Key to symbols and other conventions

Before a word or sense


= obsolete
= not naturalized, alien (not used in New Edition entries)
= catachrestic and erroneous uses (not used in New Edition entries)

After a label ‘Obs.’ or ‘rare

0 indicates a word or sense for which no contextual examples from printed sources were available to the editors
indicates a word or sense for which only one contextual example from a printed source was available to the editors

In a listing of variant spellings

Second Edition entries:

1 = before 1100
2 = 12th century (1100-1200)
3 = 13th century (1200-1300), etc.
5-7 = 15th to 17th century, etc.
9- = 19th century to present, etc.
20 = 20th century


New Edition entries:

eOE = early Old English
OE = Old English
lOE = late Old English
eME = early Middle English
ME = Middle English
lME = late Middle English
14 = 1400-99
15 = 1500-99, etc.
16-18 = 1600-1899, etc.
18- = 1800-present, etc.
-17 = before 1700 (labelling Older Scottish forms)

In an etymology

* indicates a word or form not actually found, but of which the existence is inferred
< = from (in New Edition entries)
> = developed into or borrowed as (in New Edition entries)

Within a forms section

α., β., and other letters of the Greek alphabet indicate lists of forms that are in some way similar or related. For example, in the case of fantastic, adj. and n. the α. and β are used to separate the forms that begin with the letter f and those that begin with ph-. The letters will also appear in the quotations sections alongside the illustrative examples of the similar or related forms.

Before a date

a = ante
c = circa
? indicates an uncertain date

Within a definition

= means ‘the same as’

Within the quotations section

(within cited text) indicates an omitted part of a quotation
[ ] surrounds an editorial insertion
~ indicates a hyphen introduced in the printing of the First Edition of the OED, which may not have been present in the cited text

Around an entire quotation

[ ] indicates a quotation is relevant to the development of a sense but not directly illustrative of it

Around an entire entry

[ ] indicates a ‘spurious’ entry