Brooklyn Side (1911); July Is the Cruelest Month (for "hot dog")

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 26 02:19:30 UTC 2004

At 3:40 PM -0700 7/25/04, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>Just checked out your new site and it rox.  Realize that the media
>are not interested in FACTS about word origins; they're interested
>in STORIES with a beginning middle, and end.  The FACTS about Big
>Apple - and I tried to get as many of them into HDAS  Vol. I as I
>could (nod to Gerry Cohen goes here) - end  in uncertainty: "Well,
>which of those guys in N.O. REALLY invented it then? (Am
>paraphrasing, of course.)

Very true, and very much along the lines of the pursuit of the first
"baseball game", which as we've seen (i) overlaps with the quest for
antedates for "baseball" or "base ball" as a lexical item and (ii)
probably won't ever be known absolutely, given the family
resemblances (as Wittgenstein would call them) among various games.
So, as we've discussed not long ago, the press fell all over itself
recently (in May, IIRC) about the 1791 Pittsfield document that
includes a reference to "base ball", without bothering to check on
whether it's the same (or similar enough) referent to "THE" game of
baseball, very much along the lines of Jonathan's observation here...

>Next time someone discovers an ex. of the insignificant collocation
>"big apple" ANYWHERE before 1909 expect a new wave of interest:
>"WOW, a NEW clue!"
On the other hand, the Pittsfield push-back does make for a more
informed narrative about the origins of our pastime than the standard
Cooperstown/Doubleday alternative, which Stephen Jay Gould picked
apart.  Gould detailed in a number of places the fact how our love
for narratives/stories leads us astray in science and elsewhere, and
I've tried to argue (in my Spitten Image paper, in re "Welsh rarebit"
et al.) that his points on narrative bias carry over directly to the
realm of etymythology (as they do to non-lexical urban legends).


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