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

Baker, John JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM
Tue Dec 8 01:53:31 UTC 2015


Note that Wikipedia says that  the term mole was applied to spies in the book Historie of the Reign of King Henry VII written in 1626 by Sir Francis Bacon.  I have not confirmed this.


John Baker


-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Peter Reitan
Sent: Monday, December 7, 2015 8:16 PM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: mole = spy antedating (?)

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.ht
> > ml
> >
> > 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&f
> > ocus=searchwithinvolume&q=spy 
> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KoNAAQAAMAAJ&dq=spy+mole&focus=s
> > earchwithinvolume&q=mole 
> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uVVDAQAAMAAJ&dq=espionage+mole&f
> > ocus=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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