OED antedatings

OED antedatings

Can you help the OED and its readers by conducting some linguistic detective work?

In the 20 years since the full-scale revision of the OED started, the range of online resources available to the Dictionary’s editors has increased almost exponentially. This means that for the entries we worked on in the early years of the project, there’s a good chance of being able to improve upon the dates of our earliest quotations by searching in a number of now readily accessible databases that simply weren’t available then. Because we initially worked alphabetically, starting in the middle, this applies especially to entries between M and R.

For example:

  • mendacity: antedated from 1646 to 1540 using EEBO; likewise moonbeam (to 1535 from 1600), multiplication table (1657 from 1662)
  • masonic: antedated from 1786 to 1761 using ECCO; likewise moonlit (to 1783 from 1817)
  • menopause: antedated from 1872 to 1858 using Google Books; likewise melodramatically (to 1820 from 1836)
  • meanie: antedated from 1927 to 1902 using NewspaperArchive; likewise mellophone (to 1901 from 1913)
  • mom: antedated from 1894 to 1846 using newspaper databases on ProQuest

And this is where you come in. As editors are concentrating on updating the unrevised text of the OED, it is unlikely that they will be able to go back systematically over the revised ranges for some time. Carrying on the long tradition of crowdsourcing employed by the OED, we’d like to invite you to try your hand at antedating any sense that has been revised or added in the range M-R, and to submit your findings using the form below.

Useful sources of information include:

  • Early English Books Online (EEBO)
  • Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO)
  • Google Books
  • Any substantial historical newspaper database that features facsimiles of original pages (there are many suppliers of these, including Gale, NewspaperArchive, ProQuest, and Trove).

Some of these databases are freely available; others may be available to you through membership of an institution such as a library or university.

You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #oedantedatings.

Antedating appeal

Image by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Posted by Joanne Oughtred on 12 May 2020 10.29