Two Questions for Journalist

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Fri Dec 14 19:50:32 UTC 2012

Thanks, Jerry, for your interesting posting.  I don't believe that any of the examples you mention are recent, however.  I am interested in discoveries made in the last decade or so.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Cohen, Gerald Leonard [gcohen at MST.EDU]
Sent: Friday, December 14, 2012 2:29 PM
Subject: Re: Two Questions for Journalist

Etymology has been my research area since the 1970s, and most of it has been done "the old fashioned way."
To take just a few examples, in the 1980s I wrote two books on the origin of the term "shyster," which have won approval from all scholars who have seen it. (The first book was reviewed favorably in _Language_, and IIRC in _American Speech_).  Work on this project was lengthy (at least six years, albeit not full time), and I have maintained an interest in the subject every since.  Various updates have appeared in my Comments on Etymology, and this spring I'll compile them into a unified treatment.

One of Merriam-Webster's books devotes a few pages to a summary of my treatment of "shyster", and OED (so Jesse Sheidlower informs me) will finally incorporate my work when its staff gets to the letter S. (At the moment OED says "origin unknown" and does not include the early attestations that I have in vol. 1 of my book.)  Incidentally, credit for locating the earliest, highly significant 1843 attestations, goes to Roger Mohovich, pronounced /muh-HOH-vich/, former librarian at the NY Historical Society.

Also, there's my 1991 book on the origin of NYC's nickname "The Big Apple" and the second (revised and expanded) 2011 of this book. The second edition is co-authored with Barry Popik, who made all the major discoveries on "The Big Apple" since the 1991 edition appeared.  Various other ads-l members contributed information, and due credit is of course given in the volume.  This second volume represents about 23 years of research on my part and only sightly less by Popik.

And not to forget "hot dog".  In 2004 Barry Popik, the late David Shulman, and I co-authored a book on the origin of this term.  Again, it represented decades of work on our part, and due credit is given to everyone else who contributed to the study of the term's origin.

Also not to forget: "jazz".   Researching this word is a long-term project, with numerous ads-l members contributing to the discussion. The foremost pioneer (pre-ads-l) in the study of this term was Peter Tamony,
and Richard Holbrook (also pre-ads-l) then made important contributions in the early 1970s.  In my continuing compilations of material on the term, due credit is given all around.

Fred, if the journalist you spoke to has more than a passing interest in etymology, please tell her to feel free to contact me.  I'll be happy to give her more examples of the detailed "old-fashioned" research that can go into etymology, without in any way diminishing the wonderful work now being done by the searching of data bases.

Incidentally,  I am occasionally contacted by members of the media interested in the origin of this or that word or expression, and I always draw ads-l to their attention as the indispensable venue to consult.

Gerald Cohen
P.S. Years ago Jonathan Lighter found a pre-1883 attestation of "dude" (see HDAS), and Barry Popik found an early item with a convincing etymology: from "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Fred Shapiro wrote, Friday, December 14, 2012 11:43 AM:

I am talking with a journalist about the kind of research into word-origins
 that is done on ADS-L.  She asked two questions that I would welcome help
in answering:

What are examples in recent times of important discoveries about etymology
or word-origins or phrase-origins or quotation-origins being made "the old-
fashioned way," i.e., using methods other than searching online databases?

Now that "O.K." and arguably "the whole nine yards" have had their derivations
uncovered, what are the other most significant or most interesting word
s or phrases with mysterious etymologies?

All suggestions would be welcome.  I need to get back to the journalist by

Fred Shapiro

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