English - When was your first kiss?

30th October 2009 at 00:00
A review of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary

"Smacker", or "one who gives loud kisses", became part of the English language in 1611 - at the same time as the first King James Bible.

This is just one of the "outstanding", "indispensable" and "fun" nuggets contained in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, published last week, according to the broadcaster and novelist, Melvyn Bragg.

The tome, which includes 800,000 meanings collected together over 4,500 pages in two volumes, has been compiled after 45 years of painstaking research by the English language department at Glasgow University.

The grand ambition was to map almost every word in the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary onto a vast classification structure where words with similar meaning are grouped together and listed in chronological order from the oldest (circa 700AD) to the most recent.

Christian Kay, one of four editors on the project, said: "The difference between our thesaurus and Roget's Thesaurus is that we go right back to the beginnings of English. So that, in addition to getting the words arranged by their meanings, we provide the dates during which they were current in English. We include obsolete words which are no longer in use or are only found in very special contexts. Words have different survival rates, so there are maybe 7,000 words which have been in English since the very early days, and there are others that maybe only lasted for a few years.

"For the first time ever, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary puts these in context."

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