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The Oxford English Dictionary needs you! OED Appeals has launched major online initiative


The Oxford English DictionaryWonderful online resource giving 'a truly astounding picture of the English language as an extraordinary living phenomenon' (Robert McCrum); Over 500,000 words has announced the launch of OED Appeals, a major online initiative set to involve the public in tracing the history of English words. Using a dedicated community space on the OED website, editors are soliciting help in unearthing new information about the history and usage of English, including the earliest examples of particular words. The website will enable 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.

Appeals will be posted to the website on a frequent basis. Some of the entries the OED team is initially asking the public's help with include:

Can you provide evidence of 'bellini' before 1965? The famous cocktail of peach juice mixed with Prosecco or champagne is said to have been invented in Venice at Harry's Bar in the 1930s, and named (in Italian) in 1948 (in honour of the painter Giovanni Bellini, c1430-1516). Earlier evidence in English may be available in travelogues or guidebooks.

blue-arsed fly
Did anyone refer to this metaphorical fly before the Duke of Edinburgh was quoted saying it in 1970? Our first evidence for blue-arsed fly (with an 'r') comes from a quote attributed to Prince Philip in The Times (22 Apr. 1970): "The Duke of Edinburgh...asked a photographer if he was getting enough pictures... 'You have been running around like a blue-arsed fly." The r-less blue assed-fly, however, is attested from at least 1932. Can you find examples of blue-arsed fly in the intervening years?

come in from the cold
Did John le Carré coin the phrase? Meaning '(esp. of a spy) to return from isolation, concealment, or exile', it is famous from le Carré's 1963 novel The Spy who Came in from the Cold but was it ever used by actual intelligence officers?

Was a disco 'a type of short, sleeveless dress' before it was a nightclub? That's the surprising implication of evidence we've recently uncovered in a source dated July 1964. The earliest example of disco as a nightclub only appears a few months later. Publications about nightlife in the 1960s might be a good place to look for earlier evidence of disco in the nightclub sense. 

Do you have proof of the earliest FAQ? The term is currently attributed to Eugene N. Miya, a researcher at NASA, who is said to have coined it c1983 in documents circulated to Usenet groups on the history of the space programme. Our earliest verifiable evidence is from 1989 but we'd like to go back further to prove the coinage of the word.

Other entries now open on the OED Appeals site at launch include in your dreams!, cooties, and Kwanzaa. The OED Appeals site will be updated regularly; other words scheduled for research in the coming weeks include baked Alaska, bimble, carbo-loading, easy-peasy, email, heads-up, and party animal. Followers of the OED on Twitter and Facebook will be alerted to new Appeals and can keep abreast of new word evidence as it comes to light.

The OED's expansive record of the history of English has relied on input from the public since its earliest days, from the original Appeal for contributions from 'a thousand readers' in 1859, to the popular BBC TV programme Balderdash & Piffle in 2005. The online OED Appeals brings the public into conversation with the dictionary's professional lexicographers more directly than ever before.

Chief Editor of the OED, John Simpson, explains how the OED Appeals initiative will help the team to revise the OED: "When researching and revising entries, our team of editors use the OED's famous citation files, gathered over more than a century, as well as the latest digitized databases and Corpus evidence. Nonetheless, the very first recorded usage of many words can be difficult to track down. We can trace certain words and phrases back only so far with conventional tools. An old takeaway menu, a family letter or album, or an obscure journal might hold the key to solving one of those mysteries." 

OED editor Katherine Connor Martin adds, "The OED's record of the history of English was relying on input from the public more than a century before the term 'crowdsourcing' was even coined. James Murray launched an Appeal to the public as far back as 1879, and the OED Appeals continues this long tradition of asking the public for help in our quest to record the origins of our vast, fantastic, ever-changing lexicon. After all, when it comes to the words we read, write, speak, and hear each day, every one of us is an expert."

OED Appeals