The Null Device
The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing to the public for help with tracing down a mysterious (and possibly pornographic) 19th-century book, from which a number of quotations used in the dictionary derive. The book, Meanderings of Memory, attributed to one “Nightlark”, is dated to 1851 and cited in 51 dictionary entries for words including “couchward” and “revirginize” (“Where that cosmetic … Shall e'er revirginize that brow's abuse”), though no copies nor any evidence of it having existed have been found:
Hurst was contacted; she expected to track the book down within 10 minutes. "That turned into half an hour, and I was no further along the line to solving it – I looked on Google Books, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in short I looked everywhere I could think of and couldn't come up with anything," said Hurst. "We're not usually completely floored, but this time we're stumped."
The only evidence for the book's existence the OED could find was an entry in a bookseller's catalogue, which includes the description: "Written and published by a well-known connoisseur with the epigraph 'Cur potius lacrimae tibi mi Philomela placebant?'" "We naturally thought the Latin quotation would be a huge clue [but] it's not a quote from anything," said Hurst. "It means, roughly, 'why did my tears please you more, my Philomel?', and Philomela is another name for a nightingale." The book's author, meanwhile, is "Nightlark", she pointed out.