Page last updated at 23:50 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 00:50 UK

World's largest thesaurus debuts

Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary
The project to compile the thesaurus began in 1965

The world's largest thesaurus is being published after more than 40 years of work by the English Language department of Glasgow University.

The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary has nearly 800,000 meanings, organised into more than 236,000 categories and subcategories.

Its 4,500 pages are published in two volumes by Oxford University Press.

The project, which started in 1965, was the brainchild of Professor Michael Samuels, of Glasgow University.

The finished work is the result of thousands of hours of work by hundreds of research assistants, postgraduate students, university staff and volunteers.

The draft thesaurus was almost destroyed in a fire in 1978, but despite the building being gutted, a metal filing cabinet protected the files.

In 1980, the project was nearly completed, but the team decided to include words from updated versions of the Oxford English Dictionary. This added almost 30 years more work to the project.

Who would have thought that 'Smacker' - one who gives loud kisses - came in 1611 at the same time as the first King James Bible
Melvyn Bragg

Professor Christian Kay, 69, one of four co-editors, began working on the book in the late 1960s when she was 27.

She said the main difference with Roget's Thesaurus is that the new one goes right back to the beginnings of English.

"In addition to getting the words arranged by their meanings, we provide the dates during which they were current in English," she said.

"We include obsolete words which are no longer in use or are only found in very special contexts.

"Words have different survival rates, so there are maybe 7,000 words which have been in English since the very early days and there are other words that maybe only lasted for a few years.

'Extraordinary value'

"For the first time ever, The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary puts these in context."

Randolph Quirk, Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature, University College London said: "This book is a magnificent achievement of quite extraordinary value.

"It is perhaps the single most significant tool ever devised for investigating semantic, social and intellectual history."

Broadcaster and novelist, Melvyn Bragg said: "The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary will be outstanding and indispensable and so much fun.

"Who would have thought that 'Smacker' - one who gives loud kisses- came in 1611 at the same time as the first King James Bible."



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Forty-year wait for new thesaurus
06 Jul 09 |  Oxfordshire

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific