"Long Tail" Not Yet in OED

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sat Apr 26 13:55:52 UTC 2014

The OED does not yet have an entry for the term "long tail."  In addition to the obvious literal zoological meaning, this refers to a feature of some statistical distributions.  The earliest usage I see in a quick JSTOR search is the following:

1895 Karl Pearson in _Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A_ 186: 396 (JSTOR)  Here the curve is assumed, owing to the obviously long tail to the right and the abrupt start to the left, to be of Type III.

More recently, a specialized sense has arisen referring to "the retailing strategy of selling a large number of unique items with relatively small quantities sold of each" (Wikipedia).  According to Wikipedia, this sense was popularized by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 article in _Wired_ magazine and a subsequent book _The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More_.

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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