Date: Sat, 15 Nov 1997 20:17:30 -0500

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: Re: VETERANS DAY SPECIAL: World War

At 04:55 PM 11/15/97 -0600, you (creswell[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]crown.NET) wrote:

Has it not occurred to anyone to read the book title _First World War_as

"First Ever World War" in other words "This book is about the first

world war that has ever occurred"?

That reading seems more likely to me than any reading ascribing

prescience to the author. Ambiguity is a characteristic of language.

That's a great thought actually -- it's just that I was taking the earlier

poster's word for it that the 1919 phrase "First World War" meant what we

usually mean by it -- "the First in contrast to a Second World War." If one

were constructing a dictionary entry for the phrase "First World War," would

"the first world war ever" and "the First World War in contrast to the

Second" maybe be two non-identical meanings, depending on how carefully one

was distinguishing shades of meaning? See the OED2 entry for "first a.,"

meaning 1 (e.g., 1a and 1d) which is earliest in time *without necessarily

any successors*, vs. meaning 2 (esp. 2a), which is first *in a sequence*. If

the 1919 cite proferred earlier has the first meaning, what would be the

earliest cite with the second meaning?

I think this actually brings up a general problem about "earliest citations"

that I've thought about for awhile -- namely, there is a difference between

(a) the first time a world or phrase is ever used, and (b) the first time it

is used in a way that leads directly and clearly to the precise sense one is

investigating. Didn't I see a cite recently of "politically correct" from

the 18th cent? That's highly interesting, but has little or actually maybe

nothing whatsoever directly to do with the emergence of the phrase in the

sense(s) familiar in the later 20th cent.... If you're looking for a genuine

first cite for the latter, you have to look not just for the earliest

attested collocation of the two words in question, but for their use, in

context, in a sense that is either identical with or directly related to the

meaning of the phrase as a later-20th cent. formula, which after all is what

one is presumably investigating.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]