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Historical Thesaurus of English awarded prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize


A thesaurus which explores more than 750,000 words and spans 1,000 years of the English language has been awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize.

The Historical Thesaurus of English, which has been fifty years in the making, features 793,733 words arranged by their meaning and is available online for anyone to search. For example, searching the term “excellent” reveals a diverse range of adjectives including brave, bonzer, jelly, topgallant, splendid, pure merino, smick-smack, dandy and rad.

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Next to each word are the dates each word was used, telling us that topgallant was first used to mean excellent in 1613 and last found in 1849, while the Australian term bonzer was first used in 1906 and continues to this day.

The Queen's Anniversary Prize

The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher Education, the highest accolade for any academic institution, was awarded to the University in recognition of its 'world-class research into the English language through the Historical Thesaurus'.

The Prize has been approved by Her Majesty The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister following a 'very intensive period of assessment' organised by the Royal Anniversary Trust which administers the scheme.

Fifty years of research

Professor Marc Alexander is Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Glasgow and is the third Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English after Professor Michael Samuels and Professor Christian Kay. He said: “Hundreds of researchers at Glasgow have spent over fifty years scrutinising the English language of today and of our ancestors, and we are delighted the prize recognises this extraordinary effort.

“The result is that the gloriously messy and intricate evolution of English meanings over the last thousand years is laid out on every page of the Historical Thesaurus.

“This award is a well-deserved tribute to my predecessors Christian and Michael, and celebrates their hard work, intellectual rigor, and vision. 

“It took 44 years of work to produce our first edition, and in the eight years since then we’re proud that researchers at this University and around the world have used the hundreds of thousands of meanings the Historical Thesaurus holds to give us fresh, exciting, and profound insights into our culture, our history, our language, and ourselves. 

“We know there is so much more the Thesaurus can tell us, and I look forward to seeing how future generations of scholars here and elsewhere put it to work.”

(Images copyright University of Glasgow. University of Glasgow Historical Thesaurus of English Three Teams Compilation The current team at the Historical Thesaurus of English at the University of Glasgow including Professor Marc Alexander, Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English (at table); Dr Fraser Dallachy, Deputy Director of the Thesaurus and Murdo Homewood, MA Student and Project Assistant for the Thesaurus (standing) and Elina Koristashevskaya, PhD Student on the Thesaurus (seated on window ledge); (Upper Right) Professor Michael Samuels (1920-2010), who set up the Historical Thesaurus of English project on 15 January 1965 and (Lower Right) Professor Christian J. Kay (1940-2016) who was the second Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English and oversaw its completion in 2009.

(left to right) Professor Marc Alexander, Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, and Dr Fraser Dallachy, Deputy Director of the Thesaurus, in the University of Glasgow’s Archives)

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