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The OED Sends Out an SOS

The Oxford English Dictionary has long relied on "the wisdom of the crowds" to build a comprehensive historical record of English words and phrases back to their origins. The dictionary's latest experiment in crowdsourcing is "OED Appeals," an online initiative to engage the public in finding "antedatings," or citations that predate the earliest known examples in the OED files.

Here are some of the entries in the first batch of the OED's appeals:


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.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday October 4th 2012, 3:02 AM
Comment by: rex P. (knoxfield Australia)
this is amazing for just five minutes ago I finished reading


Now I open V.T. and again here in our so called modern day, is history repeating itself!!!
It is in the very same way that the first O.E.D. was compliled by
DR.James Murray!

For those who are remotely interested in how the O.E.D. started and have not read the above publication; go out tomorrow and buy it! You will never regret it; especially when you read about Dr. W.C. Minor the supposed madman who contributed not only thousands upon thousands of "Tag words" over a quarter of a century, but did most it of his work while confined to an asylum for the insane!

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