The Oxford English Dictionary Needs Your Help

The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary need your help scouring sources such as personal letters, soldiers’ diaries, and government records for early examples of words related to the First World War such as shell shock and demob.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

Last week, I received an interesting e-mail message from Christian Purdy, the publicity director for the Oxford University Press explaining that the OED needs the public's help to find examples of words related to the First World War:

To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, 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 the help of the US public.

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 personal letters, soldiers’ diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time. We are hopeful the public can help find earlier evidence for the use of some wartime words. We are gathering all contributions on the OED Appeals website

OED AppealsThe OED Appeals website is relatively new, but the Oxford English Dictionary has relied on the public for help since 1857. "We like to say that we were crowdsourcing before there was a word for it." said Katherine Connor Martin, Head of US Dictionaries.

"Since the online Appeals were launched, volunteers have found earlier evidence for dozens of words, including citations for bromance (2001; previously attested only from 2004), gangster (1884; previously attested from 1886), and mochaccino (1963; previously attested from 1971). Some of the Appeals have proven more difficult to resolve, however: we’re still hoping to find contemporary evidence earlier than 1964 for (Texas) Hold ‘Em and no one has yet found a copy of the mysterious Meanderings of Memory," said Martin.

"Many of the WWI-related Appeals have already yielded results; we’re very excited to see how much more we can learn about the history of words like shell shock and demob, the entries for which are currently being revised as part of a larger OED project devoted to the vocabulary of the First World War." said Martin.

If you think you may be able to help find early examples of words such as camouflage, conchie, Eyetie, skive, tank, trench foot, and more, visit the WWI section of the OED Appeals website

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.