ‘perhaps the single most significant tool ever devised for investigating semantic, social, and intellectual history’ by British linguist and life peer Randolph Quirk. By late 2013, the 'Thesaurus' had generated £1.6 million from global sales for its publisher. The subsequent integration of the 'Historical Thesaurus' into the 'Oxford English Dictionary' (OED) website opened up this unique resource to the ~1.5 million visitors who use the online OED each year. In addition to linguists, notable user groups include novelists, poets, broadcasters and historians.

The 'Historical Thesaurus' consists of the recorded vocabulary of English virtually in its entirety from c.700 AD to the present, arranged into a comprehensive semantic framework. It allows readers to understand not only which words were available to discuss any given concept at any given moment in the history of the English language, but also the full range and variety of words available to English speakers at that moment in time. The framework itself also provides a comprehensive survey of all the things, concepts and ideas that have been recorded in the last millennium of English. Consisting of over 797,000 words and 236,000 conceptual categories, the Thesaurus is unique, both in its coverage and in its method.

 ‘I can hardly imagine any reference book more valuable for the historical novelist’. Philip Pullman, celebrated children’s author.

Named Book of the Year 2009 by The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement and receiving widespread media coverage, the publishers issued four print runs in the first three years. The sales figures are exceptional for a reference volume of this type, confirming the significant contribution it has made both to our knowledge of and appreciation for the historical development of the English language, but also to the publishing sector. 

Find out more


Media enquiries: media@glasgow.ac.uk / +44 (0)141 330 7126