"upset" redux

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Jul 6 22:50:32 UTC 2013

The column (http://on.wsj.com/upsetbz) was behind the paywall, but now
it's free.

On Sat, Jul 6, 2013 at 12:32 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> I've recently started a new language column for the Wall Street Journal called
> "Word on the Street," focusing each week on a word in the news and its history.
> My first column was on the use of "cyber" as a noun (http://on.wsj.com/cyberbz),
> and my second, for this Saturday's paper, is on the sporting usage of "upset"
> (http://on.wsj.com/upsetbz). I also talked about "upset" on the NPR show "Here
> & Now":
> http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/07/05/wimbledon-word-upsets
> For this column I relied on the research by our own George Thompson back in
> 2002:
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0211B&L=ADS-L&D=0&I=-3&P=10058&F=P
> I didn't manage to antedate George's 1877 cite of "upset" used as a noun, but I
> did find relevant horse-racing cites for the verb going back another couple of
> decades. I believe these match the "defeat unexpectedly" meaning rather than
> describing horses literally toppling over, or figuratively upsetting
> calculations or expectations.
> ---
> 1857 _Spirit of the Times_ 5 Sept. 355/1 At the York August meeting, there were
> only four runners for the Chesterfield Handicap of 208 sovs., one mile, and the
> favorite, Ellermire, 5 yrs., 7st. 121b., was upset by the Dipthong colt, 3 yrs.
> 6st. 2lb.
> ---
> 1867 _Turf, Field, and Farm_ 7 Sept. 146/4 Throughout the day the fielders had
> the best of it, as only two favorites won, while many which were heavily backed
> were upset.
> ---
> 1868 _Turf, Field, and Farm_ 7 Aug. 515/3 In nearly every race the favorite was
> upset. [from _London Sportsman_ 25 July]
> ---
> The column also mentions the interesting speculation from Dorothy Ours, author
> of "Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning," that Upset, the horse that upset Man
> o' War, may have been so named because of the word's political connotations --
> Upset having been foaled by the mare Pankhurst (after the family of British
> suffragettes), who was in turn sired by Voter. At the very least there may have
> been a double entendre in the horse's naming, rather than simply some sort of
> onomastic determinism at work.
> On a side note, it's interesting to see that the horse doing the upsetting in
> the 1857 cite was named Dipthong, suggesting a long history for the misspelled
> version of "diphthong" noted by Neal Whitman for its often pejorative use:
> http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/dictionary/oy-you-diphthong/
> --bgz

Ben Zimmer

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

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