Category Archives: History

On Language – Semantic Time Travel

On Language – Semantic Time Travel

At a glance, it’s obvious that the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, published in the fall to worldwide lexicographic acclaim, took a lot of work. The two thick blue volumes sort roughly 920,000 words into 797,120 meanings and organize those meanings into 236,400 numbered categories and subcategories. Like Peter Mark Roget’s famous thesaurus, first issued in 1852, the H.T.O.E.D. not only lists synonyms but also provides what its editors call a “modified folk taxonomy” of English’s meanings — carefully placing deity, for example, among the supernatural elements of the external world, while slottingworship among the manifestations of faith in the social world. It draws on the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as a few Old English sources. The task of dicing up the O.E.D. and reassembling it into the H.T.O.E.D. took 44 years, and most of the intellectual labor was performed by humans, working with pencils and slips of paper. A 1978 fire would have proved disastrous if the slips had not been stored in metal drawers in metal filing cabinets.

On Language – Semantic Time Travel.