baseball cursing, 1898

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Wed Dec 5 16:47:07 UTC 2007

On Wed, Dec 05, 2007 at 11:26:14AM -0500, George Thompson wrote:
> The people who are selling this document have examined it,
> and whoever buys it will have been satisfied as to the date.
> Still it will be difficult to date from the paper & type,
> since it will be a question of only a few decades.  I assume
> that the ink isn't going to be analyzed for its chemistry,
> so if there is nothing about the fabric of the paper or its
> watermark that says "not after 1900" or "not before 1915",
> then the apparent fact that the bosses of baseball in the
> late 1890s were concerned that violence and vulgarity was
> limiting the audience of the sport would suggest that the
> date is correct.

Here's some good support for the importance of this issue at
the exact time in question:

1898 _Daily Rev. (Decatur, Ill.)_ 2 Mar. 2/3 A STAND FOR
DECENCY Baseball Players to Be Punished for Bad
Language...Most radical legislation was enacted today by the
magnates of the National Baseball League assembled here at
their annual session. At the afternoon session at which
representatives of the press were permitted to be present, a
measure for suppression of obscene, indecent and vulgar
language upon the ball field by players was adopted by the
representatives of the twelve clubs present without a
dissenting vote.... The measure for suppression of rowdyism in
the baseball field provides that each player shall sign
regulations: that any person, whether player, umpire or
spectator, can make charges against any player for using
obscene, indecent or vulgar language during the progress of a
game [etc.].

>From NPA.

I agree with Jon Lighter and others that this feels authentic
to me. I had written offlist to another colleague yesterday
specifically noting the absence of "motherfucker" as something
that improved its reliability. The use of "dog" as a fairly
strong term; the hyphenation of "fellow-players"--all sorts of
things feel absolutely right for the period. The fact that, as
the above quotation shows, there really _was_ explicit action
by the League about this issue at this time makes me think an
1898 date is highly believable.

> I will be following whatever further discussions come from the 19C baseball group.


Can you summarize anything useful that has been discussed
there so far?  I have attempted to join in order to see these
messages, but have not been allowed in yet.

Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society -

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