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Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper []



Dan Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary is one of those reference sources that is both useful and a pleasure to use. It’s primary content is, of course, dictionary entries for English words with a focus on their history. For example we will learn that the word “pet” is of unknown origin and meant “a tamed animal” until about the 16th century when it gained the meanings “animal kept as a favorite” and “indulged child”. By the 1620s it was in use as a verb meaning “to treat as a pet”, but it didn’t gain its meaning of “to stroke” until 1818! The entries in Harper’s dictionary are concise and thoughtful. Sources are rarely given, which limits its use for scholarship, but the brevity achieved makes in perfect for quick reference and pleasure reading.

In addition to the dictionary entries, the website also includes articles on various related topics, most recently Language in a Time of Corona, which digresses on themes suggested by the history of the various words in common use, including: “crisis” (which curiously evolved from a word meaning “sieve”), “epidemic” (a noun with an adjective’s ending), “virus” (a word that predates it’s current meaning by many centuries), “quarantine” (which originally referred to policy of isolating a ship for forty days), and many others.