baseball cursing, 1898

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Thu Dec 6 05:21:01 UTC 2007

On Wed, Dec 05, 2007 at 11:36:15PM -0500, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:


[quoting the Salon article:]
> Robert Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions, and several
> experts he's consulted say they believe the letter is legitimate. If
> so, it would represent the earliest printed record of two obscenities.
> You're going to have to pardon some more language: The record-setting
> oaths are "Go fuck yourself," previously traced in print to 1920, and
> "cocksucker," which had gone back as far as 1902.
> "This is sort of like winning two gold medals!" Lifson jokes.
> Tarnation!
> The letter lists eight examples of oaths that would make
> Tommy Lasorda blush.  Nunberg, the Berkeley linguist, cites
> this section as the best argument for the letter being a
> hoax. "It is inconceivable that the authors of such a
> document in this period would have quoted the player's 'Go
> fuck yourself' verbatim," he writes, "or repeated any of the
> other imprecations (not even the 'damn' of 'didn't give a
> damn,' which would have been rendered as 'd____')."


> How off-base is Kaufman with his antedating info? HDAS has an 1897
> cite for "go and f..k yourself", which seems pretty close to "go fuck
> yourself." As for  "cocksucker", I'm not sure what the earliest Jesse
> et al. currently have for the general "SOB"-style epithet,  but 1902
> doesn't seem right (Kaufman links to a 2002 article in _Verbatim_ by
> Fred Shapiro that cites a Texas court transcript with "cock-sucking
> son of a bitch", not "cocksucker").

I have been unable to verify the HDAS "go and fuck yourself"
quote. Jon Lighter found it in a manuscript source in the
Kinsey Institute; I asked a colleague in Indiana to check it
out, and in a moderate (but not exhaustive) survey of the
complex, 600+ page manuscript, he was unable to find
it. Assuming it's genuine, however, then the baseball quote,
if accurate, is a mere one year later.  Furthermore, I have
evidence of nonliteral _cocksucker_ from an 1865 Civil War
court-martial, so this is totally plausible based on actual
(rather than hypothesized) evidence.

I disagree with Geoff's analysis. His argument is a solid one
for the case that this isn't an _official_ League publication,
but if it's a _contemporaneous_ hoax, it's absolutely
plausible, even likely, that these would have been written out
in full. It's funnier that way! And there's tons of evidence
for sub-rosa material of this general era having similar
phrases written in full.

Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society -

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