Antedates, Women, and Aliens in the OED.

David-Antoine Williams (see this 2022 post) wrote me thus:

I thought I might pass along some recent work of mine on OED editions and revisions. The most recent is a short thing on antedating rates in OED revisions, and then there are two older ones on the quoting of female authors in various editions and revisions, and the treatment of non-UK/US English across the long history of the dictionary.

Needless to say, I found it all of great interest, and I hope you will too. I link to his posts, which in turn link to the actual articles.

Antedating (in) the OED, “a short article by me on antedating rates in the OED since revision started in 2000.” Sample tidbit: “The most likely individual sources to be antedated are all nineteenth-century encyclopedias, dictionaries and lexicons, and periodicals.”

Women’s Words in the OED:

Now published in Review of English Studies (Advance Access), an article by me on the ways in which the Oxford English Dictionary has treated texts authored by women in its marshalling of citation evidence for English language lexis, from the first edition (1884-1928) to the current OED3 revision (2000-). […] OED is — as of now — under-citing women authors in every LC class, and in a big way in two of the most common (i.e. where the evidence is plentiful), namely Literature (PN-PZ) and Sciences (Q, R, S, T).

“Alien” vs. Editor: “World English” in the OED 1884-2020:

This article discusses the changing ways in which the Oxford English Dictionary has recorded the vocabularies of ‘World English’—English as spoken outside of the British Isles—from the first to the present edition. Based on direct analyses of the coded text of multiple editions, it documents and compares the practices of successive editors, taking into account various contextual factors, such as editorial principles and policies, institutional resources, and historical language development. Significant attention is given to labeling practices, including the notorious ‘tramline’ mark of the First Edition and Second Supplement, designating ‘alien’ vocabulary; the evolution of the notion of ‘regional’ English within the dictionary; and the contributions of technology to the art of lexicography. The final section details changes in policy and methods in the current revision and expansion, evaluating both its practices vis-à-vis its predecessors, and the picture it gives us of the current state of World English.

Thanks, D-AW!


  1. Stu Clayton says

    antedating rates

    Is that a typo ? Or does “rate” have a special meaning in this context ? “The frequency at which dates need to be revised”.

    “Antedating dates” sounds clunky and impossible. That’s because it’s not dates that are antedated, but “first known occurrences” that are revised. “Revising dates” might do.

  2. It seems pretty straightforward to me. Yes, the frequency at which dates (of first citations) are revised in OED articles. Where’s the mystery?

  3. I thought you were going to complain about the lack of Martians.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    That too.

    Where’s the mystery?

    The mystery lay in my failure to understand what was meant. Happens to the best of us.

  5. e.g. … at a rate of 88 antedatings per 100 revisions, where “antedating” = “The action of marking with or assigning to an earlier date” (attested 1587). [edit>] Oh I get it, you read rates as the d.o. of antedating, where I meant antedating as a modifier or rates. The rates aren’t being antedated, it’s the rate of antedating.

  6. Ah, all is clear!

  7. Stu Clayton says

    The world needs more syntax trees.

  8. The Smashing Pumpkins problem.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    Huh, I’d never thought about the band’s name in that way. “Smashing, old top!”

  10. ə de vivre says

    I first parsed the band Super Furry Animals as [Super [Furry Animals]] until I saw them refer to themselves in Welsh as Anifeiliaid Anhygoel o Flewog, the [[Super Furry] Animals].

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    To link two of these discrete analyses together, I wonder how decreased reliance (via antedating) on “nineteenth-century encyclopedias, dictionaries and lexicons, and periodicals” relates to the change in rate of citation of female authors, which I guess may depend in part on how the “baseline” rates for female authorship in such-and-such historical period (compared to which the OED is said to fall short) were calculated. Did the methodology assume that a reference-book-type source without an identified individual author of known sex (and obviously some periodicals had primarily or exclusively bylined articles and others didn’t or didn’t consistently) is, at least if published before such-and-such year, male-by-default or did it treat it as a “authorial-sex-unknown” situation and thus pull it out of the denominator when calculating the female percentage for the relevant era?

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    As to ə de vivre’s point, I regret to say that this wiki article does not offer a Welsh gloss of the band’s name which might be less susceptible to multiple but inconsistent parses than the name is in English.

  13. I’m not sure what exactly the comparison between these two corpora of quotations and publications tells. The first does not take the second as its input.

    The m/f ratios are produced by two sets of filters (from preferences of women to discrimination), different for each corpora. Some of these filters can indeed be “wrong”, but it is important to determine which exact filter is wrong (and maybe increase visibility of women irrespectively of whether someone is wrong or not).

    Works written by men and women may statistically differ in (a) vocabulary (b) volume (c) popularity/influence (d) genre (e) style … etc.

    I for example, expect the women’s part of publication corpus to be less diverse. There’s a difference between “more men, because male authors have more diverse backgrounds” – that is an action of two filters, one preventing somen women from writing – and discrimination based on the author’s sex.

  14. “Underciting” is imprecise. It implies that something is wrong – but the author does not say what.

    Of course when you compare two different corpora, one will have more girls than the other.

    I’m reminded me how I was looking for female sceince-fiction authors on (a Russian site I grumbled at here once) and found that almost all popular books are written by men (in genres which I don’t like and which are popular on the site) – but there are more women than men among the least popular books.

  15. Are there senses for which the labels, rare, archaic, or obsolete and its dagger, need to be revised to account for continuous usage by these marginalized authors?

    Not just the (perhaps self-conscious) recoining / reborrowing by modernists, like semblable and dissemblable (as pointed out by Rowena Fowler), the former now marked, “(Revived in 20th cent. use.)” after Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf, but the latter still daggered, despite her quotation. Maybe because it was in Orlando? But also more ordinary words used in the previously ignored kinds of works.

  16. “in later use girlish or effeminate

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