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Word Etymology / Dictionaries

Etymology Resources

A historical or etymological dictionary shows the history of a word from its date of introduction to the present.  It traces the development of various changes in interpretation and meaning.  Etymologies frequently show the root word in Latin, Greek, Old English, French, etc. 

The most famous etymological dictionary is the Oxford English Dictionary (known as the OED).  You can access Nimitz Library's online subscription to the OED from anywhere on the Yard:

The following is a selective list of reference books on the origins of English language words located in Nimitz Library:

General Dictionaries (including etymological dictionaries):

  • American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd edition 
    • (REF PE1628 .A623 1992)
  • Beeching, Cyril L., Dictionary of Eponyms, 2nd edition
    • (REF PE1596 .B43 1983)
  • Barnhart, Robert K., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology 
    • (REF PE1580 .B35 1988)
  • Brewer, Ebenezer.  Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 
    • (REF PN43.B65 1981)
  • Brown, Lesley, New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 2 vols. 
    • (REF PE1625 .N539 1993 v.1 and v.2)
  • Cambridge History of the English Language 
    • (REF PE1072 .C36 1992 2vols.)
  • Cassidy, Frederick G., chief ed.  Dictionary of American Regional English.  vols. 1-5 (website for DARE project:
    • (REF PE2843.D53).
  • Hendrickson, Robert,  Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
    • (REF PE1689 .H47 1987)
  • Hirsch, Eric D., Dictionary of Cultural Literacy 
    • (REF E169 .1 .H6 1988)
  • Johnson, Samuel.  A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals; and Illustrated in their Different Significations, by Examples from the Best Writers: together with a History of the Language, and an English Grammar.
    • (REF PE1620.J6 1827)
  • Murray, Sir James, The Oxford English Dictionary.  Print version of the 1989 2nd edition (revised), 20 vols. 
    • (REF PE1625 .O87 1989)
    • Also available on the web (click here to access)
  • Shipley, Joseph T., Origins of English Words: a Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
    • (REF PE1571 .S46 1984)
  • Thompson, Della,  Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 9th ed. 
    • (REF PE1628 .C68 1995)

Dictionaries of Slang and Contemporary Words:

  • Ayto, John, Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang
    • ( REF PE3721 .O94 1992)
  • Berrey, Lester V., et al.  American Thesaurus of Slang
    • (REF PE3729.A5B4 1947)
  • Chapman, Robert L., New Dictionary of American Slang
    • (REF PE2846 .C46 1986)
  • Lewin, Esther, Thesaurus of Slang: 150,000 Uncensored Slang Terms, Common Idioms, and Colloquialisms
    • (REF PE3721 .L45 1988)
  • Lighter, J.E., ed.  Random House Historical dictionary of American Slang.  2 vols. 
    • (REF PE2846.H57 1994)
  • Partridge, Eric.  Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.  7th ed. 
    • (REF PE3721.P322)
  • Thorne, Tony, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang: with more than 5,000 Racy and Raffish Colloquial Expressions
    • (REF PE3721 .T53 1991)
  • Wilmeth, Don B., Language of American Popular Entertainment: a Glossary of Argot, Slang, and Terminology
    • (REF PN1579 .W5)

Dictionaries of Military Jargon and Words from the Sea:

  • Ammer, Christine, Fighting Words: from War, Rebellion, and other Combative Pursuits
    • (REF U24 .A55 1989)
  • Clark, Gregory R., Words of the Vietnam War: the Slang, Jargon, Abbreviations, Acronyms, Nomenclature, . . .
    • (REF PE3727 .S7C57 1990)
  • Jeans, Peter D.  Ship to Shore: a Dictionary of Everyday Words and Phrases Derived from the Sea.
    • (REF PE1583 .J33 1993)
  • Lind, Lewis J., Sea Jargon: a Dictionary of the Unwritten Language of the Sea
    • (REF V23 .L57 1982)
  • Parker, Michael, ed.  Good Gouge: an Investigation into the Origins of Naval Academy Slang
    • (REF V415 .J7G66)
  • Reinberg, Linda, In the Field: the Language of the Vietnam War
    • (REF PE3727 .S7R4)
  • Rogers, John G., The Origins of Sea Terms
    • (REF V23 .R64 1984)
  • Uran, Marshall, Sea-say: Salty Stories and Seamen's Slang
    • (V23 .S43 1995)

Subject Guide

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Maria Koshute
English Librarian
Nimitz Library
Reference Dept. Office #210