I have a strangely deep admiration for archaic language and its usage and find that when working on period-piece writings, sources (catalogs of old books) for researching words used in the period (And how the words are used in context therein) are exceptionally helpful. Does anyone know of any more hidden-in-the-web catalogs that would be useful for finding old words in books? (kind of like Google books, but perhaps less-popular sites which don't get too much attention but are worth keeping for a rainy day.)

P.S. by "early uses of words" I refer to the periods in the English language from the 15th century to the 18th century.

Thank you very much so, any insight would be humbly appreciated.

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    What about a Middle English dictionary? quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 18:36
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    So you're looking for the Early Modern English (EModE) era of the KJV bible, Edmund Spenser, and Shakespeare? In addition to dictionaries or wordlists you find, literature is the best place to find vocabulary items in their natural habitat. Is Addison, Pope, or Defoe too late for you?
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 21:46
  • @Mitch You could not have stated it better--I agree on it; I am a devoted word-harvester; I refuse to read anything unless I have a slip of paper and a pen to scratch down anything that charms me to use for my writings later. And I could never say no to Defoe or Pope!--Addison I have yet to really dive into. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 23:08
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    @TomO'Bedlam Joseph Addison. I picked him because prose/essays are easier to get 'real' words than poetry which, to put it bluntly, is all made up. Full disclosure, I've read very little of Addison, and what I have I've forgotten, but I did remember his name. The whole point... look at literature of the time.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 3:22
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    Even early translated texts such as Don Quixote (1st ed. 1612), Baron Munchausen (1785), and the memoirs of J.Casanova (1725-1798) whose more recent translations will not be censored, might also prove useful.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 11:26
  • @Mari-LouA Do you have a PDF or free copy of the 1612 Don Quixote translation? Is this the Thomas Shelton translation? If memory serves correctly he translated it first. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 12:36
  • try this one almabooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/… (2005)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 12:49
  • Vol 2; 1776
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 12:49
  • Vol 1; 1776
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 12:56
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    You can download a copy from here archive.org/details/historyrenowned00saavgoog/page/n12/mode/2up
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 13:04

3 Answers 3


EL&U Meta's very own community-wiki-based question What good reference works on English are available? includes an answer headed "Historical Resources" that consists of sections devoted to early (pre–Samuel Johnson) general dictionaries and somewhat early (pre-1900) slang dictionaries. That answer is currently at 15 upvotes, so you have to scroll through some more highly upvoted answers to get to it—but you may find the dictionaries cited there to be useful resources for your purposes.


This seems like the perfect job for the Early English Books Online corpus which is 755 million words covering the 1470s to 1690s. You can access this via the BYU website. It’s very easy to use for basic searches, though there’s a lot more that you can do.

For late in your time frame (late 1700s+), try newspaper databases. The only problem with that is these older sources tend to not to be easily searchable, as the OCR tends to just produce garbage. Still you can try Elephind and Chronicling America.


One valuable resource is Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME) from the University of Toronto, which has searchable full-text of early printed English lexicons from 1480-1755. Using that and Early English Books Online (EEBO) together is a powerful combo for helping to date specific uses of words.

If you want to go earlier, the Middle English Compendium from the University of Michigan Library hosts the Middle English Dictionary, a Bibliography of texts cross-referenced with the Dictionary, and a Corpus of full-text Middle English works. The corpus is tricky to search because of the non-standard spelling and the fact that searches will also pull results from their modern book introductions, but I find them useful for deeper dives into texts than the Dictionary allows.

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