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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 8 02:05:59 UTC 2015

Thanks Peter, Peter, Ben, and John. Here is an 1885 citation with a
simile depicting conspirators against the Czar as moles.

[ref] 1885 June 25, Youth's Companion, Volume 58, The Empress of
Russia by Hon. Carl Stien de Bille, Quote Page 257, Column 1,
Published by Perry Mason & Co. Boston, Massachusetts.


[Begin excerpt]
Alexander III. of Russia not only succeeded to the power, but also to
the dangers and horrors, of his assassinated father's throne. So far
no open attempt has been made to take his life, but it is well-known
that the conspirators are still abroad, that they work, like moles, in
the dark, and that, in order to protect the Czar, a most penetrating,
never-slacking vigilance has to be exercised. The Emperor of all the
Russias is, in fact, more of a prisoner than of a sovereign.
[End excerpt]

Back in 2014 Fred pointed out a passage written by Francis Bacon that
contained an interesting reference to moles (as Peter Morris noted).
Here is the link to the ADS archives:


The statement by Bacon was reprinted many times over the years. The
1891 citation below contained the passage about moles and included a
reference to "spials". A footnote indicated that "spials" were
"spies". So the passage was clearly connected to the domain of
espionage circa 1891:

Year: 1891
Title: Selections in English Prose from Elizabeth to Victoria (1580-1880)
Section: Francis Bacon
Quote Page 85
Compiler: James M. Garnett (James Mercer Garnett)
Publisher: Ginn & Company, Boston, Massachusetts


[Begin excerpt]
As for his secret spials, [21] which he did employ both at home and
abroad, by them to discover what practices and conspiracies were
against him, surely his case required it; he had such moles
perpetually working and casting to undermine him. Neither can it be
reprehended; for if spials be lawful against lawful enemies, much more
against conspirators and traitors.

Footnote [21] spies
[End excerpt]

The pertinent statement by Francis Bacon was highlighted in 1903 by an
author who was attempting to establish a connection between Bacon and
Shakespeare. In the following excerpts "moles" were identified as
spies. The author William A. Sutton compared the use of the term
"mole" by both Bacon and Shakespeare:

[ref] 1903 May, The New Ireland Review, Volume 19, Article:
Shakespeare Studies in Baconian Light, Author: William A. Sutton,
S.J., Start Page 153, Quote Page 154 Published by New Ireland Review
Offices, Dublin, Ireland. (Google Books Full View)[/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
In his "History of Henry VII" he makes as frequent use of this
metaphor as he does of theatrical allusions, the frequency of which is
altogether remarkable. A very suggestive instance is where he says
that Henry employed spies, because "he had such moles perpetually
working and casting to undermine him." Compare with this Hamlet's
words to the ghost:--

 Well said old Mole cans't work i' the earth so fast?
 A worthy pioner! (I. v.)
[End excerpt]

In the 1907 citation below individuals who were acting as spies on
behalf of the Inquisition were called moles in a simile:

[ref] 1907, Vesalius, Reformer and Martyr of Science: A Historical
Sketch by Prof. Charles Born, Act V, Scene I, Unnumbered Page,
Published in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books Full View)[/ref]


[End excerpt]
That monster is everywhere and I am now of the same opinion as
you--that the Inquisition has spread its snares and extended its
espionage over all Europe; everywhere we encounter their spies, every
exponent of independent thought is hunted to death. Like moles the
agents of the Inquisition ceaselessly engage in their nefarious work,
until suddenly and unexpectedly the strong and merciless arm of the
Inquisition reaches out of the dark and seizes its victim. From it
there is no escape.
[End excerpt]


On Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 8:53 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: mole = spy antedating (?)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Note that Wikipedia says that  the term mole was applied to spies in the bo=
> ok Historie of the Reign of King Henry VII written in 1626 by Sir Francis B=
> acon.  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
> Subject: Re: mole =3D 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 invasio=
> n of Belgium was entitled:=20
> 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 th=
> e metaphor of a German "mole" burrowing its way under the foundations of Be=
> lgian society, so that it would implode easily when the Germans advanced.
> I looked at a French dictionary of idiomatic phrases published in 1903:=20
> French
> dictionary: Dictionnaire =E9tymologique
> de mille et une expressions propres =E0 l'idiome fran=E7ais, fond=E9 sur de=
> s faits linguistiques et des documents exclusivement nationaux.=20
> The entry for 'Taupage' includes: Taupes de rempart, soldats du genie; sape=
> urs 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.
>  =20
>> Date: Thu, 3 Dec 2015 07:58:10 -0500
>> From: bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
>> Subject: Re: mole =3D spy antedating (?)
>> ---------------------- 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 =3D spy antedating (?)
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> ---------
>> On Wed, Dec 2, 2015 at 9:33 PM, Peter Morris wrote:
>> >
>> > According to fred in this post, mole =3D 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=20
>> > agencies as part of the ordinary machinary of statecraft. The moles=20
>> > are always there beneath the surface, and the mole-catchers are=20
>> > always at work to restore the balance of power.
>> >
>> > The Spy in Modern History
>> > The Athenaeum, no 4236 September 1910 (?)  p356=20
>> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3DuVVDAQAAMAAJ&dq=3Despionage+mole&=
> f
>> > ocus=3Dsearchwithinvolume&q=3Dspy=20
>> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3DKoNAAQAAMAAJ&dq=3Dspy+mole&focus=
> =3Ds
>> > earchwithinvolume&q=3Dmole=20
>> > https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3DuVVDAQAAMAAJ&dq=3Despionage+mole&=
> f
>> > ocus=3Dsearchwithinvolume&q=3Dmole
>> >
>> > Usual disclaimers about Google dating apply, but this appears to be=20
>> > the =3D same article, and shows the date http://tinyurl.com/pyz9kry
>> Confirmed by the British Periodicals database (via Proquest): date is=20
>> Sept. 24, 1910, p. 356, col. 1.
>> --bgz
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>  =09=09 =09   =09=09 =20
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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