The first-known records of many words are in Shakespeare’s plays, but it’s not always clear which he invented and which were already commonplace. The handwritten material of Shakespeare’s contemporaries is “more or less hidden,” according to Laura Wright, a historical linguist at the University of Cambridge and a Zooniverse volunteer. “Of course it looks like Shakespeare invented all this stuff, because his stuff is in print,” she said.
To tackle the problem, Zooniverse partnered with the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C., and with the Oxford English Dictionary. Volunteers for Shakespeare’s World can view images of documents from the Folger’s manuscript collection, including family correspondence, household recipe books, and letters by state officials, and transcribe as little or as much of a page as they want. […]
Already, the project has yielded linguistic discoveries. Volunteers have found recipes for “Taffytie” and “Taffity” tarts, which might be variations on “taffeta,” implying a delicate texture. Combined with an existing record of a similar usage in the O.E.D., the new examples suggest that this was an established genre of dessert, like lemon-meringue pie is today, according to Philip Durkin, the dictionary’s deputy chief editor. A volunteer came across a recipe for “portugall farts”; Durkin noted that the O.E.D. already contains the phrases “Fartes of Portingale” and “ferte of Portugall,” defined as “a ball of light pastry,” but “to have ‘portugall farts’ as well is good,” he said. One letter, from 1567, about a headstrong youth uses the term “white lie,” pre-dating the O.E.D.’s earliest record of the phrase by nearly two centuries.
Another great use of the internet!