Learning with the online Thesaurus of Old English (TOE)


This project aims to explore aspects of Anglo-Saxon language and culture through the study of Old English vocabulary arranged in semantic categories. It was supported by a grant from the Higher Education Academy English Subject Centre

The project is based on the database underlying the latest printed edition of A Thesaurus of Old English (Jane Roberts and Christian Kay with Lynne Grundy, 2nd edn, 2 vols, London 2000). A revised online version of TOE is available at http://oldenglishthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/, but does not currently support all the types of exercises used within the units.

General editors: Carole Hough and Christian Kay
Computing consultant: Jean Anderson
Web programmer: Flora Edmonds

The project was last revised and updated in January 2017. Please send comments and suggestions to carole.hough@glasgow.ac.uk.

Units written by: Carole Biggam, Robyn Bray, Carole Hough, Christian Kay, Cerwyss O’Hare, Rosie Robertson, Kate Wild

The first four units are essays contextualising the project:

  1. How (and why) to use TOE
  2. Life in Anglo-Saxon England
  3. A Short Description of Old English
  4. The Vocabulary of Old English

The remaining ten units are interactive sessions for class or individual use. The screen is split so that you can toggle between the Unit and TOE. To return to the search menu, click the Search Menu button on the left of your screen. Each has three sections. Section 1 offers a guided tour through the material, interspersed with questions inviting you to discover things for yourself. Once you have tried each question, you can click on the answer. Section 2 is a short essay on the topic, reinforcing and giving more detail on points raised in Section 1. Section 3 consists of suggestions for reading, relevant websites, and ideas for essays or projects based on the topic. Projects in particular invite you to explore TOE further.

Key terms are linked to an online glossary and can be clicked for further information. Within an entry, * indicates an item which also appears in another entry. Since the glossary is far from comprehensive, it is not available as a whole.

The ten topic units are:

5. Clothing 10. Food and drink
6. Colour 11. Landscape
7. Death 12. Plants
8. Families 13. Time
9. Farming 14. The Universe

The TOE Search Menu offers you a variety of ways of exploring the data. You will be told which one to use, but they are explained at the top of each screen if you want to explore on your own. Your first result will normally be a list of headings under which the word you are interested in appears. These act like short definitions, enabling you to choose the category you want. Your targeted word will be highlighted in red – if it is a long section you may have to scroll down the page to find it. There may also be other headings on the page, marked by capital letters, and one or more dots if they are subordinate to a main heading. On the left of the screen is the word’s part of speech and on the right there may be a flag indicating restrictions on its use (see Unit 4).

If you get no results on a Mod. E. search, it may be that the concept was not represented in OE. However, it may also be that we have not used the word in writing the headings, so it’s worth thinking of a Mod. E. synonym and trying again.

The following conventions and abbreviations are used:

> as in cū > cow; OE cū develops into Mod. E. cow.
* indicates a word which does not occur but which has been reconstructed for purposes of argument.
æ (ash) is entered in searches as A.
ð, þ (eth and thorn) are both represented in the text as þ. They are entered in searches as T.
(length mark) is entered as an underscore _ after a vowel. It is not usually necessary to enter a length mark, except in cases like col > coal, cōl > cool  where it eliminates unwanted results.
< > encloses a spelling form.
( ) brackets are used to mark an optional letter, as in modri(g)e (maternal aunt), which is found in texts as both modrige and modrie. (ge) indicates that the prefix ge- sometimes occurs at the beginning of the word, as in (ge)þencan (to think), which appears as both geþencan and þencan. If you are unsure, omit the prefix and use the end-of-word wildcard search.

a in dates, L. ante = ‘before’. ‘a1066’ indicates a date some time before 1066.
aj adjective
AN Anglo-Norman
av adverb
c in dates, L. circa = ‘around’. ‘c890’ indicates a date before or after (but quite close to) 890.
L. Latin
Mod. E. Modern English
n noun
OE Old English
ON Old Norse
v verb