[Ads-l] bullshit detector

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 22 16:58:17 EST 2022

Excellent work, Ben.
Here are citations in 1929, 1938, and 1962 suggesting that "bull
detector" was circulating as a bowdlerized version of "bullshit
detector". Please double-check this data before using it.

In 1929 a letter published in the New York "Daily News" sarcastically
implied that a heroic story about an infantry captain was the product
of a dream. The letter writer used the pointed pseudonym "Bull

Date: November 26, 1929
Newspaper: Daily News
Newspaper Location: New York, New York
Article: Voice of the People (Letter)
Author: Bull Detector (Pseudonym)
Quote Page 23, Column 3
Database: ProQuest

[Begin excerpt]
Brooklyn: Ex-Infantry Captain, I suppose that after capturing those
132 Germans, killing those twenty-eight men and putting all those
machine guns out of action on the Somme, you fell out of bed. Hope you
weren’t hurt.
[End excerpt]

A 1938 article in a New Jersey newspaper stated that pranksters in
newspaper offices asked naïve new employees to look for 'a bull
detector to keep the "bulls" out of stories.'

Date: August 21, 1938
Newspaper: Asbury Park Sunday Press
Newspaper Location: Asbury Park, New Jersey
Section: Magazine
Article: Fools' Errands!
Author: Ronald L. Ives
Quote Page 15, Column ??
Database: ProQuest

[Begin excerpt]
The old game of kidding the greenhorn by sending him after things that
don't exist is still highly popular . . .

Newspaper and magazine offices have their own special nonexistent
things to send people after, and most of them are at least sensibly
named . . .

If you bang around the engraver too much, he’s likely to send you over
to the machine shop for a stone bender. Now, lithographer’s stones can
be bent—almost a sixteenth of an inch—but nobody wants to bend them.
They’re too likely to break.

But stone benders are only one of the many things that can’t be found
in the office. Messengers are always looking for a bull detector to
keep the "bulls" out of stories.
[End excerpt]

In 1962 Moredecai Richler used the expression "bull detector" instead
of "shit detector" or "bullshit detector" in the pages of "The
Spectator". Richler referred back to Hemingway's remark.

Date: February 23, 1962
Periodical: The Spectator
Periodical Location: London, England
Volume 208, Issue 6974,
Article: Anti-Inflationary
Author: Moredecai Richler,
Quote Page 243, Column 3
Database: ProQuest

[Begin excerpt]
(He is blessed with what Hemingway, in that famous Paris Review
interview, said no writer could do without : a built-in bull
[End excerpt]

Garson O'Toole

On Sat, Jan 22, 2022 at 2:11 AM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Mike Scott (lead singer of the band The Waterboys) posted a query on
> Twitter about the phrase "bullshit detector," which he first heard in the
> 1977 song by The Clash, "Garageland."
> https://twitter.com/MickPuck/status/1484323204843794432
> In 1958, Ernest Hemingway famously used the expression "shit-detector" in
> The Paris Review:
> ---
> https://www.theparisreview.org/back-issues/18
> Ernest Hemingway, "The Art of Fiction No. 21," interview with George
> Plimpton
> Paris Review, Vol. 18, Spring 1958
> The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof
> shit-detector.
> ---
> As for "bullshit detector," the earliest citation that looks legitimate on
> Google Books is from 1969:
> ---
> https://books.google.com/books?id=vIxBAAAAIAAJ&q=bullshit (snippet view)
> Garson Kanin, _Cast of Characters: Stories of Broadway and Hollywood_
> (1969) , p. 409
> An indispensable ace with a built-in radar-type bullshit detector.
> ---
> The next earliest cite I've found is from 1970:
> ---
> https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-land-of-the-permanent-wave-is-bud-shrakes-classic-take-on-60s-texas
> Edwin "Bud" Shrake, "The Land of the Permanent Wave"
> _Harper's_, Feb. 1970, p. 78 [ProQuest]
> Dowdy’s bullshit detector had not been functioning while wet, but now there
> was a clattering in the machinery inside his head and he cast a suspicious,
> stricken look at us.
> ---
> There's a hit on Google Books snippet view that appears to be from 1967,
> but it's actually misdated and misidentified. The Google Books record for
> the volume has the title _Theatre at Work: Playwrights and Productions in
> the Modern British Theatre: a Collection of Interviews and Essays_ (1967),
> but a search on "1973" reveals it's actually Charles Marowitz's
> _Confessions of a Counterfeit Critic: a London Theatre Notebook, 1958-1971_
> (1973).
> https://books.google.com/books?id=pzJaAAAAMAAJ&q=bullshit
> https://books.google.com/books?id=pzJaAAAAMAAJ&q=1973
> The 1973 book is available on Internet Archive. There you can see that the
> line appears in a commentary on Marowitz's April 1967 Village Voice review
> of a staging of Chekhov's _Three Sisters_.
> ---
> https://archive.org/details/confessionsofcou0000maro/page/126/mode/2up
> Charles Marowitz,  _Confessions of a Counterfeit Critic: a London Theatre
> Notebook, 1958-1971_, 1973, p. 126
> Whenever she worked, one could hear her built-in bullshit-detector, that
> most delicate of all precision instruments, ticking in the background.
> ---
> The original Village Voice review is here, and it doesn't have the
> "bullshit detector" line:
> https://books.google.com/books?id=mQNOAAAAIBAJ&pg=PA12
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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