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Did Prince Philip invent 'blue-arsed fly'? In his dreams!
Matt Pickles | 05 Oct 12
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is appealing for the public to help trace the history of some commonly-used English words.
OED Appeals is a new online initiative which allows people to post evidence of a word's earliest use then work with OED editors to verify the discovery. Appeals will be frequently posted on the website – here are some of the first:
In your dreams! – The sarcastic expression 'in your (or my, her, his, etc) dreams' is, surprisingly, first recorded in a Usenet post in 1986.
Blue-arsed fly - Famous for his put-downs, Prince Philip is reported in The Times as telling a photographer in 1970: 'You have been running around like a blue-arsed fly'. 'Blue-assed fly' is recorded in 1932 but this is the first record of 'blue-arsed'. Was the latter spelling used in the interim?
Coming in from the cold – Was the phrase ever used by intelligence officers, or did John le Carré invent it for his 1963 novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold?
Disco – The first recorded use of 'disco' to mean a nightclub is late 1964 – but a recently discovered source from July 1964 shows disco also meant 'a type of short, sleeveless dress'. Does this mean that disco didn’t originally mean a dancing venue? Publications about nightlife in the 1960s might be a good place to look for earlier evidence.
FAQ - The acronym for 'Frequently Asked Questions' is a category on millions of websites today but is it really less than 30 years old? Earliest verifiable evidence is from 1989, while a researcher at NASA is said to have used it around 1983 in documents circulated to Usenet groups on the history of the space programme.
This is far from the first time the OED has relied on input from the public – in 1859 it appealed for contributions from 'a thousand readers'.
Editor Katherine Connor Martin says: '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.
'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.'
Chief editor John Simpson adds: '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.'
If you think you can help, visit OED Appeals.
Top image: The Duke of Edinburgh (Allan Warren); Bottom image: www.ox.ac.uk has its own FAQ section