"Meerns" from "Moderns"?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Dec 24 15:29:36 UTC 2000

>... This geek [G. Cohen: = guy] is now a prosperous real estate dealer in
>San Francisco ...

An early use of "geek", humorous here I think: the Cassell dictionary gives
it as from late 19th century (US) = "a clumsy, eccentric or offensive person".

>Old Anse has not forgotten anything about the game.  He'll be 61 years
>young next April....

This is interesting: almost 61 and not too much senile dementia yet, what a
wonder! The age 61 is treated like the insensitive or politically-incorrect
might treat 81 or 91 nowadays.

>My guess is that Meerns is a rough approximation of how Pop Anson might
>have slurred 'Moderns' (a word which appears several times in the March 6
>article.). The writer is saying in effect: 'Yes, you modern players, that
>was some years ago.'

Seems like a good guess in the context. Some of us moderns may have trouble
seeing how "modern" > "meern", slurred or not. Of course the sports writer
may not have had a Ph.D. of any kind, let alone a phonetics specialization
... and there's still the possibility of a typographical error in an
isolated oddity like this. But I note that similar vowel shifts are seen in
written representations of spoken "accents". Even today it's not uncommon
to see "just" rendered as "jest" or "jist" in transcribed dialogue (e.g.,
"He's jest a little tetched in the head" [it's not only under influence of
/dZ/]). In older books we see more vowel-fronting (?) -- e.g., "discover"
transcribed as "diskiver" very commonly, as in O. Henry, "Round the Circle"

" ... but since I diskiver that the button holes is all busted out, why, I
wouldn't go so fur as to say the buttons is any loss to speak of."

Better yet: from Gilbert and Sullivan ("The Grand Duke"):

       With faltering feet,
                               And our muscles in a quiver,
       Our fate we meet
                               With our feelings all unstrung!
       If our plot complete
                               He has managed to diskiver,
       There is no retreat--
                               We shall certainly be hung!

The extreme form seems to be in transcribed Scots (also Irish I think)
dialects/"accents": e.g. (George MacDonald, "Donal Grant" [1905]):

It dis a body's hert guid to hear a man 'at un'erstan's things say them
plain oot i' the tongue his mither taucht him.  Sic a ane 'ill gang
straucht till's makker, ...

with "does" > "dis", "such" > "sic", "mother" > "mither".

If "mother" can be pronounced "mither", I suppose "modern" can be
pronounced "middern", whence "mirn"/"meern" by elision of the /d/.
Historical dialectologists, is this plausible?

-- Doug Wilson

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