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?


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
    May 21 '15 at 7:11
  • Also, not as in-depth as the subscription oed.com, but oxforddictionaries.com often includes etymologies and origins.
    – Hugo
    May 21 '15 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
    May 25 '15 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. May 25 '15 at 12:44
  • it's cool that you're a professional linguist!!
    – Fattie
    May 31 '15 at 3:10
  • Stoney - holy God! that's amazing, thank you so much. Should be a whole answer, dude.
    – Fattie
    May 31 '15 at 3:11
  • 2
    @Aly Sevre - Why is Eol not a properly cite-able source?
    – rogermue
    Jun 1 '15 at 3:04
  • 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
    Sep 3 '15 at 9:02
  • 1
    @Mitch, Re etymonline taking from OED, isn't that copyright?
    – Pacerier
    Sep 30 '15 at 0:44
  • @AlySevre, How much does subscription cost?
    – Pacerier
    Sep 30 '15 at 0:45

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