Wuss; Clothes horse

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Feb 1 22:18:38 UTC 2000

On Tue, 1 Feb 2000, Greg Austin wrote:

> As a professional historian, I find this approach flawed.  True, memories are
> not exact, but they are not totally unreliable either.  To date a word's time
> origin accurately primary source material would have to be searched: diaries
> and letters of '60's teens would be a good place to start.  When a large
> number of people remember something, it is reasonably safe to assume that
> collective memory has some basis in fact.  Popular vocabulary in the sixties
> was very dynamic.  Wuss was a grade school term and missed by the media until
> those grade school kids carried the term into young adulthood.  I believe the
> only thing you have shown is the inadequacy of your reference material.

You are neglecting the fact that certain areas seem to bring out the worst
in people with respect to accurate recollection, and the fact that on
certain topics people tend to love colorful stories regardless of their
lack of factual basis.  Millions of people will swear on a stack of Bibles
that Hamlet says "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well."  But that doesn't
make it true.

If "wuss" was so truly widespread in the 1960s, someone should be able to
come up with some hard evidence of its use.  If Jonathan Lighter or Barry
Popik or David Shulman or Jesse Sheidlower or Jim Rader tells me it was
used in the 1960s, I will pay them heed.  Not so with people who have
anecdotal recollections, however strongly affirmed.

Fred R. Shapiro                             Coeditor (with Jane Garry)
Associate Librarian for Public Services     TRIAL AND ERROR: AN OXFORD
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            ANTHOLOGY OF LEGAL STORIES
Yale Law School                             Oxford University Press, 1998
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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