Michael Samuels (academic)

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Michael Louis Samuels (14 September 1920 – 24 November 2010)[1] was a British historical linguist, responsible for the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary.


Samuels was born 14 September 1920 in London, the son of Harry Samuels Karlin, and Céline Aronowitz: his sister was actress Miriam Karlin (1925–2011).[1] His was an orthodox Jewish upbringing, but he later said he was an atheist.[2]

He studied at St Paul's school, and Balliol College, Oxford, initially to study classics, but graduating with first-class honours in English in 1947, after wartime service with the Air Ministry.[1] In 1950 he married Hilary, and they had a daughter Vivien.[1]

His academic career began with a research fellowship at the University of Birmingham followed by a lectureship at Edinburgh University. He became Professor of English Language at Glasgow University in 1959, staying until his retirement in 1990.[1][3]

After this academic retirement he continued to work, especially on the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, a project he had begun in 1965. In 1979 Professor Christian Kay joined the project, work with Samuels until his retirement in 1989 and continuing to work on it until fruition. [3][4][5][6][7]

The finished work was eventually published in October 2009.[4][1] He died 24 November 2010 and was survived by his wife, daughter and sister.[1]


  • Samuels, M. L., (1972) Linguistic Evolution: with special reference to English Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-08385-0
  • McIntosh, Angus, Samuels, M.L. and Benskin, Michael, (1986) A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English Aberdeen: University Press


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Guardian Education 15 December 2010 Michael Samuels obituary
  2. ^ The Jewish Chronicle 20 August 2009 "Where to find ‘Jew Tongo’? In biggest-ever thesaurus"
  3. ^ University of Glasgow News Archive 28 June 2006 Distinguished figures from the worlds of arts, conservation and science are to be honoured by the University of Glasgow
  4. ^ "Professor M.L. Samuels (1920-2010)". The Historical Thesaurus of English. University of Glasgow. Retrieved 24 October 2014.