The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary want your help in tracing the history of particular English words and phrases.
What’s old is new again. In 1859, the British Philological Society launched an appeal to the British and American public “to assist in collecting the raw materials for the work, these materials consisting of quotations illustrating the use of English words by all writers of all ages and in all senses, each quotation being made on a uniform plan on a half-sheet of notepaper, that they might in due course be arranged and classified alphabetically and by meanings.” The society’s goal was to create a new dictionary “worthy of the English Language and of the present state of Philological Science.” (The Surgeon of Crowthorne, Simon Winchester, 1998)
The result, after 50 years of toil and tens of thousands of quotation slips? The Oxford English Dictionary.