At last I have a good excuse to someday read through my vast archive of science fiction magazines from the ’50s and ’60s: the OED is hunting for the earliest citations of sf words.

This page is a pilot effort for the Oxford English Dictionary, in which the words associated with a special field of interest are collected so that knowledgeable aficionados can help the OED find useful examples of these words. This, our first project, is science fiction literature.
The OED aims to include all words that are frequently used in any field, and attempts to find the earliest example of every sense of every word it includes. For SF the OED needs earlier examples of terms it already includes, early examples of terms that have been slated for future inclusion, and any examples of terms that have not yet caught the editors’ attention but are common in SF. Words used infrequently, words associated chiefly with a single author, or words so specialized that they are found only in a single subgenre, are not high priorities for inclusion.
The page was started under the guidance of Mike Christie, an OED volunteer, and Sue Surova, a freelance researcher for the OED. It is now chiefly maintained by Jeff Prucher and Malcolm Farmer. The idea started when Sue posted a message on a discussion group looking for early examples of the SF usage of mutant ‘a person with freakish appearance or abnormal abilities as a result of a genetic mutation’. The earliest example the OED had for this sense was 1954; OED editors knew the word must have been used earlier. A 1938 example was quickly found, and a plan for further research was formed.

Man, when I was 14 I would gladly have devoted every waking moment to this cause! (Via Mark Liberman at Language Log; see also this OED News article by Jesse Sheidlower.)


  1. Cool. I have alerted the authorities, and I imagine citations should start flowing in very soon.

  2. Just wanted to let you know that I posted a follow-up at http://www.unbsj.ca/arts/english/jones/mt/archives/000537.html .

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