"Better Dead Than Red"

Victor aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 15 07:59:25 UTC 2008

A couple more notes on Google Books. There appears to be a serious
problem with periodicals.

Among other things, Google Books lists The American Mercury as a 1924
source for "Better dead than red". In fact, the snippet shows that it
includes both that and the inverse version! The only problem is that the
publication data may not be accurate. The American Mercury was *founded*
in 1924, which is why it is listed as 1924 in Google.


The same is true about a publication listed under "Information Service"
for Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. The nominal
date is 1928, but it also does not appear to be the publication date of
the actual quote. This is a weekly publication that's been out since
1922, although not all libraries have the complete set. For example,
Harvard Divinity School has it listed under 1924 because they start with
vol. 3.

The same problem with China Yearbook listed as 1937, but with the cover
page showing 1962-1963. The Political Quarterly that claims the date of
1914 is actually from 1980. In fact, looking through the German hits for
both "tot als rot" and "rot als tot", the same problem is quite evident.

Only two pre-1950 DTR hits appear to be legitimate.

There is no doubt about the 1939 book March of Fascism by Stephen
Raushenbush, 1939, p. 302. This is a slightly different version--"Rather
dead than red-white-red", referring to the Austrian flag--but the
meaning and use are the same. Raushenbush's account closely matches the
one by Lennhoff & Farnell, The Last Five Hours of Austria, 1938, p. 155.
Ironically, both refer to Nazi slogans in German. But it's important
that they also precede the alleged Goebbels coinage, from 1945. They
also show slightly different translations--one uses "Rather", the other
"Better". Both Lieber and Besser have been used in German.

Reversing the search string gives a list entirely composed of
periodicals, save one entry. This one, on the other hand, does not fit
at all (although it might hold some interest for linguists). It is
Speech is Easy by Reader & McMahon. The clip is a comparison of pairs of
consonants (italics to highlight paired sounds omitted):

It takes longer to say hole than to say hope, then than thin, mit than
pit, view than few, red than dead. With a little practice, prolonging
these sounds will become a habit.

Not so for the actual German. Here, the search actually finds a
meaningful hit--but only for "rot als tot". [Remaining hits are
incorrectly-placed periodicals, except for one other--see PS below.]


This one gives the full text version and the dates are clearly April
1906-April 1907. (Das freie Wort: Frankfurter Halbmonatsschrift für
Fortschritt auf allen Gebieten des geistigen Lebens, p. 745)

Here, there is no question that "Lieber rot als tot!" is a rallying cry
of the liberals in 1907.

Vielleicht aber verrechnet sich der Kanzler doch noch, wenn der
Liberalismus sich in diesen über sein Schicksal entscheidenden Tagen aus
sich selbst besinnt. Gürtet er seine Lenden zum Kamps in der Erkenntnis,
daß sein Feldgeschrei lauten muß: Aus Leben und Tod gegen die Reaktion,
gegen die psassische und die junkerlich-agrarische!, dann könnte e r es
sein, der sich zwei Majoritäten schafft: eine nach rechts
herübergreisende in allen nationalen, und eine nach links, von der Mitte
der Nationalliberalen bis zu Bebel und Singer, reichende in allen
demokratischen Fragen.
Das wäre die große Stunde des Liberalismus!
Das wäre die Geburtsstunde seiner Macht!
Also Parole bei den Hauptwahlen:
Gegen die Reaktion aus der Rechten
und in der Mitte!
Parole bei den Stichwahlen:
Lieber rot als tot!

This answers both my earlier questions with respect to the disarmament


PS: Oddly enough, for the earliest entry, Google suggests that "rot als
tot" combination appears in a 1857 Dutch publication of works of Joost
Van den Volden (no idea who that is). But a closer inspection reveals
this to be a completely false hit--here the publication date is not the
problem. In fact, it's bad-OCR that compounds other Google issues.

PPS: The German hit is the same as the one posted by Doug Wilson.
earlier. Google built-in OCR--which appears to be the same software they
use for searches--is very poor and requires correction. (And even then,
it's only posted for public domain publications.)

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

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