Wuss; Clothes horse

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Feb 2 00:53:48 UTC 2000


This is a funny attitude. First, nearly every lexicographer I know admits
that the first written citation is doubtless "years" after a word came into
currency. Second, as other list-members have hinte at, although colorful
coloring is doubtless true of much of what we all report, this attitude
across the board would surely play hell with all oral history. Do you mean
to junk the whole slew?

(Of course, there is also value to studying what a "collective memory" is,
even if it is wholly false, but aI will not push my own hobby-horses onto

dInIs (who always reports only what he remembers exactly as it happened)

>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
>> 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
>> 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

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at pilot.msu.edu
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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