Further Antedating of "Black Hole"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 17 01:45:05 UTC 2008

Well, someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

I know that responses to postings of this sort are not recommended, but let me say something, not directed at Mr. Daniel but rather at others on this list.   I know better than anyone that "antedatings" get very limited respect in the academic world or outside it.  But it happens that in the sciences the coinage of terminology is actually considered pretty important.  It is also worth noting that the New York Times obituary was headlined "John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term 'Black Hole,' Is Dead at 96."  And in the official Princeton University obituary the first thing about Wheeler that is mentioned is that he coined the term "black hole."  It is one of the first things mentioned in the Wikipedia article about him.  And I am guessing that, if you had asked John Wheeler himself what his major achievements were, coining or popularizing "black hole" would probably have been one of them.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of David A. Daniel [dad at POKERWIZ.COM]
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 8:47 PM
Subject: Re: Further Antedating of "Black Hole"

Fred Shapiro says: >Here's a more notable antedating, since it casts into
serious question >whether Wheeler really was the coiner:


You have got to be kidding.

OK. Here is where, had I any pride, and somewhat less curiosity, I would
leave this useless, irrelevant list. And, yes, in terms of any worthwhile
human endeavor, this list, along with its opinions and its findings and its
oh so high opinion of itself, is totally irrelevant.

We have a man, Johnny Wheeler, who, in his lifetime and with his brain, did
things that really mattered, that, in fact, killed hundreds of thousands of
people, won global wars, changed the course of history, changed the entire
thought process of weapons development, changed the way scientists and
laymen alike relate to the world and the universe, may have changed basic
human interaction forever. And now our list is to - gasp! - be thrown into
REALLY WAS THE COINER OF BLACK HOLE! Who, with any view to any realistic
endeavor of the human mind, would really give a flying fuck if Wheeler is
the coiner or not?

"Well, but that is what we do here! We really do give a rat's ass if Wheeler
coined 'black hole' or not!"

Uh huh, well that is fine, that is fun, that is interesting, that is how we
amuse ourselves. But let us not confuse this with something that really
matters. Let us not be strident in our proclamations that Wheeler may not
have coined a term when everything else he did makes it totally irrelevant
whether he coined the term or not.

Let us not think, for example, that whether people in Michigan say pop or
soda is important. It is not important; it is merely interesting. Let us not
think, for example, that whether people in Texas use glottal kitten is
important. It is not important; it is merely interesting.

And, jeeeeeez! Can't you guys lighten up on Tom Zurinskas? OK, he goes a bit
overboard with his truespel thing. So what? If he went and got a PhD in some
linguistic field, and still promoted his truespel, you would then take him
more seriously? If your answer is negative then be careful, as it has been
proposed on this list that Tom's problem is a lack of paper. Everyone on
this list goes overboard on their own thing, their own view of the
linguistic universe.

(Um... I just had a thought that some folks may equate the issues of this
list with issues of human communication and come in with questions like,
"how can you think that human communication is not important?" Well, in a
year or more on this list I have seen nothing of such import. All I have
seen is just fun and interesting, that's all. How about y'all spend more
ivory tower time trying to figure how your areas of endeavor could better
the human condition and less time on how many angels can dance on the head
of a linguistic pin?)

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

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

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