Antedating :: journalism--and a personal note (OT) [Was: The iPad: What is a Gutenberg moment, anyway?]

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 9 17:43:42 UTC 2010

Thanks for the pointer.

I just found your post (I was not on the list in 2007 and still haven't
got in the habit of checking the archives first).

> 1791 _ Observer_ (London) 4 Dec. (Burney Collection Newspapers) We
> would call attention of all interested in journalism and literature to
> the facsimile of the first number of THE OBSERVER, dated Deceomber 4,
> 1791, which was published today. ... It is the fashion now-a-days to
> deplore the tone of modern journalism, to deride its proclivities and
> ignore its virtues, and to lament the good old days of high
> journalistic morality.

It is interesting that the passage seems to contain a comment that is
similar to several of the ones I cited--it's either a complaint about
journalism (and "journalistic morality") or a comment about the
complainers. This seems to fall in line in what I would describe as
journalism as opinionated writing for a journal. But I would be very
much interested in the surrounding text, as it would make it clear
whether the context is the same or not.

It is not my intent to question the provenance (and just about everyone
looking into this has more experience than I do), but I do have two
other questions. I am a little puzzled by the use of "facsimile". This
is the first thing that jumps out from the quotation. But, quite aside
from the suggestion of reproduction, there is the matter of spelling. I
just went through quite a bit of GB listing and found only two
publications in which "facsimile" was spelled as a single word, prior to
1860s. Both referred to reproduction of a line of writing--in one case
in an article on Bengali, in another in a manual of "old Anglo-Saxon
writing". In all other contexts (I could only go through about 250 of
the 800 some odd hits that GB listed), it appeared either as "fac
simile" or "fac-simile". Although there are quite a few volumes GB lists
with earlier dates, all the ones I checked were actual facsimilies of
earlier editions, printed in the 1860s and 1870s (although there might
have been one from 1845, it's isolated and the date is not clear). This
makes me wonder which part of the citation is from the original and
which from a later reprint--or, if the spelling is, in fact, different
in the original (which would answer this particular part of the question).

Finally, there is the issue of usage. It is possible to use "facsimile"
to represent the entire printout of a particular edition--i.e., the
facsimilies of the original master, not simply reprints of an old
edition, which would be the more common usage (and consistent with the
OED definitions). I have not encountered such use in a long time,
although I do recall seeing it (no idea where, and I certainly can't
find it now, which means that I don't know in which period it would have
been used). Neither of these issues (spelling and usage) is dispositive.
But it does make me wonder if the second part of the quoted text is a
part of the original 1791 edition or of the possibly later reproduction.
This is one of the reasons why I often cite extended passages, rather
than just the relevant snippet.

Speaking of "dispositive": I've noticed increased use of the term
outside of legal writing in more recent literature (it used to be purely
legal). Much of it comes from talking heads on politics shows on cable.
This may have something to do with the legal background of political
commentators and possibly some political bloggers. But it is also
frequently used as if it had been analyzed as "dis-positive" rather than
"dispose-itive". In a way, it is similar to misanalysis of "positivism"
as something opposite of negation, nihilism, rather than something that
is being posited, proposed. I have not looked into specific evidence and
this is just a sense of what I believe I've been reading. It would do
more than a simple search to establish this (although just a couple of
well-placed hits would address this issue). I did run a quick Google
News search and virtually every single hit among the first 50 is from a
legal case.

But the one I did find is illustrative.
Financial Times, April 8 2010
> "He speculates whether Goldman would have survived the financial
> conflagration in the fall of 2008 entirely on its own, without any
> kind of help, implicit or explicit, from the government. 'I thought we
> would, but it was a hell of a higher risk than I was happy with . . .
> As a result of actions [by the government], we were better off than we
> otherwise would have been. Was it dispositive? I don't know. I don't
> think so . . . but I don't know.' "

Another--an article from CAP--involves a clear legalism in the middle of
ostensibly a news article.
> Even if the constitutional arguments in support of birthright
> citizenship were not dispositive (which they are), one wonders why
> conservatives would choose to walk down this path of opposition.
> Neither their means (judicial activism of the highest order) nor their
> end (creation of a birth-based underclass) hews to the values
> conservatives have long claimed to embrace.

There are two more at surface level--a post by Ross Douthat on his NYT
blog and a comment on Ezra Klein's blog post at WaPo.
> These are impressively thorough documents, and you may find that many
> of your objections are addressed in their pages. Where a subject like
> this is concerned, no statistical assessment is going to be completely
> dispositive, but I am persuaded that the John Jay/N.R.B. portrait of
> the pattern of abuse — the rise from the late ’50s till 1980, and the
> drop-off since — is as rigorous as one can hope for at the moment.
> It's not a theory, it's an anecdote!
> Just having fun! I actually agree totally, but I felt the need to
> point out the reader's story was hardly dispositive.

Again, there is a split--Douthat's usage is as I suggested, the other is
closer to the legal meaning.

There have been quite a few legalisms that have migrated into the
mainstream fairly recently, so this is just one of them. Some of these
might be just perceptual (e.g., "evidenced" has a long history, even if
it may appear that its resurgence is recent). But others are quite real.


On 4/9/2010 6:51 AM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> Victor,
> First, thanks for all the great material you have been posting.  Second, note that in 2007 I posted a 1791 antedating of _journalism_, from _Observer_ (London) 4 Dec. (Burney Collection Newspapers).
> Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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