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I'm wondering about the origins of a particular word and, while my first thought was to ask the ELU community, I decided I should do the work myself.

Where should I start looking? I'd love to see some suggestions.

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up vote 15 down vote accepted
  • etymonline is a great resource for looking up specific words.

  • If you are at a university, you might have OED access, which is the most in-depth and hardcore etymology resource (if you can get to it).

  • Take Our Word For It is a fun website for browsing through and learning about etymologies in a more entertaining, less structured way.

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All great suggestions. In my experience a lot of phrase or word etymologies will appear in one source but won't appear in another or vice versa, so my favorite method is still to just google each one and include the word etymology. – Dan Sep 7 '10 at 19:30
+! for OED, my absolute favorite–still pricy, good note on uni access – Charlie Sep 9 '10 at 0:57
+1 again for the OED. Many public libraries also have OED access, depending on where you live. – PLL Nov 8 '11 at 13:55

General purpose:


  • USA: Chronicling America (1836-1922) by the Library of Congress
  • Australia: Trove (-1954) by the National Library of Australia
  • New Zealand: Papers Past (1839-1945) by the Nation Library of New Zealand

Particularly for computing terms:

Therefore it's important to double check the date: scroll up to confirm the real date for "full view" books, and for preview/"snippet view" verify with another source (such as the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg or the HathiTrust Digital Library).

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