A Thesaurus of Old English

A Thesaurus of Old English is conceptually arranged, and presents the vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon England within ordered categories.  It consists of more than 50,000 Old English words arranged into more than 22,000 categories.

The category tree showing words in the category '(of living creatures) fierceness, roughness'
The category tree showing words in the category '(of living creatures) fierceness, roughness'



A Thesaurus of Old English is conceptually arranged, and presents the vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon England within ordered categories. This allows the user to approach the materials of the Thesaurus by subject rather than through an alphabetic index as is the case for many thesauri. The provision of brief indications of meaning at all levels of this scheme allows word-senses to follow on from ideas explained, so that this thesaurus incorporates information about word meaning and could be described as an inside-out dictionary, with meanings first and then words.

The Thesaurus is edited by Jane Roberts and Christian Kay with Lynne Grundy. This online version enables users to pinpoint the range of meanings of a word throughout its history, their synonyms, and their relationship to words of more general or more specific meaning. In addition to providing hitherto unavailable information for linguists, historians of language, authors, students of English, and textual scholars, A Thesaurus of Old English is a rich resource for investigating social and cultural history, showing the development of concepts through the words that refer to them.

Ideally, the reader should approach the materials of the TOE by subject rather than through the alphabetic index of the printed edition. Roget-owners have long been accustomed to begin with a word and, by trying a few locations listed in the index, find the vocabulary group wanted. Moreover, for inclusiveness they trade detailed information. Should a word's precise meaning be wanted, a dictionary is needed. Most conceptually-organized thesauri tend therefore to be used by native speakers of a language, who know the meanings of the words scanned. Less assured speakers may turn to those alphabetically-organized thesauri where they will find more help with meaning but far fewer words. In the TOE any small group of items listed together as sharing a component of meaning resembles the strings of words that make up the entries of an alphabetically-organized thesaurus, but they are embedded within an inclusive conceptual scheme. The provision of brief indications of meaning at all levels of this scheme looks back behind Roget, to the way in which Wilkins supplies notions and words, where word-senses follow on from ideas explained. Thus, this thesaurus incorporates information about word meaning and could be described as an inside-out dictionary, with meanings first and then words.

For the contents of the TOE dictionaries have indeed been turned inside out, a task initially undertaken to supply the editors of the Historical Thesaurus (HT) both with some idea of the range of Old English vocabulary not to be found in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and with a body of materials from which a pilot thesaurus could be made. The standard Old English dictionaries contain vocabulary for over five hundred years of the history of the language: little probably from the eighth century, much more from the ninth century, more again from the turn of the tenth century, and most from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Because the OED generally omits those words that had dropped out of use by 1150, the TOE provides a complementary overview of the earliest vocabulary of English. The vocabulary is drawn essentially from pre-Norman England, the slips used in its compilation representing the work of generations of Anglo-Saxon scholarship. Within the wider context of the HT, it is useful that the TOE's contents trickle over into the twelfth century and sometimes beyond. With the completion of the HT, correspondences between the OED-derived word senses and the independently excerpted Old English were matched, and it was possible then both to accept all Old English slips matched up with OED-derived slips as validated and for the first time to assess the range of early English vocabulary altogether omitted from the OED.

Project website: https://oldenglishthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/


Main contact: Christian Kay

Developers: Brian AitkenFlora Edmonds

Start year: 2005

End year: 2005

Funded by: Higher Education Academy English Subject Centre

Subject area: English Language & Linguistics

Keyword: History of English

Record last updated 2019-12-20