A guide for finding word and phrase histories
Simple Word Histories | Metaphor and Phrase Histories | Literary and Use History | Related Subjects

Simple Word History

The most asked for item in this area is a regular dictionary, The Oxford English Dictionary also sometimes called the OED. This extensive dictionary is available in the Middleton reference area or online at Most dictionaries have a limited word history with some entries, but for an inclusive history an etymological dictionary such as The Cassell Dictionary of Word Histories, available in the Middleton reference stacks at PE 1580 C27 1999 will provide more information.

The Oxford English Dictionary - PE 1625 O87 1989 Reference

Electronic access to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) -

The Cassell Dictionary of Word Histories - PE 1580 C27 1999 Reference

The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology - PE 1580 C66 1986 Reference

A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language - PJ4833 .K54 1987 Reference

Metaphor and Phrase Histories

Idioms, euphemisms, colloquial English, metaphors, and other uses of seemingly simple words can be researched to expand on a simple word history. For example the word raspberry generally refers to a red berry, but it can also refer to a flatulent noise made by putting ones tongue in between ones lips and blowing. By looking up raspberry in a book such as Wicked Words one can find the history of this use of raspberry, or many other similarly used terms.

Wicked Words - PE 3721 R38 1989 Middleton

Loose Cannons, Red Herrings and Other Lost Metaphors - PE 1583 C55 2001 Reference

Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins - PE 1580 M6 1988 Reference

A Dictionary of Euphemisms - PE 1449 H548 1995 Reference

The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins - PE 1689 H47 1987 Reference

Literary and Use History

An often overlooked way to find a words history is to look up its various uses in popular literature through different periods. At this stage journals and other literature can be used to search topics such as "Shakespeare's language" or "verb usage in Elizabethan England." This variation on the above search techniques can also be used to find a word to research.

Electronic Databases

Some paper resources are also available:
  • American English Usage and Style - PE 1464 L68 2000 Reference
  • Websters Dictionary of English Usage - OE 1460 W425 1989 Reference

Related Subjects

Etymology is related to both literature and linguistics. Use the following links to get to subject guides in those areas.

Electronic Journals | Back to Internet Subject Guides | Humanities Databases
Please send comments and questions to Mike Russo