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Library News

Database spotlight: Oxford English Dictionary

by Jonathan Bloy on 2022-02-01T09:02:00-06:00 | Comments

From Bonita Dickman, Head of E-Resources and Automation Systems

Blue glowing circle with the text: OED - Oxford English DictionaryThis month, I thought it would be interesting to highlight one of the library's resources that you may be less familiar with. The word "dictionary" probably brings to mind either that large, unwieldy book you use to look up definitions or its web-based equivalent. And the OED is, at its most basic, a repository for definitions--and yet much more. While you're there, you can certainly find out what rubicund means, but you can also discover its etymology (where the word comes from), how commonly it is used in current English, and where it shows up in writings and literature. If this by itself doesn't sound like a fun way to spend a Friday evening, consider how historical events and language are linked.

Here's the first line of the Lord's Prayer in Old English, which was spoken over 1,500 years ago:

Fæder ure şu şe eart on heofonum, si şin nama gehalgod

Modern translation:

Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name

Some of those words, such as father (fæder) and heaven (heofonum) are recognizable to us in context, but most of the sentence is completely incomprehensible. This is because the language has been changing for hundreds of years, borrowing words and grammatical structures as speakers encountered new civilizations (for better or for worse). If you've ever studied French, you probably have a sense of this, and you may notice that many of our French loan words have to do with the military, religion, and government as a result of the Norman Conquest and the following decades of colonialism. From they (Old Norse) to chipmunk (Ojibwe) to boba (Cantonese), words tell the story of where a language has been and where it may be going. I hope you'll give the OED a try next time you wonder, "Where did that word come from?", and you may be surprised.

Link: Oxford English Dictionary.  You'll also find the OED linked in our A-Z Resource List and the English & Literature Research Guide.


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