NYT: "blather" from Pa.?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Apr 1 17:29:19 UTC 2008

>From a New York Times article about Obama's campaigning style in Pennsylvania:

"Pennsylvania's culture, as the historian David Hackett Fischer noted
in his book 'Albion's Seed,' is rooted in the English midlands, where
Scandinavian and English left a muscular and literal imprint. These
are people distrustful of rank, and finery, and high-flown words. It
should come as no surprise that the word 'blather' originated here."

Hackett doesn't actually claim that "blather" originated in
Pennsylvania, but argues that it's one of many importations from the
North Midlands to the Delaware Valley (which itself may be a
questionable claim):

"Not only the pronunciation but also the vocabulary of the England's
North Midlands became part of American midland speech. In the word
lists of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire we find the
following terms, all of which took root in the Delaware Valley:
_abide_ as in "can't abide it," _all out_ for entirely, _apple-pie
order_ to mean "very good order," _bamboozle_ for deceive, _black and
white_ for writing, _blather_ for empty talk, [...] None of these
words was invented in America, though many have been mistakenly
identified as Americanisms. All were carried from the North Midlands
of England to the Delaware Valley, and became the basis of an American
regional vocabulary which is still in use today." (_Albion's Seed_,
pp. 472-3)

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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