Fwd: more astounding acronyms

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Dec 16 17:44:54 UTC 2005

On 12/16/05, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> At 11:03 AM -0500 12/16/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> >http://books.google.com/books?id=EbeKgYl_1_4C&q=campish
> >Jonathan Ned Katz, _Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality_.
> >University of Chicago Press, 2001.
> >Footnote, p. 373
> >Park to Lord Aruthur Clinton, November 1868, quoted by Upchurch,
> >"Forgetting," 1, from the trial transcripts of the 1871 _Case of the
> >Queen vs Boulton and Others_, Department of Public Records, PRO,
> >London, DPP4/6, 1:36-37; also quoted by Cohen _Sex_, 116 n. 36; Cohen
> >quotes from the London _Times_, May 30, 1870. Cohen also notes that
> >when this letter was read into the Boulton and Park trial record, the
> >court transcriber misread "campish" as "crawfish."
> This is great!  So besides the nominal "crawfish" (which is, of
> course, a folk-etymological reconstruction--or, if you prefer, a
> corruption--of "crevice" < Fr. écrevisse) and the verbal "to
> crawfish" ('retreat from a position, back out'), there's the
> adjectival "crawfish" ('campish').  Who knew?

Here's what William Cohen has to say about the "campish"/"crawfish"
confusion (pp. 116-7 of _Sex Scandal_)...

When this letter was entered into the court record, the word _campish_
was misread as "crawfish,' and a debate ensued over its meaning. While
the court was clearly confused about what "sodomitical practices"
might entail, that it could imagine them somehow to involve
crustaceans is rather startling. (Roughead transcribes the phrase as
"caw fish undertakings" [169]. _Crawfish out_, it should be noted, is
an informal expression meaning "to withdraw from an undertaking"
current from at least 1838 in the United States; both the form of the
adjective here and the fact that it was not current in England,
however, make it unlikely that the confusion in the trial arose from
this meaning.)

--Ben Zimmer

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