I read a sentence in "Word by Word" by Kory Stamper which was:

Though my Twitter friend was wrong in this instance, well-researched efforts like his can turn up antedatings that we've missed.

Now, it implies that "antedatings" might be the true actual dates of the concerned events (or in this case "word's appearance" in the language). But here is how Merriam webster define the word:

a date assigned to an event or document earlier than the actual date of the event or document

Now, taking it as a guide, it can be concluded that antedate is the date prior to that event's actual happening. But it seems to contradict what Kory thinks the word means( antedate being the true date). So I think the definition as per the dictionary is at fault( the "actual" sense). Am I right?

1 Answer 1


No, the dictionary is not entirely wrong, but like any short description if arguably doesn't give the full story.

Antedate is a rather technical, and infrequently used word. It is used in the context of historical events or discoveries. We cannot say (for example) exactly when the wheel was invented, but there is no doubt a generally accepted date. As and when more evidance is found, we will find a new date that is either later (postdated) or earlier (antecedant). MW is acknowledging that such a date is going to be controversial, and perhaps giving too much weight to that part of the general meaning.

  • As you admit, that the dictionary is wrong, but not entirely. The only thing that I laid emphasis on in that question is that "antedate" can be the "actual" date. And from that point of view, definition given by the dictionary fails to provide the precise picture. Correct me if I'm wrong.
    – kelvin
    Mar 25, 2020 at 10:07
  • Personally, I would say that MW's definition in this case is overly simplistic - looks to me as though it has been edited down from a better one. Fundamentally, it is based on the opposite use case from the one you came across - where an accepted date is shown to be too early as opposed to too late as we were talking about.
    – MikeB
    Mar 25, 2020 at 10:13

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