[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
Thu Jun 25 16:05:26 UTC 2015

Comments interspersed.
      From: Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
 Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2015 10:24 AM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "Caucus" and the OED -- a new speculation about etymology [Was: Corkass [caucus] 1763 "...should give the etymology...but"]
Though I suppose there is not enough evidence yet to determine the etymology of caucus, I do think Cooke (with or without "house" added) is worth considering, as a potential source in effect disguised, intentionally and/or not. William Bentley owned a huge library and was pretty well-informed.
JSB:  Bentley's Diary is well worth reading, for the variety of his subjects alone.  Want to know about the elephants of traveling exhibitions, or about wax-works?  Or the treatment of and opinions about Irish immigrants to N. E. in his time?  Or his observations on Harvard Commencements?  Or on blacks in N. E.?

It may be worth mentioning that some early known uses are from outsiders, non-members, who may have heard, not read, of the group. John Adams noted in 1763 that "This day [I] learned that the Caucas Clubb meets...in the Garret of Tom Daws." (The club met at Daws', formerly at Cooke's?) How did he learn--from reading or hearing (from Samuel Sr.?)? 

JSB:  The 1760's Caucas Clubb is _unrelated_ to Cooke's caucus.  The latter ended in the1740's (relations with the royal governors improved from about 1745 on); Elisha Cooke Jr. himself died in 1737.  I see no reason to presume "the [1760s] club met ... _formerly_ at Cooke's".  The more likely reason for the adoption of the word "caucus" in the 1760s is recollection and honoring of Cooke's anti-establishment politics of the 1720s, his opposition to the royally-appointed governor and council.  The 1720s were seen by later Massachusettsans as an especially active period of opposition to government imposed from Britain.  John Adams "remarked that Parliament’s destruction of the[1740 land] bank 'raised a greater ferment in the province than the stamp-act [of1765] did' " (inner quotation from Adams).

JSB:  The preceding indicates why it would be so useful to find "caucus" in the 1740s or earlier.

(Whatever influence non-rhoticity may or may not have here, the letter was not excluded from the alphabet learned there.)

JSB:  My comment about non-rhoticity was -- mostly -- humorous.


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