Help is wanted for new online dictionary

thisisoxfordshire: Chief Editor John Simpson Chief Editor John Simpson

WERE you talking about ‘blue-arsed flies’ before 1970?

If so, the creators of one of the world's most respected dictionaries would like to hear from you.

The Oxford English Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press, has launched an online initiative to get people to research the use and origin of popular words and phrases.

Specific appeals include for people to search for evidence of early use of the phrase ‘bellini’ – a peach juice and Prosecco cocktail – prior to 1965.

Editors are also trying to find out if Prince Philip was the first person to use the phrase blue-arsed fly, which he was quoted as doing in 1970. The Times, in April that year, reported: “The Duke of Edinburgh...asked a photographer if he was getting enough pictures... You have been running around like a blue-arsed fly.”

The subtly different blue-assed fly dates back to at least 1932.

Regular appeals will go out and in the coming weeks people are asked to get their thinking caps on to track down the earliest use of baked Alaska, bimble, carbo-loading, easy-peasy and e-mail.

Chief editor John Simpson said: “When researching and revising entries, our team of editors use the OED’s famous citation files, gathered over more than a century, as well as the latest digitized databases and Corpus evidence.

“Nevertheless, the first recorded usage of many words can be difficult to track down.

“We can trace certain words and phrases 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.”

The website is at public.oed.com/ appeals and went live on Wednesday.

Editor Katherine Connor Martin added: “James Murray launched an appeal to the public as far back as 1879, and 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.”

OED has no evidence of ‘bellinis’ before 1965, although the cocktail is said to have been invented in Venice at Harry’s Bar in the 1930s.

Another phrase experts are trying to trace the source of is “come in from the cold”.

They want to know if novelist John le Carre coined the phrase in his 1963 novel The Spy who Came in from the Cold or whether it was ever used by intelligence officers.

And according to researchers, it looks like a disco was a type of short sleeveless dress before it was a nightclub, according to a source from July 1964 – reference to disco as a place to dance only appears some months later.

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