What do the terms 'whizz-bang', 'pipsqueak', 'toffee apple', 'coal-box', and 'souvenir' all have in common?

Believe it or not, they're all slang terms for 'shells' (the explosive kind) and were coined during WWI. And if you knew that already then the Oxford English Dictionary Needs YOU!


Recruitment image of Uncle Sam pointing
Photo: Uncle Sam by AJ Cann. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence
The OED researchers consult a huge range of sources to check the earliest usages of words but they simply don't have the time or resources to check them all. And that's where you could come in: they have an appeals page on their website where volunteers can submit examples of early word usage (properly known as antedatings... but you already knew that).

At the moment, they're particularly interested in World War One words and phrases. Kate Wild, an assistant editor at the OED explains:
"As part of the First World War centenary commemorations, the OED has launched a special set of appeals relating to some of the WWI words and phrases it is currently revising. In each case, we believe that there is earlier evidence out there - perhaps in a private letter, a personal diary, a local newspaper, or a government record." Lexicon Valley blog (SLATE magazine) 27 Feb 2014
So if you fancy a challenge or always wondered what was in those old papers in that box in the attic, perhaps now is the time to dust off your research skills, dust off the boxes and get digging.

If you're on campus you can access the OED online for free - you'll get logged in automatically. If you're not on campus, you can go to our e-resources guide: from there you just need to scroll down and select Oxford English Dictionaries Online - again, you'll be automatically logged in with your University account.

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