an antedating "how to"?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun May 25 00:34:22 UTC 2014

It occurs to me that "roundance" would be "round dance".  "Round
dance" certainly
could describe the drunk staggering in a circle.

The OED recognizes two senses:  "A dance in which the dancers move in a
circular fashion; *spec.*  *(a) *a folk dance in which the dancers form a
circle (cf. ring dance n. <>
);  *(b) *a ballroom dance in which couples move in circles round the
ballroom, such as a waltz or polka" and the new-fangled sense from bee
culture.  The OED doesn't have a figurative sense.

But then how does the word connect with little boys playing marbles?


On Sat, May 24, 2014 at 2:17 PM, George Thompson <george.thompson at>wrote:

> 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 altogether.
> 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
> DARE.)
>      [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..

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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