on errors in the Oxford English Dictionary

3 categories of errors exist in the Oxford English Dictionary: errors due to the fact that the contexts of the quotations are not always taken into account; errors perhaps due to lack of coordination between lexicographers; erroneous dating of quotations.

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original meaning of ‘to see the elephant’

U.S.—‘to see the elephant’: to see life, the world or the sights, as of a large city, to gain knowledge by experience. But in 1842, the original meaning of ‘to see the elephant’ was ‘to get sick and tired of something’.

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‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’

In British slang, the noun ‘piss-up’ denotes ‘a heavy drinking bout’, and the phrase ‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’ and variants mean ‘is’, or ‘are’, or ‘am’, ‘incapable of organising the simplest event, task, etc.’—phrase first recorded in 1980.

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origin of ‘red tape’ (obstructive official rules)

The noun red tape, meaning excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities, refers to the use of woven red tape to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers; the literal meaning is first recorded in 1658, the figurative meaning in 1736.

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British origin of Gotham, nickname for New York City

Many centuries before becoming a nickname for New York City and the name of a fictional city associated with the Batman stories, Gotham was used in Britain as the name of a (probably fictional) village proverbial for the folly of its inhabitants.

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from the trenches of WWI: ‘cootie’ (‘body louse’)

from army use on the Western Front during World War One: ‘cootie’, ‘body louse’, ‘cooty’, ‘infested with lice’, ‘coot’, ‘louse’, probably ultimately refer to the aquatic bird called ‘coot’, reputed to be lice-infested

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The literal meaning of ‘cappuccino’ is ‘Capuchin’.

USA, 1948—espresso coffee mixed with steamed milk—borrowed from Italian ‘cappuccino’, literally ‘Capuchin’, because the colour of this type of coffee resembles that of a Capuchin’s habit—cf. French ‘capucin’ (= ‘Capuchin’), a name for the hare, from the colour of the animal’s fur

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the disputed origin of ‘tantrum’

18th century—origin unknown—perhaps originally imitative and comparable to, or derived from, ‘tantara’, denoting the sound of a trumpet, hence an uproar—or from obsolete French ‘trantran’, synonym of ‘tantara’

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