Blunder, Error, Mistake, Pitfall: Trawling the OED with the Help of the Historical Thesaurus


  • Jane Roberts University of London
  • Louise Sylvester University of Westminster


Parole chiave:

error, misspelling, misprint, Oxford English Dictionary, Historical Thesaurus


The paper considers the lexis of error and examines its use across time in relation to the writing and spelling of English, to grammar and pronunciation. Discussion focuses first on the earliest records of notions of correctness in English language usage, from Ælfric forwards to the emergence of standard English, from the sixteenth century’s growing worries about copiousness and purity of diction to eighteenth-century concerns to prescribe and rule the language. The historical overview is complemented by consideration of the data drawn together by the Glasgow Historical Thesaurus project, its evidence taken from the Oxford English Dictionary and the Dictionary of Old English Corpus. For earlier centuries, there are by far fewer relevant citations, often buried within words wide in reference. With the help of the Historical Thesaurus we drill down to view how views of language mistakes and errors have changed over the centuries of the recorded history of English.

Biografie autore

Jane Roberts, University of London

Jane Roberts is Emeritus Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature in the University of London, where she an honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of English Studies.

Louise Sylvester, University of Westminster

Louise Sylvester is Professor of English Language at the University of Westminster. Both authors were closely involved in the making of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary(2009). Roberts, one of its four editors, was associated with the project from it beginning, and published A Thesaurus of Old English with Christian Kay (1995; now on-line). The classification of data of Sylvester’s monograph, Studies in the Lexical Field of Expectation (1994), formed a major contribution to the Historical Thesaurus. She is co-editor of the anthology Medieval Dress and Textiles in Britain: A Multilingual Anthology and is principal investigator of the Leverhulme Trust-funded project A Bilingual Thesaurus of Everyday Life in Medieval England. 





Come citare

Roberts, Jane, e Louise Sylvester. 2017. «Blunder, Error, Mistake, Pitfall: Trawling the OED With the Help of the Historical Thesaurus». Altre Modernità, aprile, 18-35.



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