Monday, March 15, 2010

Semantic Time Travel


A New York Times article by Caleb Crain, posted online January 8, 2010, introduces a new reference tool which has the potential to be invaluable to writers. It's called the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. It provides not only outdated words and their meanings, but also the history of when they came into and fell out of use. According to Mr. Crain,
Whereas a dictionary makes it possible to follow the history of a word, a historical thesaurus — the H.T.O.E.D. claims to be the world’s first, in any language — makes it possible to follow the history of a meaning. It’s like watching an actor try on new costumes and shed old ones, or like cruising down a river that in one stretch narrows to a rapids and at another broadens to a marsh. With a little effort, a historical thesaurus can even serve as a vehicle for a kind of linguistic time travel. “For any given period in the past,” the editors write, “the user should be able to ascertain the exact state of the vocabulary (i.e., the ‘lexical system’) which existed at that time.”
For those of us writing in different time periods or searching for unusual words, this could become an oh-my-gosh-how-did-I-ever-live-without-this kind of resource. To read more of Mr. Crain's article, click here.

Would you use a tool like this in your writing?

36 comments:

K. Harrington said...

ooh, this sounds like an interesting tool. I will definitely check it out!

Christine Danek said...

This sounds interesting to me. I would check it out.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

This is super interesting to me. I took a class on Historical linguistics in grad school, which was really cool, too. The only thing is, so much of it is mere reconstruction, or guesswork based on common patterns, at least when looking at the distant origins of a word, but it's still very intriguing. I could see this sort of book being useful to me.

Amalia T. said...

Great find! I will definitely be checking this out!

Kimberly Franklin said...

Very, very interesting! I would definitely put it to use. I'm going to check it out right now!

Michelle Gregory said...

since i write medieval fantasy, this sounds like a great resource.

Carolyn V. said...

Nice! I've read a lot of wips where the language didn't quite work with the time they writer had intended. Thanks for the link Shannon!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yay! I'm glad you are all finding this interesting and that so many of you are going to check it out further. :-)

GunDiva said...

That is so cool! I can't wait until I have time to actually peruse it.

Jen Chandler said...

This sounds fabulous!! Put the words "history" and "thesarus" in the same sentence and I'm there!!

Happy Monday,
Jen

arlee bird said...

I would definitely like to have a resource like this if I were writing historical fiction. Nothing stands out like the use of anachronistic words in dialog. "Like, forsooth, dude! Ain't it totally rad that Shakespeare's gonna be casting you as Hamlet in his new play."

Lee

Nisa said...

What a find! That is so stinkin' cool, Shannon! I don't write in other time periods, but I still think this is fascinating. I'd definitely use it if I did.

Jennie Englund said...

I LOVE etymology! Even used it to toast my sister at her wedding 10 years ago.

Just yesterday, I was thinking about the prefix "ver" as in veracity, verify... it must have to do with truth?

Really interesting post, Shannon!

Shelley Sly said...

Awesome... I don't know how much I'd use it in my writing, since I only write contemporary or futuristic works, but I'd love to skim through it just for fun. I'm nerdy like that. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I definitely would if I needed to know the historical dates of words. It sounds like a great resource. I love using the Internet to find things. What did authors do before the Internet???

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Susan -

Wow! What a great tool for writers! I must jot this down, and link to this post in the future. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Christina Lee said...

AWESOME!

Jody Hedlund said...

Sounds like a wonderful reference! I'm going to jot it down and add it to my wish list! Thank you!

Steph Damore said...

OMG'osh--that is too cool. Word nerds around the world, rejoice!

Cleverly Inked said...

Nothings worse then reading book with time travel and the characters in that time are speaking slang from the 21st cent. LOL RAD DUDE!

Jemi Fraser said...

This would be a great tool for me. I have a few online sites I use because I'm currently writing my steampunk in Victorian England. Thanks :)

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

Great find!

I am looking for a visual thesaurus of sorts. Have you ever heard of anything like that?

Angela said...

A great asset for writers!

Terresa said...

As a writer & librarian, yes. This tool sounds valuable!!

Charmaine Clancy said...

It's amazing how quickly language changes. This sounds like a fantastic tool!
Thanks for sharing Shannon :-)

Shannon Messenger said...

OMG-My inner word nerd is SQUEEING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am seriously so excited about this it's....kinda sad. *shrugs* Thanks for letting me know about it!

Janna Qualman said...

Oh, wow! I'd just sit and flip through that thing, geekin' out. Neat!

Mary Aalgaard said...

Yes, as I started readint this I thought about the OED and how large it is, and expensive, and how some of these resources are available at our finger tips and don't even take up precious book shelf space. Run on, sentence writer!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Wow, what a find! Thanks for writing about it.

Jackee said...

That would be great to have. I would use it! Even just for curiousity's sake.

Heidi Willis said...

Very interesting! As I don't write historical fiction, I'm not sure I'd use it in writing, but I'd probably have fun flipping through it. I took a history of English in college and loved it!

I think if you write historical fiction, though, you'd have to be careful you're not using words people today wouldn't know, or language that would pull someone out of the story.

ali said...

Holy WOW! Uhh ... YES.

Christina Farley said...

Cool! What a neat thing to have.

Mary_not_Martha said...

Yes! I would be reading it just for fun! Curiousity is my disease - books are my cure!

Susan Quinn said...

Holy Cats, this sounds cool! Makes me want to write historical fiction, just so I can use it!

Solvang Sherrie said...

Omigosh, I'm so glad I read this post. This would be so very useful!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...