Language Reference

LanguageLanguage Reference encompasses the wide range of dictionaries and A–Z guides dedicated to the learning, use, and study of language. Oxford Reference provides access to Oxford’s unrivalled English dictionaries (with dedicated dictionaries for different English-speaking regions including America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK), thesauri, and also bilingual dictionaries for the languages of French, German, Italian, Irish, Spanish, Latin, and Welsh. Additionally, this subject area includes more than 295,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on the subjects of slang, semiotics, rhetoric, abbreviations, etymology, phrase & fable, and usage.

Written by trusted experts and lexicographers for language researchers at every level, our coverage comprises authoritative, highly accessible definitions of the latest terminology, theories, techniques, people, and words relating to all areas of language.

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                               The Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion    Garner’s Modern English Usage   Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs   A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms

See all the Language Reference books available on Oxford Reference >

Sample resources

Discover Language Reference on Oxford Reference with the below sample content:

Quotations about language, grammar, and words from Oxford Essential Quotations

Table of British/American spelling differences in science from The New Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors

List of some of the more common elements that alter the basic sense of a root word, with their usual meanings (from The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins)

A select chronology of the English language, from Roman times to 1998, in the Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language

Glossary of grammatical terms used in Fowler’s Concise Dictionary of Modern English Usage

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Featured Author

Julia Cresswell

Julia Cresswell


Julia Cresswell is an experienced author and language researcher, having worked on the 4th edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Books to her credit include Naming Your Baby: The Definitive Dictionary of First Names, The Cat's Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés, The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, and The Little Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins.


Author Q&A

In your opinion, which is the most fascinating entry in your dictionary and why?

The fact that the word minaret goes back to the Arabic for ‘fire’ and originally meant ‘lighthouse’. It not only creates a wonderful romantic image of a minaret rising up out of the desert like a distant lighthouse guiding you to safety, but also makes you re-think your assumptions about architecture and religion, particularly if you go on to look up ‘steeple’ and find it originally had nothing to do with churches.

What do you think is the most commonly held misconception in your subject area?

Etymology (word histories) is often regarded as a dry, mechanical discipline whereas, as I hope my books show, it is an exciting window on the thoughts and attitudes found over thousands of years of history. The changing meaning and uses of words reflect the changes taking place in society.

Which figure in your subject’s history would you most like to invite to a dinner party? What would you ask him/her?

I would love a chance to meet Frederick Furnivall (1825-1910). He was an eccentric man, who I suspect could be infuriating, but it was he who really got the work started which led to the Oxford English Dictionary, he founded the Early English Text Society, which made the study of the Middle English literature that I love feasible, while still finding time to be a major developer of education for the working classes and was also a supporter of women’s rowing, something that was still not fully accepted when I rowed for Oxford University in the 1970s. I would ask him what had triggered his enthusiasm for the field.

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Featured blogs

How did Shakespeare originally sound?
November 2016
Test your knowledge of common Shakespearean words with our quiz.

Going sour: sweet words in slang
July 2015
Jonathon Green, contributor to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, gives the rundown of the sweet terms and phrases that have been re-imagined and incorporated into slang.

For more language blog posts delve in to the OUPblog archives >

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