searching ADS-L archives--some random thoughts

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 28 19:30:57 UTC 2010

I was searching for something in ADS-L archives (unwilling to post
something unchecked) and came across Barry Popik's post of 5 Sep 2002
that had a bunch of expression with dates of their appearance in NYT
archives. The archives, no doubt, have been updated since then, as have
Google Books. So some IDs that Popik made can be antedated rather easily.

One that struck me, in particular, was "Unaccustomed as I am to public
speaking" that Popik attributes to Eddie Cantor. I have no problem with
this attribution, but the expression goes back more than 80 years,
having been used by Grant, having made its way into a Thackeray novel,
etc. But Popik might have singled out the particular instance because of
"as I am", somewhat complicating matters.

In any case, the plain expression was even mocked in Punch, suggesting
that it was, for lack of a better word, ubiquitous.
Punch. Volume 26. 1854
p. 69/1
> An infallible oratorical rule.--It is very strange that the most
> garrulous speakers, no matter whether in public speaking or in
> private, are invariably those who are "unaccustomed to public speaking."

In fact, this is not the first time Punch went to that well.
Punch. Volume 14. 1848
The Model Bachelor. p. 243/1 [at the very bottom of the page]
> He sings a good song with a noisy chorus, and makes a speech without
> being "unaccustomed to public speaking."

A bit earlier (p. 216) there is another piece on the "Model Baby":

> It dislikes treachery in any shape, and repels the spoonful of sugar
> if it fancies there is a powder at the bottom of it. Medicine is its
> greatest horror, next to cold water.

So much for Mary Poppins and Disney...
Life. April 3, 1970.
Walt Disney's secret freakout: Another, and Surprising, Look at
"Fantasia". By William Zinsser. p. 15
> Disney, however, was no longer around. He died straight, without
> knowing that his private visions would soon become public experience,
> identified at the end with Mary Poppins, one of the straightest
> characters he ever brought to the screen.
> But was she? Mary Poppins sang an entire song to explain that "a
> spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." By then every magazine
> had visited the Haight-Ashbury district and described how LSD was
> being routinely taken in sugar cubes, and still we all thought she
> really meant sugar. It must have driven Walt. Crazy.

Right. But I digress...
The Scots magazine and Edinburgh literary miscellany, Volume 68.
December 1806
p. 939/2 [the paragraph above Resolutions]
> Willing to flatter myself that I have been so fortunate, the
> imperfections of an address, from one unaccustomed to public speaking,
> will be amply supplied by liberal indulgence ; and I trust that the
> unanimity which prevailed at our last meeting, will, on this
> interesting and affecting occasion, stamp additional value on the
> resolutions we may form."

The speaker is only identified as "Mr. Money", on the occasion of
honoring Marquis Cornwallis in Bombay on November 27, 1805. Cornwallis,
who was the Governor-General of India, died October 5. And, yes, it's
the same Cornwallis.

There are a few more hits from the 1790s, even going back to 1784, I
believe (more British parliamentary debates), but all of these appear to
be of British extraction, except one that was published in 1835, but
represents speeches from 1798.
Resolutions of Virginia and Kentucky, Penned by Madison and Jefferson,
in Relation to the Alien and Sedition Laws; and the Debates and
Proceedings in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the Same, in
December 1798. Richmond: 1835
In the House of Delegates, December 19, 1798. p. 152
> Mr. Brooke then arose, and observed, that laboring under all the
> diffidence of a person unaccustomed to public speaking would naturally
> feel, in delivering his sentiments upon so momentous an occasion as
> the present, he was sensible of the disadvantage he must have labored
> under, in delivering his sentiments upon the subject the day before ;
> and on this account, he felt more sensibly the attack made upon him by
> his colleague, and the attempt made by him to distort the
> observations, which, in the midst of his confusion and embarrassment,
> Mr. Brooke said, had fallen from him.

So the general "unaccustomed to public speaking" is a common refrain
with a long history.

But the specific citation included "as I am".

Notes&Queries is, once again, on the case.
Notes And Queries. 5th S. II. Nov. 21, 1874. p. 417
> "Unaccustomed as I am," &c. (5th S. i. 367 ; ii. 273.)--I think if Mr.
> Danby-Palmer will look again, he will find that his quotation is not
> quite relevant. Ajax, as I read the passage, does not say that he is
> "unaccustomed to public speaking," for he did his full share of this
> when occasion served, but that he was more forward to /act/ than to
> /speak/. /My/ motto, he would say, is "Facta non Verba," but that of
> Ulysses the reverse:--
> --"Quantumque ego Marte feroci,
> Quantum acie valco, tantum valet iste loquendo."
> Edmund Tew, M.A.

What is he talking about? (p. 273)

> "Unaccustomed as I am to Public Speaking" (5th S. i. 367.)--Ovid
> places Ajax in this position :--
> "Sed nec mihi dicere promptum ;"
> /Met.,/ Lib. xiii, 10
> F. Danby-Palmer

These two lead to a third, the original inquiry.
Notes And Queries. 5th S. I. May 9, 1874. p. 367/2
> "Unaccustomed as I am to Public Speaking."--I have heard it said that
> a Greek orator once began his speech with a phrase that is the exact
> equivalent of this, which one has so often heard. I have taken no
> little trouble to verify this statement, but have failed hitherto.
> K. P. D. E.

Well, then--irrespectively of what this triumvirate may think of Ovid,
Ajax or Ulysses, the statement is quite clear. The phrase in question
was not merely used, but, apparently, quite popular at the time of the
exchange (1874). Sorry, no credit to Eddie Cantor.

The phrase pops up, again and again.
Transactions of the Twenty-Seventh Session of the American Institute of
Homoeopathy. 1875
Section II. Reports of the Bureau of Materia Medica, Pharmacy and
Provings. W. McGeorge. Provings of Hamamelis Virginica.
Appendix--Discussions. p. 315 [Appears to be double-numbered as p. 889
at the top]
> William H. Holcombe, M. D., New Orleans, La.: Mr. President, as I am
> wholly unaccustomed to public speaking, I must beg the indulgence of
> the house while I make a few remarks. It is an old saying, that truth
> is always in the middle.
Memoirs of Miss Mellon: afterwards Duchess of St. Albans. By Mrs.
Cornwell Barron-Wilson. Volume 2. London: 1887. p. 158
> For once her joyous spirits failed and she merely uttered some plain
> brief expression of thanks; but her great favourite, Miss Margaret
> Trotter, being seated next to her, whispered, " Come, come, Mrs.
> Coutts, that grave reply will not do from you ; pray begin with '
> Ladies and gentlemen, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking '—and
> then you can say what you like." Mrs. Coutts instantly rose and said,
> " Ladies and gentlemen, not knowing in what terms I ought to return
> thanks, my young friend here has suggested that I should commence by
> stating /I am totally unaccustomed to public speaking :/ but it is
> possible I have had the honour of several now present as audience to
> my ' public speaking' (when I was fortunate enough to have a
> professional engagement) but a few years ago, and the others are well
> aware that anyone

With apologies to Ovid, the homeopaths and Mrs. Cotts, the popularity of
the phrase is predated.

The Husband-Hunter; or, "Das Schiksal." By Denis Ignatius Moriarty, the
author of "The Wife-Hunter". [John O'Brien Grant]. Vol. 1. Philadelphia:
1839. p. 195
> "Gentlemen," said Mrs. Mersey, rising with a graceful self-possession,
> "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I might naturally feel
> rather embarrassed in responding to the general call you have made, if
> it were not that the spirit of kindness you have so unequivocally
> manifested, gives me courage to thank you on the part of the ladies
> now present, for the very flattering manner in which our healths have
> been received ; ..."

I am tempted to cut this off, despite my usual practice of including the
full sentence--or, as it were, paragraph, as earlier texts often only
place one period per paragraph, rather than denoting the end of a
sentence. However, I spotted something that may make it worth including
the rest of it.

> ... and to assure you that, so far as I am personally concerned, I
> shall ever do all in my power to deserve the good opinion you have
> done me the honor to express. '_Deeds,_and_not_words,_' I have long
> since adopted as my motto ; and in the spirit of this motto I have
> always acted.

It seems I've apologized to Ovid prematurely! I find it highly unlikely
that the appearance of the motto both in the 1839 novel and in the
comments in 1874 Notes & Queries is accidental. My expertise in Ovid--as
much as in many other areas, far too numerous to mention--is exactly
zero. I am basically Ovid-illiterate. So I'll leave it to someone else
to say what needs to be said on that subject. However, I find it
interesting that many of the inquiries that come through ADS-L (and I
don't mean ones that I generate) appear to reflect closely those that
went through Notes & Queries quite some time ago. (e.g., the double-f


PS: A lot has happened since 2002, including rapid expansion of
GB--which did not even exist back then as a project--and Popik leaving

The American Dialect Society -

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