The OED's "Publication history"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Sep 17 14:53:08 UTC 2012

Some years ago, I went to a special library that had kept the original
fascicles of the OED, to confirm that the passage from Jane Austen's early
novel using the words "base ball" was there, and the year of publication.
 It was, so there was documentation that there was a game called "baseball"
in the very early 19th C, widely available before the Abner Doubleday hoax
was launched.

But this "what did they know, and when did they know it" question is much
harder to answer with an on-line file that's open to snout-to-tail revision
and general fiddling.  An OED entry can carry a note to the effect "first
drafted in 1998, revised in 2007", but that won't tell us whether the
definition was rephrased, or some early citations added or what exactly was
done in 2007.  The OED could bury all superseded published entries in full,
leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for anyone interested in finding them, but
that will get to be a complicated tangle in the decades to come.

Not many people will care, but I can imagine controversies of more
significance than the prehistory of baseball that might hinge on whether
due diligence in 2005 could have uncovered that a word had a certain

(Actually, I can't imagine a controversy of more significance than the
prehistory of baseball -- that was just a rhetorical posture.)


On Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 9:38 AM, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at> wrote:

> On Sat, Sep 15, 2012 at 02:38:54PM -0400, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> > The September edition of the OED has a page titled, and describing,
> > "Changes to the way an entry's editing history is shown
> > online".  That page claims there is a link titled "Publication
> > history", and uses the examples of "motto" and "slogan".
> >
> > But I don't see "Publication history" on "the beige panel to the
> > right of each entry", I only see "Entry profile" and "Previous
> > version".   (For these two examples; I haven't searched
> > thoroughly).  What's wrong?
> I don't know. I see the "Publication history" link about "Entry profile"
> and "Previous version" for both _motto_ and _slogan_, and I've checked
> on a variety of systems.
> Is it still the case that you can't see this?
> I'll address some of the other concerns about this info when I can.
> Jesse Sheidlower
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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