Short note on kinesthetic

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 13 10:42:17 UTC 2011

Although I was initially going to send a very brief note just to Jesse
Sheidlower, commenting on the quirk in the search results for
"kinesthetic", subsequent search through GB revealed a few interesting
details. Although there is no finds antedating the entry [with a
caveat--the antedating is already in the OED!], I thought I should share
the whole project nonetheless.

The current article in the OED starts off with the noun kinaesthesis. It
gives two alternative spellings:  kinæsthesia, kinesthesis. Aside from
drawing on the traditional Latinized spelling in the first alternative,
the second puzzled me--if you have kinæsthesia and kinæsthesis as the
same thing, why not both kinesthesia and kinesthesis as well? So there
should be three alternative spellings, not two (it does not matter if
[ae] is one character or two--it's essentially the same spelling).

But what I was looking for was "kinesthetic". Normally, variant
spellings redirect, so I was surprised not to find the definition /at
all/ when searching for Kinesthetic. What I got instead was 5 quotes,
which all showed up under Kinaesthetic within the Kinaestesis article.

Since "kinesthetic" is the main alternative spelling for the
adjective--and the most common one in the US--it should probably be
there. The trouble is, the main entry is not the adjective--it's
Kinaesthesis n., with the adjective listed as a derivative. That means
that alternative spelling for a derivative would not show up--unless it
happens to be additionally tagged somehow. To me that suggests a
structural flaw--either the search needs to be smarter or the tags that
allow it need to improve or the entries should be arranged differently
(e.g., each derivative heading on its own page, but still being linked
from the main word--this would allow listing of alternative spelling for
each derivative, as well as uncluttering a lot of articles).

But what about the missing alternative, kinesthesia? There are 61K raw
ghits in GB, nearly 900 before 1920, 14 before the earliest OED cite of
1880. Undoubtedly many are misreadings and some tags are off, but that
would be an awful lot to be /all/ wrong (all 14 early scans actually
read "anaesthesia" on the page--unsurprising if the term had been coined
in or around 1880; but American Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 1900,
certainly has an entry-- , as does Gould's Student's
Medical Dictionary, 1896-- --both with Americanized
spelling, but more on that later).

Another problem is that the 1880 quote mentions the "Kinaesthetic
Centre". The earliest quote under Kinaesthetic is from 1891--despite the
fact they are on the same page (at least, in the on-line edition). [I
guess, I was wrong--this does antedates one entry, at least.]

Searching GB, on first pass, it appeared that all the hits I came across
from the 1880s either turned out to be mis-OCR'd "anæsthesia" or were
citations to the Bastian work that's already the earliest citation.

> 1880 H. C. Bastian /Brain/ xxv. 543   We may ... speak of a Sense of
> Movement, as a separate endowment. [/Note/] Or in one word,
> Kinæsthesis. ... To speak of a 'Kinæsthetic Centre' will certainly be
> found more convenient than to speak of a 'Sense of Movement Centre'.

A second pass, with all the alternatives included (and cut off at 1880),
found dozens of hits, but most were still misreadings of "anaesthesia".
Several were mistagged (a 1922 volume tagged as 1822, a 1937 journal
tagged as 1879, etc.) In the end, only about half a dozen remained that
actually read "kinaesthetic" or "kinesthetic". But the typefaces in some
of them, at least, looked very suspicious. Upon closer examination, it
turned out that /every one of them/ was a collection of pamphlets
(apparently all from Stanford) and, in every case, the date of the first
pamphlet was misleading--every single mention of "kinesthetic" came from
much later publications, ranging from 1897 to 1962.

So it's not exactly a success story. But it did raise a few useful
questions. It also made me wonder when American scientific and medical
publications started dropping [a] from [ae] spelling. Has anyone
researched this? It's more of a typography research than lexicographic
research, but it is case of typography influencing the lexicon.


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