an antedating "how to"?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat May 24 18:17:36 UTC 2014

I have found a number of antedatings while reading New York City newspapers
of 1750-1850.  I have looked for signs that the editor of the paper thought
he was being clever and up-to-date in using a word or expression -- putting
the word in "" or italics or by introducing it by saying something like "as
the boys say" or "to use a Kentucky expression" (Kentucky was at the wild
frontier at the time).  Often the word would turn out not to be very new,
at that, but it sometimes was the earliest appearance in American writing
-- a thing the OED cares nothing about -- and sometimes was an antedating

Unfortunately, the typographical tricks can't be searched for.  A quick
search of America's Historical Newspapers (Readex; formerly Early American
Newspapers) for "little boys say" turned up a word -- "roundance" -- that's
not merely an antedating, but a word seemingly not in the OED at all.  I
suppose it will have to be defined as "a word used by little boys when
playing marbles", but still.   (I don't have access to the later volumes of

     [a drunk, lying in a field]  Presently he made an effort to rise,
which, after a leeward lurch or two, he succeeded in doing -- to stand
still however, was no easy matter, and to go ahead not much better; he
therefore very wisely concluded to "take roundance," as the little boys
say, playing at marbles, and with a tremendous flourish, off he went, now
east by south, then west by north, until he was brought to a stand [at] the
brink of a large clay pit, where he paused a moment, seemingly undecided
whether to fall in, try to jump over, or to stagger round. . . .

     "Cooling Off in an Old Field."  South Carolina Temperance Advocate,
December 24, 1840, p. 99, col. 2


On Tue, May 20, 2014 at 3:48 PM, Beth Young <zbyoung at> wrote:

> Has anyone written an antedating "how to" guide?
> Last year, as an experiment, I offered extra credit to students who tried
> to antedate a word in the OED. I knew that the task wouldn't appeal to
> every student, but I figured that there might be one or two who would enjoy
> the challenge. I thought that the activity would help students better
> understand what's involved in this sort of research, and I wanted to give
> them an opportunity to do research with potential real-world application.
> The activity did not succeed, for a variety of reasons. My better students
> chose not to try it. My weaker students did try it, but they tended to
> provide "evidence" like an entry from another dictionary ("Merriam-Webster
> says the word dates from 1915"), a quotation from the OED itself ("OED says
> it means X but I think it really means Y") or a 21st century magazine
> article that makes claims about how a word originated centuries earlier.
> One student commented that she had picked the "easiest" words to antedate
> but still had no luck; turns out that she thought the easiest words would
> be the entries that the OED had just revised less than a year ago.
> A good class discussion could clear up many misconceptions, but my classes
> are almost always scheduled online. So . . . if I keep this activity
> (haven't decided yet), I'll need to provide more basic information, such as
> what counts as evidence and how one might go about antedating a word.
> Do you know of an already written "how to" that I could share? Have you
> tried this sort of activity with students?
> thanks,
> Beth Young
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society -

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