[Ads-l] mole = spy antedating (?)

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 8 01:16:01 UTC 2015


I do not have an additional antedating - but some additional background on how and why the word may have been taken into the language at that time.

A 1915 book about German infiltration of Belgium preliminary to its invasion of Belgium was entitled: 

The
German Mole, a Study of the Art of Peaceful Penetration.


The book was based on articles written in French in 1914.  The book uses the metaphor of a German "mole" burrowing its way under the foundations of Belgian society, so that it would implode easily when the Germans advanced.

I looked at a French dictionary of idiomatic phrases published in 1903: 
French
dictionary: Dictionnaire étymologique
de mille et une expressions propres à l'idiome français, fondé sur des faits
linguistiques et des documents exclusivement nationaux. 

The entry for 'Taupage' includes: Taupes de rempart, soldats du genie; sapeurs comme
la taupe. [Rampart moles, military engineers; sappers as  moles.]

The imagery relates to the job of military engineers, "miners and sappers" in English, who dig tunnels under the walls of a fortification and explode them from below.

Perhaps English use of the word, "mole," was influenced by French usage.

  

> Date: Thu, 3 Dec 2015 07:58:10 -0500
> From: bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
> Subject: Re: mole = spy antedating (?)
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> 
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: mole = spy antedating (?)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 
> On Wed, Dec 2, 2015 at 9:33 PM, Peter Morris wrote:
> >
> > According to fred in this post, mole = spy is known from 1922
> >
> > http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2014-July/133479.html
> >
> > I think I've found one from 1910.
> >
> > The truth is that historians have accepted these clandestine agencies as
> > part of the ordinary machinary of statecraft. The moles are always there
> > beneath the surface, and the mole-catchers are always at work to restore
> > the balance of power.
> >
> > The Spy in Modern History
> > The Athenaeum, no 4236 September 1910 (?)  p356
> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uVVDAQAAMAAJ&dq=espionage+mole&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=spy
> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KoNAAQAAMAAJ&dq=spy+mole&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=mole
> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uVVDAQAAMAAJ&dq=espionage+mole&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=mole
> >
> > Usual disclaimers about Google dating apply, but this appears to be the =
> > same article, and shows the date
> > http://tinyurl.com/pyz9kry
> 
> Confirmed by the British Periodicals database (via Proquest): date is
> Sept. 24, 1910, p. 356, col. 1.
> 
> --bgz
> 
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