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You Can Help the OED with Antedating

The editors at the Oxford English Dictionary need your help.

By
Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
Episode #779
The Quick And Dirty

If you find an older quotation than the Oxford English Dictionary currently has for a word, the editors will add your example to the entry. Imagine the bragging rights!

If you have some free time and are looking for an interesting project, the Oxford English Dictionary is asking for help antedating words. That means seeing if you can find a publication that uses a word earlier than the first citation they already have in the dictionary. 

What is antedating?

The prefix “ante” means “earlier," so antedating is looking for an earlier date, and you probably have a good chance of success too because when the editors updated the entries they want help with, the digital resources we take for granted today didn’t exist. So the odds are good that you could find an earlier use just by searching databases such as Early English Books Online and Google Books. They just need people to do it. And how fun would it be to know that YOU found the first citation that goes on to appear in the Oxford English Dictionary?

Here’s how they describe it:

“The resources to allow a complete recheck of all these databases are simply not available at the moment: the OED’s lexicographers are fully occupied with other aspects of work on the Dictionary. But this is where crowdsourcing can come in! … People can contribute the quotations they find either by filling in a form on the appeal webpage, or by tweeting them using the hashtag #oedantedatings."

Words people have already antedated

People have already found an earlier citation for the word “masculinity.” The OED had the first use in 1748, but someone found an example from 1571. And here’s another one: “meaningless.” The OED had the first use in 1796, but someone found an earlier example from 1728. 

How to submit your antedated word

You can find more instructions and the appeals form at public.oed.com/appeals/oed-antedatings, or you can put the information in a tweet with the hashtag #oedantedatings.

Image courtesty of Shutterstock.

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.