Hurry Up and ... Slow Down

Over forty years is a long time to work on a single task. Yet that has been the lot of the four editors of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. The massive 3,952 page double volume will be released this month, the culmination of the editors’ entire careers. In our world of fast, it is a timely reminder that, sometimes, good things need time. This new thesaurus has been pulled together almost entirely by hand. Words from past and present editions of the full dictionary were studiously transcribed onto slips of paper, then sorted, stacked and re-sorted into categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, and finally put into historical context. Nearly a million words were sorted this way into quarter of a million categories. And, as I said, it took over 40 years.

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