RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Thu Feb 3 15:51:03 UTC 2000

I have to agree with Jesse (and Lighter) on this right down the line. This is
not to say that reminiscence is not valued, only that the written record is
the only sure proof. Of course both reminiscence AND the written record need
to be interpreted: Even if reminiscence is accurate, it could be the result
of some coterie usage that was certainly not widespread. Likewise (as I have
argued elsewhere about GAY), even a written citation may not really be
evidence of anything other than the lexicographer's projecting contemporary
meanings onto an earlier usage.

In a message dated 2/3/2000 8:29:32 AM, jester at PANIX.COM writes:

<< I am somewhat surprised that a professional historian would be
so contemptuous of the genuine historical record that three-
decade-old reminiscences would be viewed as preferable to real
data. People who are interested in slang have already searched
those places likely to yield '60s youth slang and not found
examples of _wuss,_ and as we have seen, the word is not as
universal in peoples' memories as was suggested.

I don't want to get into an discussion about how close the
earliest written attestation of slang terms are to their
actual first use; such a discussion would never end. I do
think, though, that any twentieth-century slang term that is
so common as to be widely remembered decades later, would be
recorded somewhere not too long after the fact. There are
_a lot_ of places to look for slang.

Re _wuss,_ the earliest example in the HDAS files is the same
1981 quote from Crowe's _Fast Times at Ridgemont High_ that
Fred Shapiro posted previously. I am relatively sure I don't
have any earlier examples in my own files at home.

My personal recollections aren't relevant, since I'm too
young--_wuss_ was certainly in use in my high school in the
early 1980s. Jon Lighter, however, was in New York through
the early '70s and was very actively collecting any new
slang from the late '60s onwards, and he reports that he
hadn't heard _wuss_ until the mid-1980s (he recorded the
Crowe example before he had heard it himself), and when he
did hear it people attributed it only to the late '70s.
Memories vary, but if Lighter says that it was new to him
in the mid-'80s, that means that he absolutely didn't hear
it before then.

Jesse Sheidlower
Oxford English Dictionary
<jester at panix.com>
</XMP> >>

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