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Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

by Charles T. Onions (Editor)

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Book Review

Dr. C. T. Onions first joined the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1895. He worked on the OED, the Shorter OED, and then published his Shakespeare Glossary in 1911. A wonderful and learned scholar, he died in 1966 as the first edition of The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology was going to press. Assisted by G.W.S. Friedrichsen and R.W. Burchfield, Onions created a magnificent work of erudition, with 24,000 main entries. Including their derivatives, the dictionary delves into the origins of more than 38,000 words. For each entry, the dictionary provides the correct pronunciation, followed by a short definition, and the century and source of the word's first recording. Then come the etymological notes. Thus one learns that "froth" (an aggregation of small bubbles on liquid) was first noted in the 14th century, in Sir Gawain and the Bible, that it comes from the Old Norse frooa, and was taken from there into German (fraup) and Old English (froth). Now in its fifth printing and a standard reference for scholars, Onions's opus is second only to Klein's Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (but is significantly less expensive). This 1,042-page volume is more thorough and comprehensive than the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, with a few more entries, and going into the histories of each in a little more depth. (The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology is more user-friendly and, if you do not require an absolutely authoratative reference, perhaps represents better value for money than this title.)

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