Can one ever overcome a bad reputation?

Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Nov 25 05:21:09 UTC 2010

> In 1675 John Allyn advised Fitz-John Winthrop, "beware of haveing any
> linguist in your company".
> (In passing, he didn't mean at the dinner table or tavern.)
> Joel

What did he mean by "linguist"? A student of languages? A philologist?
A polyglot? A skilled orator? A cunning linguist? (Heard that one in
1982 and never had the opportunity to throw it into a conversation.)
In 1675 he surely wasn't referring to practitioners of what's now
known as the science of linguistics.

Speaking of the word linguist, my guess is that a pet peeve of many
professional linguists is the popular use of the word linguist to
refer to someone who speaks many languages. To quote Shakespeare (Two
Gent. IV. i. 57):

And partly, seeing you are beautified
With goodly shape and by your own report
A linguist and a man of such perfection...

Similarly, a pet peeve among many professional translators (not me) is
the tendency of journalists and ordinary people to fail to distinguish
between the word translator and the word interpreter, applying the
word translator to both. But I've crossed over into forbidden
anecdotal territory...


Paul Frank
Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
Espace de l'Europe 16
Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland
paulfrank at
paulfrank at

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list