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 It provides not only outdated words and their meanings, but also the history of when they came into and fell out of use.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?