[Ads-l] "Caucus" and the OED -- a new speculation about etymology [Was: Corkass [caucus] 1763 "...should give the etymology...but"]

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Wed Jun 24 19:54:42 UTC 2015

Comments interspersed.

      From: Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
 Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2015 5:51 AM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "Caucus" and the OED -- a new speculation about etymology [Was: Corkass [caucus] 1763 "...should give the etymology...but"]
"The celebrated Dr. Bentley, an enthusiastic admirer of the two Elisha Cookes, fancied that the word Caucus was derived from Cooke's-house, in which popular meetings were frequent.*" [The house location is given in the footnote.]
A Memoir Biographical and Genealogical of Sir John Leverett...by C. E. Leverett (Boston, 1856) p. 97. I guess the celebrated one is William Bentley, D.D. (1759-1819).

JSB:  No doubt, although from what I know about him I can't speak for his politics.

If this proposal is correct, then some of the many spellings may be, in part, intentionally obscure...? 
I now see (not surprisingly in this case) that the 1763 Corkass article had been noticed before, in 2013, here:
There J. L. Bell gives several etymology proposals--including Cooke's house--but rejects them.  "All of those theories about “caucus” fail because the word started out as “corcas” and gained its current form only after being filtered through Boston accents." He apparently claims that the 1760 spelling of corcas is the correct and original one. It is the earliest presently known for sure (i.e. if Cooke's house is discounted as not proven), but it seems to me a faulty assumption that corcas must be the original. 

JSB:  Given what I know about spelling in the Boston newspapers of the 18th century, I'd trust John Adams ("caucus").  But I don't know of any evidence that favors any one of the three 1760s spellings.
Anyway, aren't Bostonians a-rhotic?  :-)


Stephen Goranson


From: American Dialect Society ...on behalf of Joel Berson ...
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 11:37 AM...
Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "Caucus" and the OED -- a new speculation about etymology [Was: Corkass [caucus] 1763 "...should give the etymology...but"]

When Stephen wrote about "caucus" on 28 Oct 2007, the OED's earliest quotation was 1763, as its etymology said.  The etymology still says "earliest ... 1763", but although the entry has "not yet been fully updated", there now is a 1760 quotation.

The 1760 quotation, also from a newspaper (and provided by Stephen on 29 Oct 2007), has "corcas".  A slightly earlier 1763 quotation than Stephen's has "caucus" -- but it's from the well-educated John Adams.

It is certain that a caucus was meeting in the 1720s, led probably by Elisha Cooke Jr.  But it's not the same cabal as that of the 1760s.  As I wrote on 28 Oct (in part):  "... not the same group.  Cooke's faction and strength had dissipated around 1740, there were generally good relations between the Assembly and the governor between 1745 and 1760, and the pre-Revolutionary caucus was ... a new group ...".

For another stab at etymology, "It is said that the people of Massachusetts at one time believed the word "caucus" to "be a corruption of "Cooke's house"."  From something I previously had no knowledge of -- Lee Edward Pyne, "THE POLITICAL CAREER OF ELISHA CCOKE JR., 1715-1737", Boston University, Master's Thesis, 1934, p. 7.  Accessible from:

I can find no footnotes, so which people of Massachusetts said the above I cannot say.  There is an annotated bibliography, but since p. 7 has the only instance of "caucus" I do not intend to read it.

Note that the 1760 quotation refers to "The new and grand Corcas", perhaps to distinguish it from "The old and true Corcas" of the 1720s.

If Stephen wants to accomplish a significant service to the OED and historians, he will find a use of "caucus" from that earlier period.  :-)

 From: Stephen Goranson ...
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 6:14 AM
Subject: [ADS-L] Corkass [caucus] 1763 "...should give the etymology...but"

"An Impartial Account of the Conduct of the Corkass
By a late Member of that Society.
It may be expected that I should give the etymology of the word CORKASS, and some account of the rise of the Society, but as they keep no records, and their oral accounts are so various and dark, it is needless to mention them...; only I wou'd observe they talk much of antiquity.
At present the heads of this venerable Company meet some weeks before a Town-Meeting and consult...."

Stephen Goranson

Headline: By Printing the following You Will Enlighten Many of Your Townsmen, and Oblige All Who Are Willing to act for Themselves;
Boston Evening-Post [America's Historical Newspapers]; 03-21-1763; Issue: 1437; col 2 Page: [2]

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list