Pitfalls of Online Antedating

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 20 02:39:48 UTC 2005

On Wed, 19 Jan 2005, Baker, John wrote:

>         Fred's warning is well-taken (and I thank him for the
> correction), but I'm not sure what the answer is, short of checking
> every online citation against a hard copy.  I went back and looked again
> at the Westlaw document, and there is simply no setoff of the 1896
> editorial material from the 1799 document.  We clearly don't want to
> give up our use of online resources, even though they occasionally have
> errors.

As the person who was the pioneer of the use of full-text online databases
for historical-lexicographical research (beginning in 1978!), I certainly
don't want to discourage such online antedating.  I have greatly enjoyed
seeing new researchers such as Bill Mullins, Ben Zimmer, and others post
their findings on this list.  Ultimately there is a backup to our errors
stemming from the bibliographic weaknesses of online tools, namely the
fact that the OED verifies quotations from original print sources.  In the
meantime, while waiting for the verification to happen, we need to try to
be alert at least to the more obvious bibliographic problems of the online
resources, such as the Federal Cases problem on Lexis and Westlaw and the
need to look at the date on the page image for Newspaperarchive.com, which
often misdates newspapers in the search results.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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