Prescriptive Linguists

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jan 31 22:00:35 UTC 2008

I vividly recall seeing the "devil's fork" on the cover of _Mad_ magazine about 1970, possibly a little earlier, balanced on the finger of Alfred E. Neuman.

  I learned the name much later. Am not sure if _Mad_ called it anything at all.


Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Wilson Gray
Subject: Re: Prescriptive Linguists

It seems to me that it was a science-fiction mag whose name I'll never
be able to remember - I was once a super-fan and read at least a
half-dozen different 'zines every month - or the "National Lampoon"
that used it as a symbol, but I wouldn't bet money on it. I, too,
could have seen it in "Mad." I don't know, anymore.

Oddly enough, I never had a name for this fork-ish thing. It was a
thing completely unknown to non-intellectual* black kids. OTOH,
interestingly enough, the "blivet"/"blivit" was "ten pounds of hit in
a five-pound bag."

*In Saint Louis BE, "Intellectual" means, or meant, approximately, "a
black person who is well-read, who is able to use a close
approximation of the local _standard_ dialect, who has control of
miscellaneous information generally of no interest or use to the
average black teen-ager, and who can answer any random question thrown
at him," e.g.

Q. What is Arthur Holly Compton, the chancellor of Washington
University in Saint Louis known for, besides blocking the admission of
black students to said school?

A. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of what is now
known as the "Compton effect."

At the time, I was so lame that I knew only the dictionary definition
of the word and not the street definition, so that my denials of being
an intellectual caused me also to be regarded as charmingly modest.


On 1/31/08, Mark Mandel wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Mark Mandel
> Subject: Re: Prescriptive Linguists
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Oh, THAT! I know it as... well, various names, but the first I learned was
> "blivet" ("blivit"?), possibly from MAD Magazine. Escher, our age's great
> master of such, uses that diagram, or rather the principle, in many guises.
> On Jan 31, 2008 9:09 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> > Something filtered out the "devil's fork" illustration in my last post,
> > without what no sense makes it.
> >
> > Go here for visual aid:
> >
> > JL
> >
> --
> Mark Mandel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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