Two Questions for Journalist

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 14 22:58:12 UTC 2012

Actually, HDAS II suggested (or at least linked) "jasm" in the pre-Internet


On Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 3:53 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Two Questions for Journalist
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> There is often a combination of manual and computerized searching.  It was
> old-fashioned searching that found that "jazz" came into being in
> California, not New Orleans or Chicago, but it was modern computer
> databases that found the likely derivation from "jasm."  "Hot dog" was
> found with manual searches, but computer searches pushed the date back
> earlier and showed that Yale did not have primacy.
> I believe that Barry Popik's work on "Windy City," showing that the term
> does derive from wind and not blustery braggadocio, was originally done
> manually.  Barry could probably add any number of examples.
> For still mysterious etymologies, I would certainly include "the whole
> nine yards," even though there has been a lot of progress made recently.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of Cohen, Gerald Leonard
> 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
> Sunday.
> Fred Shapiro
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