Fwd: Bayle in the New York Times

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Jul 8 16:15:06 UTC 2007

Again from another list.  The writer asks some
interesting questions about 18th century
attitudes towards changes in vocabulary.


>While reading the Op-Ed page of the NY Times yesterday (Friday July 6),
>I noticed something that I had never seen before on that page --- a
>quotation from Pierre Bayle:  "the birth of one word is usually the
>death of another."  An American or an anglophone author quoting
>Bayle? Not likely, in our newspapers. The article containing this
>quotation was composed in French by Martine Rousseau and Olivier
>Houdart. It appeared first as a blog on the website of _Le Monde_
>and was later translated for inclusion on the Times's Op-Ed page..
>The main thrust of this piece is to recommend that the common
>word "américain" be replaced by "états-unien."  Rubbish.
>A search on Google failed to uncover the precise source of Bayle's
>sentence. At that point I emailed the problem to a few Bayle
>scholars and very quickly was informed by Professor Antony
>McKenna that the sentence occurs in Bayle's _Dictionnaire_, in
>Remarque D of the article "Poquelin" (i.e. Molière).  Once I had
>this information, I was able to bring up the exact page in Bayle
>by searching for it in the University of Chicago's ARTFL database.
>The Bayle quotation originally appeared as, "Notez enfin que la
>naissance d'un mot est pour l'ordinaire la mort d'un autre." Today
>we are well aware that many new words are introduced into our
>language daily, but Bayle seems to have been imagining that the
>French language of his time existed in a steady-state condition in
>which the entrance and exit of its words resembles a zero-sum
>game.  Did he find this idea in any earlier writer? Did any
>English writers on language discuss or apply Bayle's notion
>to their own language?  Swift criticized certain new words that
>he thought would corrupt the English language, which he
>wanted to "fix," but I can't recall any hint of Bayle in his
>writings on the English language.
>I should also add that the original context of Bayle's sentence was
>an essay (Remarque D) in which Bayle further pursues the
>subject of Molière's neologisms.
>As it turns out, the Bayle quotation seems far more interesting
>(at least to me) than the article in which it appears.

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