NYT: "blather" from Pa.?

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Tue Apr 1 22:12:28 UTC 2008

At least abide and blather could come from Ulster Scots, too, though
the usual form is "blether" there.  However, in Border Scots and in
Ulster in some positions (and in  a lot of 17c-18c Scots), the /E/
vowel would have been phonetically [ae], and might have come in with
the vowel of cat. The Ulster/PA connection is well-documented, though
there's a goodly Yorks/Lancs continent among the Quakers.

Paul Johnston
On Apr 1, 2008, at 1:30 PM, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: NYT: "blather" from Pa.?
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> ---------
> On Tue, Apr 1, 2008 at 1:29 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
> <bgzimmer at ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
>> From a New York Times article about Obama's campaigning style in
>> Pennsylvania:
>>  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/01/us/politics/01obama.html
>>  "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...
> I meant Fischer, of course.
>> 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
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