Fauquier County Public Library

Homework Help: The Definitive Record of the English Language

Posted by alison on

Over six hundred thousand words… over three million quotations… over 1,000 years of English. This describes the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language, past and present, from across the English-speaking world.

The OED, which was started more than 150 years ago, is not just an enormous dictionary (the original version was ten volumes and continued to expand as it was updated). It’s also an historical dictionary – it traces a word from its origins (may be Old or Middle English) to the present, illustrating the various ways in which it has been used, adding to our historical and linguistic record.

As an historical dictionary, the OED is very different from dictionaries of current English, which focus on present-day meanings. While you’ll still find present-day meanings in the OED, you’ll also find the history of individual words, and of the language—traced through 3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialized journals, to film scripts and cookbooks.

You can search (quick or advanced) words, browse categories (subject, usage, region and origin), view timelines (when words entered the English language), explore sources (authors and works quoted in the OED) and use the historical thesaurus to view a taxonomic organization of all the contents of the OED.

Other features include:

  • What’s New – Every three months, OED editors revise existing entries and add new words;
  • Aspects of English – Informative and entertaining commentaries on the English language, written by dictionary editors and specialist authors;
  • Birthday words – Search your year of birth to find a word that was first recorded in the OED in your birthday year;
  • Word of the Day – Receive a daily email update of the OED Word of the Day;
  • Aspects of English Read articles from OED editors and authors on interesting aspects of the English language, from the Geordie dialect to the first dictionaries in English to the history of the word mammoth and much more;
  • Quizzes and Lesson Plans  Explore an inventory of lesson plans on the OED for middle and high school students, along with quizzes to test your knowledge of using the OED Online.

As for pogonophobia, according to the OED Online, “this is a jocular term for a strong dislike of beards that was coined in 1857, but may be more relevant than ever given the current proliferation of barbigerous hipsters.”

~ Alison, Electronic Resources Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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