Antedating of "Movie"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun Dec 2 16:17:28 UTC 2007

On Dec 2, 2007 9:20 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> At 12/1/2007 11:00 PM, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> >Great find, Fred. The early (legitimate) "movie" cites seem to be
> >clustering around Philadelphia. So far we've got:
> >
> >1/8/11: Philadelphia Inquirer
> >3/24/11: Bucks County (Pa.) Gazette
> >8/1/11: Washington Post (from Philadelphia Inquirer)
> >8/18/11: Warren (Pa.) Evening Mirror
> >
> >Other cites given here:
> >
> Shouldn't one be cautious about evidence only from America's
> Historical Newspapers?  I think it (or perhaps it's the Gale 19th
> Century Newspapers?) does not have papers from a number of cities,
> for example in Massachusetts.

Fred is finding early cites in AHN now, but previous digging was done
in the ProQuest and Newspaperarchive databases, which do include
papers from Massachusetts. The scanning/OCR for the Boston Globe on
Proquest is admittedly pretty terrible for this era, but I don't see
any "movie" cites in the Globe before mid-1912 (by which time the word
was pretty widespread). Same goes for the Lowell Sun on N-archive.

But it would be good to get a better sense of the geographical spread
of "movie(s)", even if Philadelphia formed an early locus. For
instance, by Oct. 1911, it was already appearing in print out in San
Jose, CA:

San Jose Mercury and Herald, Oct. 22, 1911, p. 3, col. 2 [AHN]
Now that, in the main, the church and social workers have determined
to help uplift the motion picture and to use it as an instrument for
good rather than to oppose and antagonize it, not so much is heard
from these quarters in opposition to "movies," as they are known among
the street gamins.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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