Dictionaries are useful well beyond simply finding word definitions. With the right dictionary, you can find word origins, usage history, related phrases, and more. Some of these resources can help you trace word origins and see flexibility or stability of a word’s meaning and usage. Others show words and phrases specific to different regions. Still others accept definitions from users so the searcher can find how the general public interprets word and phrase usage.
Oxford English Dictionary
The electronic OED allows you quick and easy access to the largest historical dictionary ever published. The Dictionary is designed to provide the history of meaning and use of almost all words in the English language, from 1100 through the late twentieth century, with illustrative quotations.
Lexicons of Early Modern English
By combining full texts of early dictionaries written over 160 years by lexicographers with varying purposes, the Early Modern English Dictionaries Database (EMEDD) is a reference work for English of the Renaissance period. It is designed to make accessible the English-language content of bilingual (English and other languages) and monolingual (English-only) dictionaries and glossaries published in England from 1500 to 1660.
A Table Alphabeticall, by Robert Cawdrey (1604)
A Table Alphabeticall, a dictionary of “hard usual English words,” is generally regarded to be the first fully developed monolingual dictionary in English. For each of the 2543 headwords contained in its first edition, Cawdrey provided a concise definition – the standard entry rarely exceeded more than a few words, usually synonyms – and he marked those words thought to be of French or Greek origin. While small and unsophisticated by today’s standards, the Table was the largest dictionary of its type at the time and, when viewed in the full context of Early Modern English lexicography, it exemplifies the movement from words lists and glosses to dictionaries which more closely resemble those of today.
Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)
Browse for words and phrases of American English dialects by state or region. Each entry includes a definition, etymology, region and/or state of origin, and quotations tracing the word back through time. Some entries also have associated sound files for pronunciation. Words that are included are either specific to a region or are distinguished by folk usage (“learned from family and friends rather than from books or schooling”). In addition to the dictionary, the website has a survey allows the user to view words and expressions that differ by region. Search functions allow the user to search by demographic information as well (region, age, race, education level, etc.).
Southern Appalachian English Dictionary
This dictionary provides a definition, etymology, pronunciation, and quotations for words and expressions specific to Southern Appalachia. Transcripts are also provided so the user to can find words and phrases in context.
Middle English Compendium
The Middle English Compendium has been designed to offer easy access to and interconnectivity between three major Middle English electronic resources: an electronic version of the Middle English Dictionary, a HyperBibliography of Middle English prose and verse, based on the MED bibliographies, and an associated network of electronic resources.
OneLook Dictionary Search
The OneLook Dictionary allows the user to search beyond just a specific word. With notation specified on the search page, users can find words starting with certain strings of letters, words starting with certain letters that are a specific part of speech or have a specific meaning, phrases that begin or end with specified words, and words or phrases related to or containing specified words and concepts.
A dictionary of slang (“a veritable cornucopia of streetwise lingo”) compiled by users of the website compiled by users of the website.