Two Questions for Journalist

Fri Dec 14 23:55:45 UTC 2012

        Perhaps I should have said that modern computer databases "found evidence strongly supporting" the likely derivation from "jasm," since HDAS (and perhaps others?) had already identified it as one possible source.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Friday, December 14, 2012 5:58 PM
Subject: Re: Two Questions for Journalist

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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> 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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