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About the Citations

The inclusion of actual citations for the SF words is a new, experimental feature that we hope (and expect) will be of interest to many of the site's readers. However, since the citations shown may not exactly correspond to the comments for any particular word, we wanted to explain how they got here.

The Oxford English Dictionary, which is ultimately responsible for this site, is based on quotations, or citations, as they are called by dictionary editors. Every definition of every word in the dictionary is supported by evidence from (almost exclusively) written sources, showing exactly how a word has been used throughout its history: how long it's been around (twenty years? two hundred? a thousand?), who has used it (newspaper reporters? scientists? theologians? farmhands?), in what contexts it's been used (in formal sources? in playground speech? in science fiction?), etc. The citations are gathered by the simple process of reading something, taking note of interesting words, and filing them, somehow.

The OED had in the past collected its citations in the form of small slips of paper, which now occupy several (large) rooms in the dictionary's offices in Oxford. Since 1990, it has started to collect data chiefly in electronic form.

This science-fiction project is in effect a targeted offshoot of the OED's normal reading program(me)s.

The citations that appear in the full entries for words on this site are drawn from the OED's databases. They are found by simply searching the headword and part of speech in question against the OED's files for all sources with the subject "Science Fiction". The citations may not directly correspond to this site's entries for several reasons:

  • The OED's citation databases are not organized by meaning; this must be determined by an editor looking at all the data. Thus, there is no way to separate individual senses.
  • The part of speech might not match, because there is some ambiguity in a particular example, or because a noun used attributively (as, for example, computer in computer screen) may have been keyed as an adjective.
  • The form of the headword may not match. We have restricted the list to exact matches, because in many cases the form of the headword is relevant; thus, in some cases, we'll miss possible examples.
  • Processing lag. This SF project feeds into the OED's reading program(me)s. When a quotation is sent to one of this site's editors, it goes through a long process, which could include repeated correspondence with an SF editor and checking of bibliographical information. Only then will it be sent to the OED, and then another long process of validation and loading will begin.
  • The OED's reading program is larger than the SF project itself; there are tens of thousands of science-fiction quotes that were read by OED independently of this project, hence the inclusion of uncommented quotes in this list.
  • The citation may be used in non-SF contexts, so an early citation won't show up because it's in a scientific (not science fiction) source. The OED's database has several dozen examples of artificial intelligence, for example, but only a few (four, at the time of this writing) are in texts having a "Science Fiction" subject tag.

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