Results from our earliest appeals

Results from our earliest appeals

In October, the Oxford English Dictionary announced the launch of OED Appeals, a major online initiative that involves the public in tracing the history of English words. Using a dedicated community space on the OED website, editors asked for help in unearthing new information about the history and usage of English, including the earliest examples of particular words. The website has enabled the public to post evidence in direct response to OED editors online, fostering a collective effort to record the English language and find the true roots of our vocabulary. Over the course of the first month, 14 appeals for new information were posted to the website. Of these, nine elicited information which helps us to trace back the histories of the words in question further than before.  Here are some of the highlights:

blue-arsed fly: antedated by 35 years

This appeal generated more commentary than any other posted so far, with many readers sharing recollections of the word’s use in the 1940s and 1950s. We were looking for contextual evidence from before 1971. Michael Finney submitted the earliest example found, from 1936:

1936 Claude Cumberledge Master Mariner x. 88, I don’t suppose we were much more than half an hour at the job, thanks to a great extent to the cheerfulness and activity of Mani,..who was here, there and everywhere, working like a trojan and dancing about like a blue-arsed fly in a strange roundhouse.

header: antedated by 16 years

OED editors were seeking evidence of the football sense of header earlier than 1891. ‘Lmcginlay’ submitted a verifiable example from 1875:

1875 Glasgow Herald 23 Feb. 7/5 P. Campbell put it under the tape by a beautiful header. The goal was disputed by the Barrhead.

in your dreams!: antedated by 10 years

This sarcastic riposte is evidenced from 1986 in the OED’s current entry. ‘Agent Six’ pointed us to an example of the usage in a scene from the 1976 film Car Wash: ‘I’m gonna get you!’ ‘In your dreams, Pocohantas!’

headhunter: antedated by 10 years (possibly 14)

We were seeking examples of the ‘corporate recruiter’ sense of this word earlier than 1960. ‘Hugo’ provided an example from 1950, as well as a lead to a potential 1946 example which we are seeking to verify:

1950 Life 25 Sept. 78 The recruiting agents had nothing to complain about; their dirty trade was paid well. In the first place, they got the average wage of their last their last three months’ work in the mines, along with double food rations and a bonus for every recruit they brought in, which earned them the fitting name of ‘head-hunters’.

Bellini: antedated by 9 years

The name of the cocktail was previously attested in English from 1965. Stephen Goranson submitted a 1956 example:

1956 Mary McCarthy Venice Observed 19/1 Harry’s Bar has a drink called a Tiziano, made of grapefruit juice and champagne and colored pink with grenadine or bitters. ‘You ought to have a Tintoretto,’ someone remonstrated, and the proprietor regretted that he had not yet invented that drink, but he had a Bellini and a Giorgione.

FAQ: antedated by 2 years

We were seeking evidence of this term earlier than 1989. ‘Patrick of Boston’ provided evidence from 1987. In the comments thread, the person credited with the coinage, Eugene Miya, even chimed in to confirm that the term was used between 1982 and 1985, but no one has been able to produce a recorded use earlier than the 1987 example supplied by Patrick.

Kwanzaa: antedated by one year

OED editors were seeking evidence earlier than 1971. We received evidence from 1970:

1970 Bay State Banner (Boston, Mass.) 3 Dec. 3 The ‘Buy Black’ for Christmas and Kwanza holiday movements will be explored as well as the proposed criteria for the establishment of a Black Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

disco: antedated by 9 months

We sought help tracking down evidence of this word from before September 1964. Ammon Shea submitted evidence from December 1963, suggesting that the ‘nightclub’ sense of disco really was earlier than the ‘dress’ sense:

1963 Los Angeles Sentinel 26 Dec. 12A/5

Disco Club First For West Coast. The ‘Whiskey Disque’, introducing a new Continental night club entertainment concept to the West Coast, will premiere on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip Jan. 15th.

Ironman: antedated by 4 months

OED editors knew that the first Ironman triathlon was held in Hawaii in 1978, but had no evidence earlier than May 1979. Garson O’Toole supplied an example from January 1979, in the magazine Runner’s World. We are still seeking to confirm a personal recollection by Dr John Bailiff of a potential example from 1978 in the Honolulu Advertiser.

Editors continue to post new Appeals regularly at

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.