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famously aims to provide the earliest record of every word’s use.
The dictionary’s researchers routinely scour the citations gathered by the project throughout its history, as well as searching a plethora of electronic databases, and occasionally issuing Appeals to the general public.
The word seems to have been first recorded in French at about the same time.
The word appeared in English much earlier than the First World War, but its use was isolated and rare, as this chart of frequency shows (note that relative usage soared during the First World War but peaked in the Second): Frequency, via Google ngram viewer.
As part of the special revision of entries relating to the First World War, a dozen Appeals were posted seeking earlier evidence for a small subset of the words thought to have entered the English vocabulary during that period.
Nine of the twelve Appeals yielded results which were ultimately included in the Camouflage was defined in the second edition of the OED (1989) as ‘the disguising of any objects used in war, such as camps, guns, ships, by means of paint, smoke-screens, shrubbery, etc., in such a way as to conceal it from the enemy,’ with the first example dating from 1917.
(Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records: X550/8/1) This example is taken from a manuscript war diary; the text of the quotation, which describes camouflage as something being introduced by the French, and the misspelling of the word, both suggest that the concept and word alike were new to the writer.