Are there any dictionaries or thesaurus' out there that specialize in native English vocabulary, that is to say, real English words that are not of foreign (Latin, French, or Greek) origin?

It's often said that the best writing chooses Anglo-Saxon vocabulary instead of lofty Latin or french words. But how does one having little knowledge of the subject and scarcely being able to tell the difference go about doing that? For example, if I wanted to look up the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the verb "to use" or the English word for "respect", is there a resource for that?

closed as off-topic by tchrist, choster, Chenmunka, Hellion, anongoodnurse Sep 25 '15 at 5:21

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a request for resources, and which posits a false premise is true. – tchrist Aug 31 '15 at 0:56
  • @tchrist There's a resources and a dictionary tag. How is it off-topic? – William Aug 31 '15 at 0:58
  • Know that the tongue of Beowulf was not “Anglo-Saxon” but Old English. Also, kindly reword your asking without any of these words: chooses, dictionaries, difference, equivalent, example, foreign, French, Greek, Latin, native, origin, real, resource, respect, specialize, subject, thesaurus, use, verb, vocabulary. Good luck!:) – tchrist Aug 31 '15 at 1:01
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    We do not do “resource recommendations” here because they are “too broad” and “primarily opinion based”. There are meta posts that tally such things, although I don’t know that any there now have an Old English wordbook in them yet. Your thought that there can somehow be “true English words” is not well grounded, so I do not think you will come to find anything like that. And yes, it is hard to write like this, with no need to try. See also Uncleftish Beholding for a much better try than mine. – tchrist Aug 31 '15 at 1:10
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    THere's probably no such resource since the scholarship necessary to determine the source language would also not place a value of one over the other. Use a dictionary that gives etymology (like the OED or etymonline) and if your word isn't Germanic (borrowed or assimilated after 1066), then look in a thesaurus for synonyms and then check source langauge and repeat. – Mitch Aug 31 '15 at 2:28

Since "Anglo-Saxon" (Old English) hasn't been widely spoken in roughly 1000 years, give or take, your determination to only use "Anglo-Saxon" vocabulary is going to severely limit the subjects which you can discuss.

Furthermore, you start with a rather peculiar assertion: "It's often said that the best writing chooses Anglo-Saxon vocabulary instead of lofty Latin or french words." You wouldn't care to produce a few examples of that advice, would you? Certainly I've never heard it said, and I suspect that whoever has been filling your head with advice has no idea where most English terms actually come from. Most likely it is actually a criticism of excessive use of Latin and French phrases which some folk use to try to impress, but that by no means suggests that more basic Modern English terms are somehow "Anglo Saxon". Equally important, few of the Old English words which have survived into Modern English did so unchanged.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is feeding you a line of bula.

EDIT - With the example given, you need to be aware that the writer was, I regret to say, being very loose with his terminology, and "Anglo Saxon" was used as shorthand for Old English words which have been incorporated successively into Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern English - and usually changed along the way. A good example is found in the article, where he contrasts "lying" (good old Anglo-Saxon plain speaking), with Churchill's "terminological inexactitude". The only problem is that "lie" in Old English is "licgan". To make the matter worse, the article uses "He eschewed Anglo Saxon and brought down the house", and "eschew" is traced to either the French "eschiver" or the Germanic "schuen". In this case he allowed himself to be trapped into violating his own advice by the shadow of the classic phrase "eschew obfuscation", and would have been truer to his own thesis (although less amusing) if he had used "avoided".

With all this said, in response to your original question there is no need to find a listing of "Anglo-Saxon" vocabulary. Just follow the advice in the article: "It almost always will be short rather than long, plain rather than ornate, simple rather than complex." In other words, pick the simplest word you know which expresses the meaning you want to convey. Look at the examples given. Do you really need a reference to tell you that "do" is simpler than "perform", or "house" is plainer than "habitation"?

  • Just one example from the ABA Journal. "Persuasive Writing" by Irving Young. link the right word – William Aug 31 '15 at 1:36
  • Another source: Daily writing tips – William Aug 31 '15 at 1:46
  • @William Nearly every other word behind both your links was a non-Germanic word, so they have put the lie to themselves. Good writing does not have stern, unbending laws about which words it can lay down. And yes, you will know it when you see it. It is silly to think that if you found another word than “just”, “example”, “source” in your quips above that this would help them to become stronger or better. You are reading too closely and missing the overall feeling. – tchrist Aug 31 '15 at 2:16
  • @tchrist I don't think anybody is arguing that Latin and French words should be totally eliminated from writing, but rather that precedent should be given to english English words. Is it wrong for someone to try to enrich their vocabulary and strengthen their writing by looking to learn more words of a specific origin - the words that are native to the English language? – William Aug 31 '15 at 2:35
  • There has to be some kind of old resource for this. Can anyone help out? I looked and didn't find anything. To be clear, I'm not looking for an Old english dictionary, but rather modern English words of Anglo-Saxon origin with examples of usage. – William Aug 31 '15 at 2:39

I think you have got the idea of the best style wrong. Good authors avoid superfluous Latininisms or similar vocabulary and prefer common words. This does not mean that you have to dig out old archaic words nobody knows. That would be no way to good style. In a lot of cases you can't avoid the Latin word. Think of "to describe something", it is the normal word and it would be queer if you wanted to replace it by another expression. As to vocabulary English is a mixed language with Germanic and Latin/French vocabulary and you can't roll back the vocabulary to the time of Beowulf.

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