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The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a remarkable feat of scholarship. The 20-volume second edition, dated 1989, contains 291,500 entries (contrast about 107,000 for Merriam Webster on-line, and 89,000 for American Heritage), with almost 2½ million quotations to illustrate them.

But the OED is a work of 19th- and early-20th-century scholarship, one that OED must constantly update as the language grows – and as our ability to research it grows. OED editors give the earliest citations they know of, but they of course could not check every single published work. Today, however, search technology provides a new way to look for earlier citations, for antedates. It is perhaps impossible for OED to keep fully up-to-date, and thus some antedates have been found but not yet published, while other antedates remained undiscovered.

To illustrate, this week we present words with citations that antedate OED's earliest. OED has been revising its entries, proceeding gradually through the alphabet, and we will concentrate on a portion which OED revised as recently as 2000.

majorette or drum majorette – a girl or woman who leads a marching band or accompanies it as a baton twirler
[Note: sources differ as to whether each term includes the leader, the twirler, or the band-member playing an instrument.]

    1923 cite [photo caption and subcaption]: ONLY DRUM MAJORETTE Or would you call her a drum majoress? She's Mrs. C. W. Williams, who led the Elks band of Albuquerque, N.M. at the recent Elk's convention at Atlanta, Ga. Men in the band say she's the only woman drum major in the world.
    – Reno Evening Gazette July 23, p.2 col. 3-4:

    OED's first cite, 1938: Drum majorettes are latest in ballyhoo.
    Life 10 Oct. 3/1 (heading)
Edited to make correction noted in next two posts.

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the OED is a work of 18th- and early-19th-century scholarship

The OED was begun in the mid-19th century, though it took a couple of decades to start publishing the results. I think you meant 19th- and early-20th-century scholarship. They kept things going rather well. For instance, they were the first dicitonary I know of that used SGML/XML markup.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Quote: "I think you meant 19th- and early-20th-century"

Yep. Brain fart.
 
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manhandling (noun) – rough handling
    1908 cite: The fight went about a half a round …. When the smoke cleared away Dick was covered with blood as the result of his manhandling
    – The Fort Wayne (Indiana) News, April 24, 1908, p.8 col. 5

    OED's first cite, 1916: I feel we must treat the gifted Athenian stranger to a little manhandling.
    – A. T. Quiller-Couch, Art of Writing I. 17
 
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I do hope you are keeping the OED informed of the results of your researches, WC. If so, do let us know if they decide to accept any of your discoveries!


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Agreed, arnie. I've corresponded with John Simpson of OED, and I'm doing just that, using access which he kindly provided to me for OED on-line.
 
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mail slot – a slot or slit in a door (occasionally in a wall), through which mail can be delivered

Here OED can be antedated very substantially. Also, OED errs by defining mail slot as "letter box", since a mail slot is not a box or any other sort of closed container. Rather, mail pushed through the slot simply falls to the floor, accessible to all on that side of the door. Our first quote illustrates dire consequences of that access. Wink
    1910 cite: Some Fiend Places Poison in a Residence Through the Mail Slot and Kills a Pet Dog.
    – Headline of The Indiana Democrat, March 30, 1910 p.1

    1892 cite:… two horizontals slits in the door plate, above and below the mail slot.
    – Olean Weekly Democrat, Dec. 20, 1892, p13 col 1

    OED's first cite: 1955 E. A. Powell Adventure Road iii. 20 The postman dropped into the mail slot of my door a letter bearing the imprint of the Badminton Magazine.

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In the UK, the term "letter box" is used ubiquitously to refer to the slot in a door which letters are pushed through. There's no suggestion in the term as used that any sort of container is involved.

The term "mail slot" is never used in the UK.

Just thought you should know.
 
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Welcome, Royston! Smile

You beat me to it. As soon as I came home and saw the Wordcraft word of the day in my inbox, I came here with the intention to post the same as you. Wink


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quote:
In the UK, the term "letter box" is used ubiquitously to refer to the slot in a door which letters are pushed through.
Although interestingly the correct builders' term for this particular item of door furniture is a "letter plate".

I assume this is to distinguish it from a true letter-box which is used to catch the mail if needed. We had one during the time we had a Lakeland Terrier who would, given the chance, shred the letters as they appeared through the door.


Richard English
 
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Welcome, Royston! Smile Big Grin Wink Cool

It's so nice to see another person from the UK! Please stay here with us.

Do those of you who live in England use the term "mailbox?" We either have a "mail slot" or a "mailbox." If it's a "letter box," doesn't that mean there'd only be letters there? We get all sorts of mail besides letters through our "mail slot."
 
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Kalleh, we get junk mail too- lots and lots of it! All of which goes straight into the bin in my house. I do admire an American however who, sick of all the unsolicited stuff coming through his letter box starting using the business reply letter to send usually a cut up old truck tyre back to the senders! Apparently his junk mail soon dried up to almost nothing!
We do in England, at least around where I live anyway, sometime refer to the place where you put your stamped letters for pick up for delivery as the 'mail box'. More often, however it's called the post or pillar box.

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Welcome, Royston, and thank you for improving the quality of our knowledge. That's a large part of what we're about here.
 
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man-hating – hatred of the male sex; misandry

From the quote dates, it seems that such things run in cycles.
    1892 cite: But we believe that this man-hating craze is a passing phase of the time …
    – Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette, Sept. 15, 1892, 1/3

    1922 cite: If the cult of man-hating goes on increasing until it gains ascendancy, even were it possible to propagate the race without the assistance of the male, the end of the world would be assured.
    – The Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, Apr. 20, 1922, 7/3

    OED's cites:
    1965
    Shakespeare Q. 16 333 As for the principals, they were in their fancy get-ups, showing no evidence that Spanish temperament had any connection with Petruchio's heiress-hunting or Kate's man-hating.

    1991 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Sept. 301/1 [Feminism] began to go off the rails into man-hating and victim-mongering.
Bonus words and side note:
Misogyny is a fairly well-known word for "hatred of women". The counterpart for "hatred of men" is misandry, but is much less familiar, and has only 1/17th as many google hits. I am not brave enough to speculate on why there should be such a difference.
 
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Google hits:
Misogyny - 922,000
Misandry - 56,500
Misanthropy - 516,800
Cuts the lead to 60%.

Perhaps we should investigate further, viz.
Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy
R. Howard Bloch and Frances Ferguson, editors
UC Press 1989


RJA
 
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Does 'misanthropy' count? To me it means hatred of mankind, and not hatred of the male gender. I wonder how frequently it's used the other way.
 
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You probably didn't know but there is a TV programme currently running in the UK which seeks to find citations which predate the current OED, as well as determine derivations for words which have flummoxed the OED editors' enormous brains.

The latest edition looked for (and failed to find) a convincing explanation for the term "nutmeg", as used to describe the passing of a football (soccer ball) through the legs of an unfortunate opponent. Perhaps you can help them out?
 
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Hi, Royston,

Not only do we know about it, there's a thread about it in the Community forum. Smile

There's quite a decent number of British posters here!


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Which is not to say that we don't appreciate your mentioning it and we haven't yet, as far as I know, investigated nutmeg. Being a lifelong non sports fan I hadn't even heard the term before the program.

Thought it was a jolly nice item on nice as well. Especially as I'm in the camp that hates the word.

Welcome to the board. Have you read the thread on the convention yet?
 
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I like the word nice. Nice is one of those flexible words which can mean precisely opposite things, depending purely on the stress of the reading.

For example, the response to a fine example of football skill - "That's VERY nice" - compared to the response to someone spitting on the pavement - "THAT'S very nice".

I also like a nice Nice biscuit but perhaps that's just me.
 
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My point in this theme goes beyond the individual words. The OED, though wonderful, is far from perfect its citations. It is easy to say that, but far more convincing to demonstrate it with several examples.

mass market – the market for goods produced in large quantities for the broad population
    1927 cite: [advert.] Fur retailers have accomplished much in developing a style appeal – the comfort – the economy of fur garments and by modern sales methods have changed a class market into a mass market.
    – Syracuse Herald, Oct. 14, 1927 36/1-2

    OED's earliest cite:
    1933 Jrnl. Polit. Econ. 41 708: The most important bearing of population growth on industry is that it furnishes a mass market for products.

Follow-up
regarding mail slot: Several readers note that in British usage, a 'letterbox' is not necessarily a closed container. It is typically just a slot in a door.
 
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quote:
I also like a nice Nice biscuit


Another forum I post to had a debate about where Nice biscuits get their name from a while back. We didn't come to any real decisions, though. Has anyone any idea? No-one could find any tie-in with seemingly the most obvious origin, Nice in France. OED says
quote:
[App. < Nice (French Nice), the name of a city on the Côte d'Azur in south-eastern France, although the reason for the name is unclear.]
It also gives a 1994 quote from the Daily Mail
quote:
What is the origin of ‘Nice’ biscuits? Are they from the town of Nice in France or just nice to eat?


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As far as I'm aware the Nice, France link is totally spurious. The biscuits were first made in Victorian times and were made with 'NICE' on them, because they were nice(!)- not as good for dipping in tea as 'Rich Tea' though! . But, apparently even people of the time thought there was some link with France, largely because French customs were considered trendy at the time.(And I hate the word 'trendy' but you get my drift.)
 
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Hrrmmph...with all my pontificating about our not having letter boxes, just today I went to mail a letter in my office building and there was a slot in the wall with the sign: "Letter Box." It wasn't even a box! Roll Eyes
 
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Maybe the box with the letters was on the other side of the slot.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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mass of maneuver – something held in reserve, to be used when and where the appropriate becomes clear
A rarely used phrase, used chiefly in military parlance, but available for metaphorical use.

We'll skip the earliest cite found (1918), and OED's earliest (1919), and instead give a Churchill passage that wonderfully explains the concept and its importance. The French General has just detailed the disasterous state of the battlefield.
    … there was a considerable silence. I then asked: "Where is the strategic reserve?" and, breaking into French, … "Où est la masse de manoeuvre?" General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, said: "Aucune.." [none]
    . . . no strategic reserve. "Aucune." I was dumbfounded. … It had never occurred to me that any commanders having to defend five hundred miles of engaged front would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre. No one can defend with certainty so wide a front; but when the enemy … breaks the line, one can always have, one must have, a mass of divisions which marches up in vehement counter-attack.
    - Winston Churchill, Their Finest Hour, pp. 46-47

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Am I the only one who finds it impossible to spell manoeuvre without looking it up? I doubt it. There's something about having all those vowels in a big heap that sends me off the spelling rails. And then there's dairrheoa diarrhoeia diarhoeia...well you get the idea.

Perhaps I'd best adopt US spelling, which seem a bit easier.
 
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Sorry, me again. How do I get my location included in my posts?
 
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Good question, Royston. Sinnce other new members may run into the same question I'll put a response over in the "Tips for New Members" thread in our "Community" forum.

Edit: Done. Royston, look at Community thread titled "Tips for Newcomers". This was written to replace the thread titled "Tips for New Members", which has become somewhat cumbersome, and should be ignored.

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mass producer – a manufacture producing in large quantities, typically by automated process

Our quote today, referring to Henry Ford's virulent anti-semitism, illustrates both the literal and extended meanings of the term.
    1927 cite: He is not only the greatest mass-producer of automobiles, but the greatest mass-producer of hate.
    – Congressman Sol Bloom, quoted in Syracuse Herald 7 Feb 22/1

    OED's earliest cite:
    1929 A. HUXLEY, Do what you Will 90 The mass-producers will do their best to make everybody more and more prosperous.
 
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Thanks, Shufitz. The new thread is full of useful stuff. I should now be revealing my fine location.
 
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Wow...another English poster! You really must join us at our Wordcraft Convention in Birmingham next October.

I suppose you don't know the Beatles, correct? Just in case, I thought I'd ask! Wink
 
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You're welcome, Royston. I mean that in the double sense of responding to your thank you and of welcoming you to our board-slash-madhouse.
 
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Wordcrafter misspoke, and Royston corrected him:
    Wordcrafter: OED errs by defining mail slot as "letter box", since a mail slot is not a box or any other sort of closed container. Royston: In the UK, the term "letter box" is used ubiquitously to refer to the slot in a door which letters are pushed through. There's no suggestion in the term as used that any sort of container is involved.
It seems that OED's editors made the same error, with like correction. This from p. 60 of my current reading, Lynda Mugglestone's Lost for Words, based on her review of comments on the proof-sheets for the original OED:
    Those individuals unfamiliar with letter-boxes might have been somewhat confused by the definition which originally appeared in the first proof. This was, it stated, 'a box in which letters are kept' or alternatively 'in which they are deposited for transmission by post'. 'I believe some people have letter-boxes in front doors etc', Murray laconically noted in the margin as he read over this section of the text.
 
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