Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Dec 4 09:18:04 UTC 2000

Apparently, during the mid-19th century, "lisp" was commonly used where one
might expect something like "whisper" (noun or verb), in a figurative sense
-- often but not always in a negative construction.

Examples from "Making of America" (UM):

"... we have not a lisp of argument ..." ["Princeton Review", 1835] -- p. 125

"Not a lisp of it, not a word of it" ["Presidential Counts", 1877] -- p.209

"Not a lisp for quarter or favor" [Brownell, "War-lyrics ...", 1866] -- p. 53

"Not a lisp did he utter ..." [Political Speeches ...", 1855] -- p. k007

"... it was treason to lisp it" ["African Colonization", 1833] --
p. 278

"no one had told him a lisp about me" ["From the Stage-coach to the
Pulpit", 1874] -- p. 73

"you did not lisp a word about ..." ["Eight Years in Congress", 1865] -- p. 90

"no lisp of fond or tender affection ..." [Wade, "The Fair Maid of
Flanders", 1843] -- p. 84

"We have no lisp of authority ..." [Bushnell, "Sermons ...", 1858] -- p. 48

"... conscience is prompt to lisp approving whispers" ["Duration of
Memory", 1844] -- p. 76

... there are many more.

[The word also was used in more familiar senses -- in reference to
infantile speech (sometimes figuratively) and in regard to a speech
peculiarity with "s">"th".]

I cannot find the figurative "lisp" (seemingly = "whisper") in any
conventional modern dictionary (including the fragmentary HDAS and DARE).
The OED seems to be silent again.

[The Project Gutenberg "Webster's Unabridged" does include "lisp" (verb) =
"to speak with reserve or concealment; to utter timidly or confidentially"
and also  = "to speak hesitatingly with a low voice, as if afraid". I think
this may be the 1913 edition.]

Any comment from the scholars?

-- Doug Wilson

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