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Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary - 2 volume set Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0199208999 ISBN-10: 0199208999 Edition: Slp Har/Ch

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Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary - 2 volume set + The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically (in slipcase with reading glass) (v. 1-20) + The Oxford English Dictionary Additions
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 3952 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Slp Har/Ch edition (November 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199208999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199208999
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 9.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #919,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Product Description
A 40-year project in the making, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is the first historical thesaurus to include almost the entire vocabulary of English, from Old English to the present day. Conceived and compiled by the Department of English Language of the University of Glasgow, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is a groundbreaking analysis of the historical inventory of English, allowing users to find words connected in meaning throughout the history of the language.

The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is a unique resource for word-lovers of all types--linguists and language specialists, historians, literary commentators, among others--as well as a fascinating resource for everyone with an interest in the English language and its historical development. It is a perfect complement to the OED itself, allowing the words in the OED to be cross-referenced and viewed in wholly new ways.


Timeline for the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary

  • 1965: Announcement by Michael Samuels, Professor of English Language at the University of Glasgow--at a lecture to the Philological Society--that his department intends to undertake production of a historical thesaurus of English.

    Work on the Historical Thesaurus begins. The focus is on data collection and the entries are compiled using paper slips to record data (in the same way as the Oxford English Dictionary).

  • 1969: When the scale of the project becomes apparent, a successful application for funding leads to the employment of Irene Wotherspoon and Christian Kay as research assistants, mainly collecting data. A number of volunteers begin to work on the project in Glasgow, Germany, and Canada.
  • 1978: The project faces many challenges during the 1970s, the most significant being a major fire which threatened to destroy the entire archive of paper slips. All material is subsequently microfilmed and copies are kept at different locations in the UK.

    During the 1970s, classifying the data becomes the main focus. Postgraduate students are recruited. A decision is also taken to include material from the Supplements, and the forthcoming second edition and additions series of the OED. This enriches, but also slows down, the project.

    During the 1980s, Old English material is entered into electronic databases developed in London.

  • 1981: Talks with Oxford University Press on publishing the project.

    During the 1980s, the UK government sponsors a program to train people in editing and data-entry skills. The trainees help to edit and input the bulk of the Historical Thesaurus data into an electronic system.

  • 1984: Department of English Language moves into its current site at Glasgow University. A kitchen is converted into a fire-proof archive.

  • 1989: Christian Kay becomes director of the project.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Billed as “the first historical thesaurus to be written for any of the world's languages,” the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (HTOED) already had a long history by the time it was published last year. It was first proposed back in 1965, but various circumstances—including additions and supplements to the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, on which it is based; a lack of funds; a system based on using paper slips; and a fire that nearly destroyed the archive in 1978—slowed things down. For scholars of the English language, it was worth the wait. The HTOED “looks at the range of meanings that a word has had over the ages, and documents all the words in general English use over a period of many hundreds of years.” Though based on the A–Z definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary (with additional material from A Thesaurus of Old English, 1995), it has a thematic arrangement. Three main themes— “The External World,” “The Mental World,” and “The Social World”—occupy the top level and are divided into 7 categories, which are in turn sliced into 26 categories, and so on. For example, “The External World” is divided into “The Earth,” “Life,” and “Physical Sensibility,” among other categories; and “Physical Sensibility” is further divided into categories such as “Taste/Flavour,” “Smell/Odor,” and “Sight.” There are more than 236,000 categories and subcategories, and a numbering system is used to identify categories and hierarchical levels. Individual entries may be arranged by part of speech; seeing/looking, for example (01.03.07.03), is treated separately as a noun, adjective, and adverb. Synonyms are presented in chronological order and include dating as well as conventions indicating provenance, alternate spellings, and more. It can be a challenge to puzzle out the thesaurus' structure, and readers will find themselves turning often to the introductory material with its detailed explanations, examples, and charts. Volume 2 comprises the index, an essential tool given the way the thesaurus is arranged—though it also takes fortitude (and a pair of reading glasses) to use, because category numbers rather than page and column numbers are used. This thesaurus is not for the faint of heart, but on the other hand, it's not intended to be a quick synonym finder. Rather, it is designed “to provide a detailed record of the English vocabulary from the earliest times to the present.” In addition to being a history of words used to express a meaning over time, it is also meant to be used as a thesaurus for any period in the past. Digging out meanings current in Chaucer's or Shakespeare's time would be difficult without the aid of an index by date, however, and it is to be hoped that this is one of the advantages users will find in the electronic version, which will be released along with the redesign of the Oxford English Dictionary Online later this year. --Mary Ellen Quinn

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Customer Reviews

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Each book is about 11.5" by 9" with the entire cased set equaling 11.75" by 9" by 5.25".
Sam
The concept is fantastic and if you are having trouble coming up with a synonym the thematic system is very effective albeit somewhat slow.
Wild Bill
What they have built strikes me as far bigger even than their labors - a truly inexhaustible gift to English speakers.
Fog Eater

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Wild Bill on January 4, 2010
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....02.02.22.04 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.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Fog Eater on January 18, 2010
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.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Sam on October 6, 2009
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.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By bgesslo7277 on May 27, 2011
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. 01.01.04.03.05.07|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: "01.01.04.03.05.07 (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. 02.01.13.02.
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