Wuss; Clothes horse

Anne Lambert annelamb at GNV.FDT.NET
Wed Feb 2 20:14:47 UTC 2000

"The whole slew"--that reminds me: what's the origin of "slew" in this context?

Fred Shapiro wrote:

> On Tue, 1 Feb 2000, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
> > 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?
> The average item of slang vocabulary probably exists for some years,
> perhaps for decades, before it appears in print.  The word "wuss" may well
> have been used in the 1960s, although I doubt that it was in common usage
> before the late 1970s (the earliest known citation, referring to 1979
> usage, treats it as fresh as of that time, alert collectors of slang
> didn't pick it up in the 60s or 70s, as pointed out by Barry Popik, and
> the large Nexis database has no trace of it until 1984).
> My point was not that all the people who claim to remember "wuss" from the
> 1960s are wrong, but rather that they may be wrong, that recollections of
> this sort are notoriously unreliable, and that the whole area of etymology
> is so plagued by folk-errors and gullibility and self-delusion that, if
> one assumed that all popular etymological stories were false, one would
> rarely go wrong.  In the end, printed citations, or reliable recollections
> weighed by a talented student of slang such as Jonathan Lighter, are the
> only real guide through the wilderness of misinformation.
> Oral history has its uses, but it's pretty problematic in etymological and
> other similar studies.
> 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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