Specifically, a model for IDS is A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, comp. by Carl Darling Buck, University of Chicago Press, 1949, 1515 pages. The dictionary is organized in a topical outline of 23 chapters. The outline has been adapted for the IDS, with the numbering system generally maintained; and this will remain the same for all the WorldLists. Buck's dictionary contains approximately 1200 potential entries (not complete for all languages, of course). The IDS adaptation contains 1,310 entries.
The idea for a work such as the IDS came to Mary Ritchie Key while on a Fulbright in Chile in 1975 studying the semantic grouping in the cognate sets of comparative languages. This was followed by pilot projects at the University of California, Irvine, using comparative data from recognized language families. In 1982, a computer science and math major constructed a program which we called ASYNCOG, using three words from C.D.Buck: 'water', 'skin','eat'. Scholars were contacted who were chosen for their interests in cross-cultural research and for their skills and willingness to give time and thought to the objectives of the dictionary series. In 1984, an award from the University of California, Irvine Faculty Research Committee to launch the Intercontinental Dictionary Series set the series on its way. In 1990, the IDS won an Honourable Mention from the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, from Switzerland.