Ologies and Isms: a Michael Quinion festschrift (from GAT)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Sep 30 20:18:03 UTC 2003

Someone has honored Michael Quinion by taking his "new" book from the shelf here, so I haven't been able to check what he may have had on the words "ism" and "ology".  I don't think that I have posted this stuff here before.

        Symmsonianism.  This, the youngest member of the family of isms. . . .  Commercial Advertiser, February 3, 1826, p. 2, col. 3.  Isms is in OED from 1680, but the earliest American source is 1864 (J. R. Lowell).

        Progress of the Ologies.  [Phrenology] is one of the most important Ologies of the day.  The Herald, February 3, 1837, p. 2, col. 2  OED has ology from 1811, but the earliest American source is 1972!

        They may talk of Far-Downism, Corkonianism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and all the other isms which are supposed to lead to these outrages. . . .  New York Commercial Advertiser, May 3, 1838, p. 2, col. 5

Symmes (not Symmson) was a geologist who believed that the earth was hollow and inhabited inside, with an opening near the North Pole.  Despite the obviously batty nature of this idea, he was in the news for about a decade, lecturing and pleading for money to finance an expedition to look for the opening.

I have debated "Far Down" and its meaning with Jonathon Green, my impression being that it refers to Irish Protestants, his that it refers to men from County Down -- if I do not misremember his thoughts.  Recently I saw a dissertation on the Irish of New York City that derived the term from an Irish phrase referring to their dark complexion (by Irish standards).  I've mislaid the reference and need to dig it up again.  (The dissertation was not by our sometime comrade Prof. Cassidy, who derives everything from the Irish.)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Quinion <TheEditor at worldwidewords.org>
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 12:56 pm
Subject: Re: New Michael Quinion Book

> > I hope this is not an inappropriate posting, but I thought
> people on
> > this list would be interested that Library Journal has a very
> > favorable review of Michael Quinion's new book, Ologies and
> Isms: A
> > Dictionary of Word Beginnings and Endings. The review concludes:
> "Even> if you think you know the English language, you will learn
> a thing or
> > two from this little volume. Easy to use, small enough to carry
> > around, and chockfull of useful information, this book is for anyone
> > who truly loves language."
> >
> > Congratulations, Michael!
> Thank you! I was amused by the subject line, as the book's been out
> over a year in the UK and nine months in the US! But it's still
> selling well (even better after that review came out).
> --
> Michael Quinion
> Editor, World Wide Words
> E-mail: <TheEditor at worldwidewords.org>
> Web: <" target="l">http://www.worldwidewords.org/>

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