Dates in the Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary
At most entries in the Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, a date will be found following the heading "First Known Use". This is the date of the earliest recorded use in English, as far as it could be determined, of the oldest sense defined in the entry.
It is essential to keep a few factors in mind when assessing the First Known Use Date:
- The date may not represent the very oldest sense of the word. Many obsolete, archaic, and uncommon senses have been excluded from this dictionary, and such senses have not been taken into consideration in determining the date.
- The date most often does not mark the very first time that the word was used in English. Many words were in spoken use for decades or even longer before they passed into the written language. The date is for the earliest written or printed use that the editors have been able to discover.
- The date is subject to change. Many of the dates provided will undoubtedly be updated as evidence of still earlier use emerges.
The First Known Use Date will appear in one of three styles:
- For the Old English period (700-1099), "before 12th century"
- For the Middle English period (1100-1499), by century (e.g., "14th century")
- For the Modern English period (1500-present), by year (for example, "1942")
The rounding of earlier dates reflects the uncertain chronology of medieval manuscripts and the often conjectural nature of the composition dates of the texts they record. To convey impreciseness in a Modern English date, circa (Latin for "around") is appended. This is usually done for one of two reasons: the source's copyright page provides a date range rather than a specific year; or the word appears as an entry in a reference work, indicating that it had been in use before that work's publication date.
A few classes of main entries that are not complete words (such as abbreviations, prefixes, suffixes, and combining forms) or are not generic words (such as trademarks) are not given dates.