The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary want your help in tracing the history of particular English words and phrases.
What’s old is new again. In 1859, the British Philological Society launched an appeal to the British and American public “to assist in collecting the raw materials for the work, these materials consisting of quotations illustrating the use of English words by all writers of all ages and in all senses, each quotation being made on a uniform plan on a half-sheet of notepaper, that they might in due course be arranged and classified alphabetically and by meanings.” The society’s goal was to create a new dictionary “worthy of the English Language and of the present state of Philological Science.” (The Surgeon of Crowthorne, Simon Winchester, 1998)
The result, after 50 years of toil and tens of thousands of quotation slips? The Oxford English Dictionary.
The philologists and lexicographers are at it again. In October 2012, the OED launched “a major online initiative that involves the public in tracing the history of English words.” This time, however, the public is being asked to submit contributions electronically, to OED appeals, rather than on half-sheets of notepaper.
Currently, the OED is looking for help with tracing the history of the following words:
- mani-pedi (pre-1972)
- carbo-loading (pre-1978)
- DIY (pre-1955)
- baked Alaska (pre-1882)
- email (pre-1979)
- headhunter (pre-1960)
- bimble (pre-1983)
- header (pre-1891)
- Earl Grey (pre-1929)
- Ironman (pre-1979)
- Bellini (pre-1965)
- FAQ (pre-1989)
- disco (pre-1964)
- cootie (pre-1967)
- to come in from the cold (pre-1963)
- blue-arsed fly (pre-1970: we were pleased to see that Haligonian J.D. MacDonald submitted a contribution for this appeal: “I am seventy-three (73) years old across the pond in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I have heard and used the subject expression since I was about three (3) years old during WWII.”)
- in your dreams! (pre-1986)
- Kwanzaa (pre-1971)
Watch the video of OED’s appeal for contributions to FAQ.
Video © Oxford English Dictionary.
Photo, “Yellow Umbrella,” by solidether. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).