An etymological dictionary discusses the etymology of the words listed. Often, large dictionaries, such as the OED and Webster's, will contain some etymological information, without aspiring to focus on etymology.
Etymological dictionaries are the product of research in historical linguistics. For a large number of words in any language, the etymology will be uncertain, disputed, or simply unknown. In such cases, depending on the space available, an etymological dictionary will present various suggestions and perhaps make a judgement on their likelihood, and provide references to a full discussion in specialist literature.
The tradition of compiling "derivations" of words is pre-modern, found for example in Indian (nirukta), Arabic (al-ištiqāq) and also in Western tradition (in works such as the Etymologicum Magnum). Etymological dictionaries in the modern sense, however, appear only in the late 18th century (with 17th-century predecessors such as Vossius' 1662 Etymologicum linguae Latinae or Stephen Skinner's 1671 Etymologicon Linguae Anglicanae), with the understanding of sound laws and language change and their production was an important task of the "golden age of philology" in the 19th century.
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Famous quotes containing the word dictionary:
“I am hungry and you give me
a dictionary to decipher.”
—Anne Sexton (19281974)