"A Sucker Born Every Day" (Feb. 5, 1883)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Dec 17 11:09:03 UTC 2002

Scott Sadowsky wrote:
"From this perspective, antedating based on single examples (to take on a
favorite ADS-L pastime) is really quite pointless.  Of course, if the goal
is to assemble everyone's antedatings of a given word at some point and
work from there, then it makes some sense.  But this approach is utterly
hit-and-miss, and to my mind the only responsible reaction to reports of
such data points is to file them away until there are enough to begin to
draw at least moderately sound conclusions.
"Personally, if I were an antedater I'd stop reading old texts, start OCRing
them, assemble them into corpora when I had a couple million words, and
then knock off a five or ten thousand antedatings in a week or two."

   I disagree.  You have to examine each text critically, post results, and
discuss them,  Stop reading old texts and start OCRing them?  Some points
about that:

1. COPYRIGHTS--Much work cannot be put on a database until the copyright
expires.  We have to read the sources immediately where we can find them, or
you'll have a long wait for that Caesar salad.
2. COMPILING--Yes, it's being assembled at various places, from the OED to
Merriam-Webster to DARE.  We try to improve what's already there, working
with various different deadlines.  We use all available tools to do so.  It
is not hit-or-miss, nor is it pointless.  Nor can thousands of words and
phrases be done in a week or two.
3.  OCR IS NOT NEARLY PERFECT--The number of false hits is sometimes quite
large.  For "G.O.P," for example, I anticipated false hits to be very large
for this three-letter term (especially in classified pages), so I added other
terms in a quick search, such as "grand old party."  This resulted in my not
finding the first hit, but I didn't know that it was needed this week!  In
the case of AMERICAN PERIODICAL SERIES online, early false hits are 90%, s
ometimes 100% for short words like "jazz."  So even if all material is
OCRed--which is far from being the case--you still need to interpret it.  And
if you get back a thousand "big apple" results, do you have what you want?
4. SPELLINGS VARY--A lot of the food terms I research are originally from
other nations.  Take "steak tartar."  Or is it "steak tartare," or "steak a
la tartare," or "steak a la tartar," or "beefsteak a la tartare," or
"beefsteak a la tartar," or "beoufsteak a la tartare," or maybe it's even
"sirloin a la tartar"?   Is it "posole" or "pozole"?  And is that 1896
"brownie" really the "brownie" we now know?  You look at OED and M-W, then
check all forms in all the relevant databases.  This takes a long while.
Then you check out the books and magazines for the geographic area (Mexico?)
or topic area (mushrooms?) where it might be.  And there are tons of books
and magazines, most all that have to be done by hand.  This can be an even
longer process than the database searching, but you at least get the spelling
when it's there in an index as "kolace."
5. FORMS VARY--Is it "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" or
"Winning isn't everything in pro football, it's the only thing"?  Is it "from
soup to nuts"?  What about "soup to walnuts"?  Or maybe it's something else
that doesn't use either "soup" or "nuts"?  Which brings me to the item below.

    To summarize, something like the British National Corpus is a tool, and
one tool only.  It is not Fred Shapiro.



   This is earlier than my NEW YORK TIMES cite.  It's "every day," not "every
minute."  And, as pointed out before, P. T. Barnum didn't say it.

   5 February 1883, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, pg. 4, col. 4:
_"A Sucker Born Every Day"_
_The Game in This and Other Cities--Harry Withrow's Arrest in Boston._
   A reporter asked a well-know bunko man one day how it was that people
still continued to be swindled by the same old process when the papers are
constantly warning them.  The reply was that there was a sucker born every
day.  And so it seems, for the old time scheme continues to be worked with
success all over the country.



   We now have several 1883 citations in the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER.  Still,
when I present them to the TODAY show to correct them, no one listens.
   The first obvious one following that 16 January 1883 citation appears to
be this:

   8 February 1883, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, pg. 2, col. 7:
_The Police, Fire and Signal System_
   _of the Windy City._

   Earlier in the 16 January 1883 editorials, the word "footstool" was used.
Perhaps the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER was thinking of this recent piece that it ran
on 6 January 1883, pg. 11, col. 4:

_Only a Breeze--The Windiest Place on the Footstool._
(Laramie (Wy.T.) Boomerang.)
   Among the many things which have tended to make Cheyenne noted all over
the world is the fact that it is the windiest spot on the footstool.



    As I said, I'll be in Africa.

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