Compiling the recorded vocabulary of English since the middle ages

More than 1,000 years of the English language are captured in a unique publication that draws on decades of research at the University of Glasgow’s English department.


The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of every recorded English word from 700 AD to the present day, preserving the UK’s linguistic heritage for the public and providing an acclaimed resource for writers, linguists, historians and scholars.

The Thesaurus is the work of over 230 people, taking approximately 320,000 person-hours to complete – the equivalent of 176 years of solid work for one person. The 800,000 word thesaurus was compiled and first published in print form in 2009, after 44 years of research at Glasgow.

Considered to be the world’s only complete historical thesaurus published in any language, it has so far generated £1.6 million in global sales. The digital version – which is still being added to – is unique in both its coverage and  method.

By arranging the words in broad conceptual categories such as ‘music’ or ‘thought’, it allows a reader to understand not only which words were available to discuss any particular concept at any given moment in the history of English, but also the full range and variety of words available to English speakers at the moment. Now available via the Oxford English Dictionary website, the online thesaurus opens up the rich history of the English language to some six million visitors every year.

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