One evening recently, I happened to see an abbreviation for a language there that I wasn't sure about, so with uncharacteristic industry, I searched out a list of abbreviations. I didn't actually discover the meaning of the abbreviation--and have since forgotten what it was--but I did find a whole list of supplemental material that I'd never thought to look for before. And it was here that I discovered that the online dictionary is actually the work of one man. Douglas Harper, upon discovering that there really was no comprehensive free online dictionary of etymology, decided to compile his own. Drawing on a whole host of basic sources and a raft of supplemental ones (so in that sense, there really is a team of scholars behind this) he has singled-handedly brought them together for the likes of you and me to access easily.
Easy enough, you say. The man is probably some pinched old hermit, holed away in an attic. In fact, he is the father of young children whom he shares the care for, has a full time night job at a newspaper, and has written several historical titles about Chester, Pennysylvania, mostly relating to the Civil War. The one I like most, perhaps, is West Chester to 1865: That Elegant and Notorious Place.
The online etymology dictionary is his gift to the world. (Although if you want to show the guy some thanks, you can sponsor a word for ten bucks for six months.) I really liked and was moved by his dedications at the end of his introduction page. He talks about one of the chief sources for his work, Ernest Klein's A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Klein, he tells us, was Rabbi of Nové Zámky in Czechoslovakia from 1931-44, and 'was deported to Dachau and returned home after liberation to find "that my father, my wife, my only child Joseph, and two of my three sisters had suffered martyrdom in Auschwitz." He moved to Canada, and out of his sorrow and urged on by his surviving sister he set down his lifelong love of etymology into a book, and in its introduction he wrote:
May this dictionary, which plastically shows the affinity and interrelationship of the nations of the world in the way in which their languages developed, contribute to bringing them nearer to one another in the sincere pursuit of peace on earth -- which was one of my cardinal aims in writing this dictionary.'
Thank you, Douglas Harper, for sharing your work and this history with us all.