[Ads-l] "West-Corcas" (1745), circus, circle, and "Caucus"?

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Sat Sep 5 14:48:20 UTC 2015

Some "historians" see the origin of "caucus" in an article in the 19 Aug 1745 Boston Evening-Post which referred to a neighborhood in Boston called “West-Corcus.”   For a discussion of this, see:


Here J. L. Bell, correctly I believe, analyzes this piece as a satire on the itinerant preacher George Whitefield, who itinerated New England that year.  Bell also writes that he has found no place in New England called "Corcas".  He debunks the place-name, but concludes only with questions about the origin of "caucus" prompted by the article.

I come across a genealogical site that claims someone lived at "19 North West Corcus Pl, Edinburgh", citing "Census 3: 1901".


Google Maps does not seem to have a "Corcus" in Edinburgh, but it does have a "North West Circus Place", as well as other "Circus" place-names, all near, naturally, the "Royal Circus" circular road.  (GMaps refuses to find any other "corcus" locales in, I assume, our whole planet.)

Suppose the Edinburgh census rendering is a 1901 mistranscription, not a later error.  That raises the question, was "corcus" a pronunciation of "circus" in 18th-century Scotland?  And perhaps heard from Scots in Boston?  (William Douglass, living in Boston then, was derided for his "North British" accent.  Of course, however, he would not have been a Caucus participant, being a vehement Loyalist.)

"Circus" -- "a circular arena" (1791) -- well, maybe circle-like, "oblong or oval" (1546).  "A disturbance or uproar; a lively or noisy display" (perhaps too late: 1869, U.S.; but perhaps earlier circus "displays" were disputes or debates).

"Circle" -- an arrangement of seating for a meeting.

As many others have, I will throw another speculation into the arena of "caucus" -- might it have derived from a North-British pronunciation of "circus", taken from the circular seating at meetings of the Boston Caucus?  (One also has to assume a Bostonian r-less vocalization.  I don't remember whether that has been allowed or discredited for 18th-century Boston.)

Were there any Scots in the 1760s Boston Caucus?  (I believe, unfortunately, the only records of names are from the North Caucus circa 1770 and the writings of John Adams for about the same date and later.)

Has there been anyone else suggesting a derivation from "circus"?


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

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