Leatherneck [Was: antedating: jarhead]

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 12 15:25:38 UTC 2010

Tedious notes follow:

An early British ex. that supports Victor's sugg. that "leatherneck" was
specifically a sailors' word denoting a marine and not a soldier in
general.  Just when the reported exchange is supposed to have occurred is
unfortunately not clear, but the author has just finished narrating events
of the Crimean War. The implication, of course, is that "leatherneck" was
decades old in the Royal Navy:
1898  D. H. Parry *Britain’s Roll of Glory*  (London: Cassell) 52]: As a
general rule the Marines and Bluejackets are the best of friends, but in the
old days the relations were sometimes strained, and dubious compliments
often exchanged.

 "Go on, leather-neck!" quoth the seaman, with a powerful adjective, to the
marine in his scarlet coatee and stiff stock.

"Go on, you flat-footed nigger!" replies the marine to the bluejacket, with
a stronger substantive than was parliamentary, and a longing to bring down
the butt of his gun on Jack's bare toes, as he passed him at his work; which
sample of fo'cs'l courtesy I received from an ancient mariner who sailed in
the "old wooden walls" long before turret-ships were dreamed of.
"Flat-foot," as shown by HDAS, was once also a common U.S. epithet for a
bulejacket, esp. a deckhand, but it seems to have faded out before WWII.

It seems to me that like so much 19th C. naval slang, "leatherneck" probably
came to the U.S. Navy from the British, presumably after the Civil War,
since there are no known Civil War exx. of it or refs. to it.

The U.S. armed forces were so small between 1865 and 1917 that writers would
have been unlikely to have recorded "leatherneck" unless it was in extremely
common use.  (Even early British exx. are spread thin.)  Its appearance  in
Kipling's story  undoubtedly influenced the word's general circulation.

19th C. sailors may not have bothered overmuch to distinguish members of the
Marine Corps from from members of the Army. The crucial difference was not
the uniform or the organization but that sailors could handle rigging and
perform crucial actions at sea that soldiers and marines could not.
Sailors "knew the ropes." They considered themselves superior to people who
could only drill, guard, march, and shoot. And when there was shooting, it
wasn't terribly accurate.

"Soldiering" was the usu. bluejacket synonym for goldbricking, and "marine"
was an epithet equivalent to "idiot." There may not have been a felt need
for separate epithets for soldiers and marines


On Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 8:23 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Leatherneck [Was: antedating: jarhead]
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I suspect that Kipling's use of _leatherneck_ in his 1903 story (reprinted
> in at least one U.S. magazine) influenced American usage of the word. At
> the
> time, Kipling was very probably the most popular short-story writer in the
> English-speaking world.
> The first evidently independent U.S. ex. in HDAS is from 1908.
> Though the Marines garnered additional fame during the Spanish-American War
> of 1898, I have never seen the word used in that context - or in any
> American context before the reprinting of Kipling's story. By 1918,
> however,
> it was in general use.
> JL
> On Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 4:25 PM, Robin Hamilton <
> robin.hamilton2 at btinternet.com> wrote:
>  > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
> > Subject:      Re: Leatherneck [Was: antedating: jarhead]
> >
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > Part-way through the composition of this excessively long post, I
> realised
> > that it was profoundly misdirected, and that the "Victor Steinbok" to
> whom
> > it seemed to be addressed and against whom it was patterned was a lay
> > figure
> > of my own creation.  The reason for this lies partly in my admiration for
> > almost the entirety of Victor's original post, not simply in the material
> > it
> > discovers and deploys around the term "leatherneck", but because of the
> > methodological implications of Victor's writing there.   These seem to me
> > to
> > quite legitimately to both challenge the usual restrictions of the
> > dictionary elucidation of words, in drawing attention to the manner in
> > which
> > a knowledge of miltary history is necessary to even begin to understand
> > "leatherneck", and to evince a profound scepticism about the way in which
> > dictionaries are used *within dictionaries.
> >
> > Somehow, despite sharing this common ground with Victor, I seem to have
> > managed to fasten onto the relatively small area of disagreement, a
> > disagreement which could even be seen as the mirror-image of Victor's own
> > approach, extract two passages from his second post in reply to mine, and
> > use this to launch what then emerged as a quite irrelevant discourse on
> > apparently only marginally related topics.
> >
> > I could, and perhaps should, simply abandon my post at this point.  My
> only
> > excuse for continuing is that I think the issues I pursue are in some
> way,
> > if this isn't too immodest on my part, related to those in Victor's own
> > post, and that these are issues worth addressing.
> >
> > (In a sense, the question of the problematics of dictionary entries, and
> > how
> > to employ a dictionary, could even be seen as implicit in the beginnings
> of
> > Jonathan Lighter's entry on "leatherneck" in HDAS with which I began my
> own
> > response to Victor's original post.  There, Jon starts with a citation of
> > Fenimore Cooper's _The Pilot_, a passage which fails to contain the word
> > "leatherneck" itself.  How apparently alien to what a dictionary normally
> > does -- and equally, how admirable and essential in context this is.  My
> > own
> > extension of Jon's citation to greater length was made possible by the
> > freedom of the internet, in that there was no publisher breathing down my
> > neck, insisting that I truncate material to the limit to save space and
> > reduce publication costs.  If this is recognised as a factor in the
> > production of virtually any reference text, then it should become almost
> > standard practice to return to the context of any citation, and expand
> it.
> > Thus doth google and cyberspace enable us all.)
> >
> > That said, and with a reiterated apology to that Victor who is a member
> of
> > this list (and to the list itself, both those members of it who may have
> > the
> > patience to continue with me in this post, and those who may already have
> > deserted my verbosity), I will now return to my over-impassioned dialogue
> > with a "Victor Steinbok" largely of my own creation ...
> >
> > +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> >
> > > And I did come across the Farmer entry, but ignored it--not so much
> > > because it was contrary to my theory, but because it simply followed
> the
> > > entry in the 1890 slang dictionary that I did cite, and because, as you
> > > say, it appeared rather brusque. (In fact, Farmer also lists
> > > "leatherneck" as a synonym for soldier, along with a dozen other terms,
> > > including "mudcrusher" and "fly-slicer", under that entry.) Given the
> > > incestuous relationship between many of these dictionaries, I've also
> > > made clear my suspicion that the OED entry was also mistakenly based on
> > > Barere/Leland and Farmer.
> > ...
> > > I am also now more inclined to distrust Farmer and other period
> > > dictionaries--particularly when they are in conflict with earlier
> > sources.
> >
> > I'm inclined to agree with much of what's contained in the above two
> > excerpts from your post, Victor, but I'd state the conclusions to be
> drawn
> > in a totally different way.
> >
> > What does it mean to say that there is an "incestuous relationship
> between
> > many of these dictionaries," other than that Farmer and Henley draw on
> > Grose, and that their work is in turn drawn on by Partridge, a
> relationship
> > exhaustively studied by Julie Coleman in her (to date) three volumes of
> an
> > ongoing history of cant and slang dictionaries?  How is this different to
> > the situation with regard to English lexicography in general before the
> > first edition of the OED appeared, and one which won't be remedied by
> > fiddling at the edges of the current incarnation, a work not after all
> > intended to be a dictionary of cant or slang, but awaits the appearance
> of
> > the first fully-cited dictionary of slang, with regard to the United
> > Kingdom, at least.
> >
> > Dismissing these texts because they show an "incestuous relationship" is
> > all
> > too easy, and can manage to obscure what's important in the differences.
> >  It
> > would be possible, and even correct, to characterise the relationship
> > between Head's _Canting Academy_ (1673), _The New Canting Dictionary_
> > (1725), and _Bacchus and Venus_  (1737) in this fashion, but this would
> > obscure the manner in which, while drawing on Head's text, _The New
> Canting
> > Dictionary_ also extends it in quite significant ways, while _Bacchus and
> > Venus_ is not simply *indebted to _The New Canting Dictionary_  but
> > corresponds exactly to the original typeset pages of the earlier work,
> and
> > as a result has an evidential value of exactly zero.
> >
> > Even the execrable _The Slang Dictionary of New York, London, and Paris_
> of
> > 1881, which carries its debt to Matsell's _Vocabulum, or, The rogue's
> > lexicon_ of 1859 well into the realms of what even in the late nineteenth
> > century would have been considered plagiarism, has its moment of
> > significance -- why does the author of that work feel it necessary to
> > perform, among one of his few changes, a toning down of a tale Matsell
> > tells
> > in cant in order to obscure the way in which a police officer takes a
> > bribe?
> > Had standards of conduct changed between 1859 and 1881?  Or was Matsell
> > more
> > prepared to make compromises over the conduct of his officers than we
> might
> > expect?  (Not *directly a linguistic point, but Matsell the man
> inevitably
> > intersects with Matsell the lexicographer.)
> >
> > I think, to come back to Farmer, it's partly to do with the double status
> > of
> > the text.  As a dictionary, _Slang and Its Analogues_ should be treated
> > with
> > a proper degree of scepticism (though put beside his _Musa Pedestris_,
> it's
> > almost a model of scholarly decorum!), but it also exists as a text, and
> as
> > such shows that Farmer, in the late nineteenth century, a civilian
> drawing
> > presumably on a restricted knowledge of written sources, possibly even a
> > recently-issued dictionary, took "leatherneck" to mean "a soldier".
> > Approaching Farmer in this way may seem to be special pleading on my part
> > --
> > but when it comes down to it, Farmer *isn't just a
> Joe-Bloggs-in-the-street
> > of his time, but has some kind of authority -- as did Grose before him.
> >
> > Once dictionaries are considered as texts in themselves, the very aspect
> of
> > them which Victor quite rightly draws attention to, their
> interdependence,
> > becomes a positive aspect.  The five editions of Grose, in 1785, 1788,
> > 1796,
> > 1811, and 1823, show the increasing prominence of the term "blowen"
> > (meaning
> > among other things "someone's particular wench") across the stretch of
> > texts.  Subordinate to its earlier variant of "blowing" in the 1785
> > edition,
> > "blowen" gradually becomes more prominent in the course of the three
> texts
> > edited by Grose himself, before virtually exploding in the first edition
> > not
> > to be directly edited by Grose, that of 1811, both as a headword and more
> > especially as an element of illustrative quotations to other headwords.
> > (Though it has to be said that Grose, in his character as poet rather
> than
> > dictionary-maker, is more innovative in practice than precept, opting
> > firmly
> > to use "blowen" rather than "blowing" in a poem published postumously in
> > _The olio_ of 1792.)  Even the thoroughly derivative edition by Pierce
> Egan
> > in 1823 has its part here -- one of Egan's few innovations is to note the
> > term "blone", a Scottish variant of the word which Egan took from the
> text
> > and glossary of David Haggart's _Life_ published only two years before,
> > shortly after young David had been hanged at Edinburgh.  Egan is thus
> seen
> > to be sharper than he is sometimes given credit for, and the distribution
> > of
> > Haggart's _Life_ instanced.
> >
> > A dictionary citing *from a dictionary is performing a very different act
> > from a dictionary citing from any other text.   All too often, as Victor
> > points out, such a thing can be an instance of parasitism, but this need
> > not
> > always be so.  On the simplest level, really a commonplace, a dictionary
> > most probably records already existing usage, and this should be taken
> into
> > account.  Earlier dictionary makers may also be more obviously
> > self-interested that is commonly the case today.  James Hardy Vaux
> glossing
> > "blowen" as a prostitute in 1809 or 1812 introduced an wholly false
> stress
> > on the term, even as it was used in his own time.  Whether Vaux's attempt
> > to
> > present himself in his _Memoirs_ as a *reformed criminal, and thus emerge
> > as
> > holier-than-thou in his treatment  many of the terms he glosses, should
> be
> > treated as a flaw, or an example of how words are used by Vaux, is of
> > course
> > open to argument.
> >
> > The failure of a present day dictionary to include the term "leatherneck"
> > would rightly be considered a failure by omission; the absence of
> > "leatherneck" in Hobson-Dobson should be considered a datum.
> >
> > As to the OED's reliance on previous dictionaries when it comes to slang
> > and
> > cant terminology, I am inclined to say, "Would that they had done so
> more!"
> > The OED's coverage in this area could be improved at a stroke by
> replacing
> > whatever dependence it shows on Partridge's _Dictionary of Slang and
> > Unconventional English_ by reference to his later _Dictionary of the
> > Underworld_.  I have long since passed the point of bafflement as to why
> > there is an almost religious reverence for Partridge's earlier work, and
> an
> > unnerving avoidance of even admitting that the later, more fully cited
> text
> > even exists.  Perhaps it has something to do with the title -- A
> Dictionary
> > of Slang and Unconventional English sounds almost respectable, whereas a
> > Dictionary of the Underworld ...  Criminals as the Undeserving Poor of
> the
> > verbal otherworld, wandering beggars and cheerful vagabonds inhabiting an
> > idyllic rural neverwhere, who are acceptable when pickpockets and
> cutpurses
> > are shunned.
> >
> > Why am I not surprised?
> >
> > I realise, Victor, that part of what has happened with this email is
> that,
> > if it's not too presumptuous of me to say so, I agree with 95% of what
> you
> > said in your original post, and was deeply impressed by both the content
> > and
> > some of the methodological implications you raise there -- distrust of
> > dictionaries and extension of dictionaries among these.
> >
> > What I seem to have done is take that 95% of agreement as if it were
> read,
> > and focus on the 5% where I diverge from you.  I should have begun by
> > saying
> > how much I enjoyed, appreciated, and was enlightened by your post on
> > "leatherneck".  If I didn't start with that observation, at least I can
> end
> > with it.
> >
> > Robin
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list