shell shock noun earlier than Feb. 1915

Hugo provided evidence from January 1915.

The first study of shell shock was written in 1915 by Charles Samuel Myers, a psychologist who was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. Our first quotation for shell shock is the title of Myers’s article:

A contribution to the study of shell shock.

1915 Charles Samuel Myers in Lancet 13 Feb., p.  316/2 (title)

But some accounts suggest that Myers did not invent the term; that it was already in use at the front and Myers merely popularized it (and regretted it: in a later book he described shell shock as a ‘singularly ill-chosen term’). Is there written evidence of shell shock before Myers’s article?

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To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War (1914–18), the OED is revising a set of vocabulary related to or coined during the war. Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, and for this we need your help. Our first quotations are often from newspapers and magazines, and we know that there may well be earlier evidence in less-easily-accessible sources such as letters, diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time.

Posted by OED_Editor on 27 January 2014 16.31
Comments: 7

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  • Stephen Goranson

    August 11, 1898, The Salt Lake Herald [Utah] p. 4, col. 5 poem on war in Cuba, “Cevera’s Doom”: “…quick responsive boom…our shotted dragons wheel…belching bolts of steel…whistles screaming terror…boom the ten-inch guns today…shot churned ocean in tornado blasts of steel…dins the hot metallic hail…Screaming…bursting with teriffic roar [etc.]…”Till the shell-shocked helmsmen turn their sinking courses to the land….”

    Library of Congress Historic American Newspapers

  • hugooooo

    I searched in JSTOR and found this concluding paragraph in a 30 January 1915 report in the BMJ.

    Only one case of shell shock has come under my observation. A Belgian officer was the victim. A shell burst near him without inflicting any physical injury. He presented practically complete loss of power in the lower extremities and much loss of sensation. Improvement has been exceedingly slow, and from pressure on our beds the patient has had to be transferred. It is to be feared that unless proper provision is made for the treatment of such cases–treatment not easily obtained in a military hospital–recovery will be very long delayed, and may not occur at all.

    Surgical Experiences At The 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham
    Gilbert Barling
    The British Medical Journal , Vol. 1, No. 2822 (Jan. 30, 1915) , pp. 190-192
    Published by: BMJ
    Article Stable URL:

  • hugooooo

    Unfortunately Chronicling America only has Salt Lake Tribune up to April, 1914.

    • Denton Thomas

      I found it with Access Newspaper Archive, it’s a database that the public library has a subscription to.

  • hugooooo

    I don’t have access to JAMA, but here are his two wartime contributions: December 26, 1914: Medical Notes on England at War and February 20, 1915: Medical News.

    I don’t see the term in the single-page previews, but maybe someone with access can find it. Searching the whole archive for “shell shock”, the oldest is Sept 1, 1917.

  • Tom Fitzmaurice

    Hospital Social Services Vol 3-4 Printed in 1879 contains this phrase … “Certain individuals only deviate from normal under strenuous conditions as for instances the men who had shell shock when confronted with actual war”