Jeffrey Aronson: When I use a word. . . Lexicographic anniversaries in 2020

the Oxford English Dictionary (WD) doesn’t just define words. It gives alternative spellings, etymologies, and examples of their uses in citations from printed texts. And it does so, as the original column put it, “on historical principles.” In any case, he gives as the first example of the use of a word the oldest example that lexicographers have found. They do an incredibly good job of finding the earliest examples of words in the most remote places and obsessively checking their sources.

However, even the most diligent search for a word can miss an earlier example, an antedate, to use the technical term. The publisher of the first edition of WD, James Murray (Figure 1), estimated that about three quarters of his entries could be backdated. He also pointed out, in a Presidential Lecture to the Philological Society in 1884, that words are generally spoken before they are written, so written sources will generally be later than the date of invention or introduction of a word.

In 1978, Richard W Bailey published about 4400 “Additions and Antedates to the English Vocabulary Register”. He described the collection as “not a definitive or complete list of antedates and additions to the WD but a provisional collection sufficiently coherent to be of general use for scholarship”. Here is a medical example: “femur” is not only the name of a bone in the body, the oldest example of which dates from 1666, but also an architectural term, defined in the WD as “one of the flat, vertical, projecting faces between each pair of glyphs of a Doric triglyph”, dating from 1563. But Bailey gives an example of the anatomical use from John Skelton’s 1485 translation of historical library by Diodorus Siculus, written between 36 and 30 BC. J.-C.: “he appreciated a name for this mountainous place and called it femur as moch to say in our barbaric language as a thye.”

The late Jürgen Schäfer Survey of monolingual printed glossaries and dictionaries 1476–1640 was published posthumously in 1989 in two volumes, the second of which contained a long list of additions and corrections to the WD, some of which have not yet been incorporated. For example, “diaphoretic” is currently defined as “having the property of inducing or promoting perspiration” (they mean “sweat”; first citation 1563) or “a drug having such property” (first citation 1656). But Schäfer gave a quote from 1526, found in an anonymous glossary of medical terms, The grassland grete: “Dyaforetyke does a medykyne spread inseparable humors and vapors which are so mynysed, stirred up and fabricated into such a subtle vapor that they escape without a nucleus”.

It is no coincidence that the texts quoted by both Bailey and Schäfer were written in modern English, which is generally dated to around 1476, when Caxton began printing, to 1700, encompassing works by writers such as Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson, Donne, and Milton.

However, it is important to remember that in James Murray’s time research had to be done by hand, reading the original texts and noting down any examples that might be useful. Today, digitized texts can easily be searched for specific words, and first instances cited in the dictionary are therefore less likely to be backdateable. However, backdating is always possible. I searched for antedates of words recorded for the first time in the WD for years ending in 20 and 70, similar to how I chose medical anniversaries in 2020 to highlight Last week. Here are a few examples, all involving words whose first attested examples date from 1920.

the WD gives the first case of “lymphadenopathy” in an article in the Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin from 1920, but there is an even older case, from 1915 (Wade HW. Bacteremia due to Bacillus diphtheria. J Infect Dis 1915; 16(2): 292-302); this is a minor backdating, and while it is possible that an earlier instance will be found, it is unlikely to backdate those instances by much.

the WD gives the first example of “embolism” from a 1920 article in the quarterly journal of medicinebut an older example, dating from 1907, is in the British doctor Jnewspaperin an article by W Sampson Handley, Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, entitled “An operation for embolus” (21 September 1907; 2(2438): 712).

Another example of the British medical journal predates two words listed as having been first recorded in 1920 in the British journal of surgery, “jugulodigastric” and “jugulo-omohyoid”; both appear in the August 14, 1914 issue.

This the BMJ may be a rich source of backdatings is suggested by the following example. “Sexological” is first attested in the WD in a quote from 1920, but the British medical journal contains an example from 1913, in which the formation of an international sexological society is described.

According to WD“spermiogenesis” was first recorded in 1920. But in 1912, American zoologist Thomas Harrison Montgomery published a book called Human spermatogenesis, spermatocytes and spermiogenesis: a study in heredity. the WD defines spermiogenesis as “the maturation of spermatids into spermatozoa (the last phase of spermatogenesis)”, which is why it is differentiated from spermatogenesis in the title of Montgomery’s book.

A striking antedate, but less certain example, is “premedication”, also dated by the WD from 1920. This means the administration of a drug to produce sedation or other useful effects, such as drying up secretions, before an operation, or a drug so used. I found a much older example of this, as early as 1849, in the title of a book by Samuel Cartwright: “Some Remarks on Premedication: and the Doctrine of Retrograde Action by Collapse of Absorbent Vessels and Capillaries.” This title is found in a list of donations to the library of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in the proceedings of the Academy, published in late 1849.

However, it is by no means clear in what sense Cartwright used the term “premedication”, and since I have not been able to locate a copy of his book, I cannot be sure that he s This is a true antedate. It could of course be a completely new meaning of the word, or even a typographical error. Further investigation is needed. Possibly the Academy of Philadelphia, now the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel Universitystill has a copy.

Some lexicographic anniversaries in 2020

1520 (131):
to flex (a joint or a limb)
foolish
mesel (leprosy)
bloody

1570 (868):
doctorate
doctorally
doctor
poorly

1620 (412):
atrophy
cardiac
cardialgia
coarcted
to unsopile (block, for example a vein)
depressive
dietetic
excrete
soft
taste
ingestion
morbifical (causing disease)
plague spot
scammoniate (purgative)
vomitory

1670 (357):
alcoholize
antiapoplexy
blue pill
bronchotomist
dagga (hemp, Cannabis sativa)
[Dr] Goddard’s drops
hygiastic
infuse
neurology
osteology
pancreatic (pancreatic 1666)
pharmacopoietic/al
charlatan
sclera (sclera)
semiotics (interpretation of symptoms)

1720 (178):
fetification (impregnation)
unbreathable

1770 (219):
molecular
kairomone
lassa [fever, virus]
I[a]evodopa
Mandy (i.e. Mandrax)
maprotilin
mazindol
medicalization
myelographic (myelography 1937)
metabolizer
mianserin
migraine sufferer

1820 (575):
egophony
arteritis
celia
daturia (the daturine alkaloid)
epicranial
feticide
ovario-gestation
phrenological (phrenology 1810)
plague ship
rheumatic
rubeoloid
somatological (somatology 1736)
stethoscope

1870 (753):
abiogenesis
acridine
acrocephaly
agoniadine
anapnograph
anginal
asystole (= asystole)
biogenesis
carbolize
cryptopine (an opium alkaloid)
Duchenne [paralysis]
electrosurgery/ical
epiccritical [remarks on a case]
excitomotor
germicidal
glioma/all
stupid scientist
innervate
intertrochlear
leukocyte
mesethmoid
methemoglobin
microshell
monocephalous
muscular
odontoblast
oecoid
orchiectomy
pedology
parasitology
pedicure
periodontitis
phthinode/oid
pleuroperitoneal
polyuric (polyuria 1823)
prepubic (prepubic 1888)
pseudoleukemia
minoxidil
monounsaturated
mucolipidosis
myelinotoxicity
myoelectric (myoelectricity 1969)
neurominer
neuroplasticity
neuroregulator
nexin
oncornavirus
peptidolytic (peptidolysis 1972)
recipiomotor
Romberg [symptom]
spectroscopy
subanconate
thoracic-abdominal

1920 (466):
Acetobacter
acidotic (acidosis 1900; acidemia 1891)
alexander [technique]
bacteriocyte
bibliotherapy
biotechnologist
cardiothoracic
electromyographic (electromyography 1926)
embolized (adj)
hemorrhage (v; noun 1671)
heterophile
hypnoanalysis
jugulodigastric
jugulo-omohyoid
lymphadenopathy
megaunit
candidiasis
multifactorial (= polygenic)
myelinogenetics (myelinogenesis 1931)
naso-spinal
periodontist
pluripotential
premedication
premorbid
psychopharmacology
radiosensitive
self-diagnose
sexological (sexology 1867)
sociobiologist
spermiogenesis
swine flu

1970 (373):
alloalbumin
anchor
arenovirus
biocompatible
bioequivalence
bioethics
biofeedback
clastogen
clonazepam
immunodiagnosis
immunosurveillance
perimenstrual
prazosin
psychoneuroendocrinology
ribostamycin
sulfazine
sulpiride
temazepam
tilorone
togavirus
tretinoin

Jeffrey Aronson is a clinical pharmacologist working at the Center for Evidence Based Medicine in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Oxford. He is also President Emeritus of the British Pharmacological Society.

Competing interests: None declared.

This week’s interesting integer: 256

256 is the smallest non-trivial 8and power = 28where “non-trivial” means not equal to 1. It is also the fourth number in the sequence of numbers raised to their own power:

1 = 11

4 = 22

27 = 33

256 = 44

Thus, in analytic combinatorics, 256 is the fifth in the sequence of labeled mapping numbers of n points to themselves: 1, 1, 4, 27, 256.

256 is 100000000 in binary and 100 in hexadecimal.

256 is the traditional number of cycles per second (hertz) of middle C (known as the scientific pitch). However, modern concert pitch is usually modeled on a frequency from A above middle C to 440 Hz, which makes middle C 261.6 Hz = 440/29/12since an octave doubles the frequency and has 12 well-tempered semitones, middle C being 9 semitones below A.

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