Word Watch: OED seeking origins of WWI medical terms

sf.reader1Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) have issued an appeal for references to terms that were coined during the First World War.

To mark the start of the Great War, the OED is revising war-era coinages. “Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, ” the editors wrote. “Our first quotations are often from newspapers and magazines, and we know that there may well be earlier evidence in less-easily-accessible sources such as letters, diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time.”

Two medical terms are among those for which the OED is hoping to find earlier references: shellshock and trench foot/mouth.

This appeal closes on 14 March, after which OED editors will review the submissions, and those that pass muster will be published online this summer as part of a bigger update of about 200 WWI-era entries in the dictionary, according to a report of the project in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The First World War updates are only one  part of a decades-long effort to update all of  OED, the Chronicle noted. Katherine Connor Martin, Oxford’s head of U.S. dictionaries, told the newspaper that she and her colleagues are about a third of the way through that job.

“We’re looking at every single word and looking at every single sense,” the Chronicle quoted her.  “It’s a massive project.”

The WWI appeal is the first time they’ve used a historical subject or event to update definitions rather than approaching it alphabetically.

“We realized it would be much more effective and useful to our audience to prioritize,” Martin said. “To me that’s really what the digital dictionary is all about.”

The updates are published quarterly online. The most recent print edition  of the OED, the second, was published in 1989.  There’s no  word yet on whether there will ever be another print edition, the Chronicle reported.~TM

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