Douglas Harper, creator of Etymonline, considers himself an amateur linguist and warns

... if you're a professional linguist or a serious student of linguistics, you shouldn't be doing your homework here. This is for the rest of us.

Nonetheless, it is a popular web resource.

Other sites (Wiktionary, dictionary.com, wordnik) seem to focus on definitions at the expense of sense evolution. If you want more etymological details (context of word usage) online, where can you go, short of buying the sources used to make Etymonline?

  • My cognate (pun intended) question here may help you: linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/12231/5306
    – user50720
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 20:48
  • @LePressentiment, You're supposed to say "pun unintended"....
    – Pacerier
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 0:41

1 Answer 1


Oxford (OED) is the most complete source I've seen online. It's subscription-only though, unless you are on campus at a university or something. It goes a little deeper than Etymonline, in that you can see cited examples of the earliest uses of a word.

Harper's site is perfectly good for most uses, though. If you just want to learn the origins, even professional linguists like me will use Etymonline. It's a great reference. The only reason why you "shouldn't be doing your homework" with it is because it isn't a properly cite-able source, not because the information is incomplete.

  • 3
    Some libraries allow you to access oed.com (and other things) remotely using your library card. I recommend checking with your local public library, and also national and university libraries. You can join many for free.
    – Hugo
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 7:11
  • Also, not as in-depth as the subscription oed.com, but oxforddictionaries.com often includes etymologies and origins.
    – Hugo
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 7:12
  • 3
    Note that one of etymonline's primary sources is the OED (in other words, Harper ain't just making stuff up himself, and It's not independent from the OED). It has lots of original example sentences and more nuances, so it is worth exploring in addition to etymonline.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 12:21
  • 5
    Scans of the first edition of OED, which is adequate for most purposes, are online at archive.org; volume-by-volume links are posted here. Commented May 25, 2015 at 12:44
  • it's cool that you're a professional linguist!!
    – Fattie
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 3:10
  • Stoney - holy God! that's amazing, thank you so much. Should be a whole answer, dude.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 3:11
  • 3
    @Aly Sevre - Why is Eol not a properly cite-able source?
    – rogermue
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 3:04
  • 1
    Because, at the professional level, dictionaries and reference documents like encyclopedias are not considered to be valid sources. EtymOnline isn't a research paper in a peer-reviewed journal or even a paper on which other people's research is discussed. And, being a website, it is subject to change. It is difficult to get a "hard copy" of any definition that will not change. Just like Wikipedia, its bibliography is great for getting places to cite, but it in itself should not be cited.
    – Aly Sevre
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 9:02
  • 1
    @Mitch, Re etymonline taking from OED, isn't that copyright?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 0:44
  • @AlySevre, How much does subscription cost?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 0:45

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