[Ads-l] words connected to a single provenance

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 30 11:56:12 EDT 2018

"star-crossed" might be an example of the desired type.

Geoff mentioned the "collective memory" in his most recent message on
this topic. If we explore this "collective memory" by examining
Wikipedia (a crude proxy) we find that the entry for "star-crossed"
begins by stating that "star-crossed lovers" was coined in
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". If we assess the etymological
""collective memory" by examining the OED we find that the first
citation for "star-crossed" is 1597, "Romeo & Juliet:

A paire of starre-crost Louers tooke their life.

Yet, when we probe the "collective memory" by Googling we discover
that the first match is a Wikipedia entry for a television series.

[Begin excerpt]

Star-Crossed (TV series) - Wikipedia

Star-Crossed is an American science fiction romantic teen drama
television series created by Meredith Averill.[1][2][3] Star-Crossed
premiered on The CW on February 17, 2014.[4] On May 8, 2014, The CW
cancelled Star-Crossed after one season.

[End excerpt]

The series only survived for a year, so it may not have left a strong
impression. I do not know what young people think of when they hear
"star-crossed". A poll would be helpful. Maybe some young people think
of the doomed lovers in the book (and later movie) "The Fault in Our
Stars" (2012) by John Green. Interestingly, this title phrase can be
traced back to a different work by Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"
instead of "Romeo and Juliet".

The linkage of a word to a famous speech or literary work seems to be
fragile. A popular song or television series could obliterate previous
historical associations, I would imagine.

Back in 2012 Nancy Friedman remarked (on this mailing list) that the
tragic connotation of "star-crossed" was occasionally being displaced
by a favorable connotation.



On Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 1:10 AM Geoffrey Nunberg <nunbergg at gmail.com> wrote:
> First, I think “provenance” was absolutely mot injuste to use here. What’s notable about ‘infamy’ is that it been around for centuries but is associated by most speakers who are familiar with it today with its use in a single context.  That distinguishes it both from well-known quotations and words and proper names associated with the people who coined them, like Churchill’s “Iron Curtain,” or “authorisms."  “Elementary” seems to fit the bill. So do “valediction” and “slouching.”  (I mentioned this to a friend who said, “Well, until I was about seventeen I associated ‘dukedom’ exclusively with Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl.”)
> The reason I asked is that it seems to me that FDR’s speech did a lot to put ‘infamy’ back in circulation for a while. It was a pretty obscure word at the time (Google ngrams shows a 90 percent decline from 1800 to 1940, and Safire notes that it was "It was an unfamiliar word to most people”). But FDR’s speech was heard by 60m people, in 80 percent of American households, and the phrase almost instantly became a shorthand for the Pearl Harbor attacks and then a cliche to trot out for a calamity of any size, particularly when truncated to “day of infamy.”
> My theory is that the spike inhibited the reanalysis of ‘infamous’ as ‘in’ + ‘famous’, with ‘in’ as a kind of intensifying prefix as many people take it to be in ‘inflammable’. (The logic is laid out in a scene from Three Amigos https://is.gd/36xebD). I think it’s unlikely that anyone who is familiar with FDR's use of ‘infamy' would be tempted to assume that ‘infamous’ is other than pejorative. So the spread of the newer usage is a sign that those words, not surprisingly, have been slipping from the collective memory. This isn’t to say that people who don’t make the FDR association will necessarily get ‘infamous’ wrong, but that the diminishing number of ones who do will get it right.
> (BTW, I was surprised to see that the ‘infamous’ misuse isn’t listed in MWDEU or other usage books until pretty recent--Strunk and White don’t mention it, nor does AHD1, Morris’s Harper Dict of Contemporary Usage, or the Camb Book of Eng Usage. I don’t exactly when it was designated a bugbear, but my sense is that if it had been common in the 1950s and 60s, somebody would have thrown a hissy fit and Ward Gilman would have included it in MWDEU—he didn’t miss many of these.)
> Geoff
> From: Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject: Re: words connected to a single provenance
> Date: August 29, 2018 at 2:02:22 AM PDT
> As to what may or may not fit the request by Geoffrey Nunberg, whose example, infamy, came from a speech* (in a sentence), such may be up to him--yes, kemosahbee?
> Stephen
> *[My Mother (then a secretary in the Veterans Administration congressional liaison office) stood at the back of the House floor that Dec. 8.]
> **
> I’ve been trying to come up with words in more-or-less general use that are
> associated with a single prominent historical or literary provenance —
> not hapax legomena, but items like “infamy,” which for most people
> who know it brings FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech to mind but which is used
> in other contexts as well.
> Geoff
> <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=DwIFaQ&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=6sOAYJAOREGRA-zwn3y9Knmgl7bm9pFGYoKV2c78O04&s=EjOCQScxDZfNnhXLYQxKRHKnkZKWx0MWzGBmkGFJp7c&e=>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> Geoffrey Nunberg
> Adjunct Full Professor
> School of Information
> University of California at Berkeley
> Berkeley CA 94720
> ph. 510-643-3894
> http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~nunberg/
> nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list