[Ads-l] Do Iowans think "caucus" is Algonquian?

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 30 00:30:29 UTC 2016

No, but all Iowans believe that guy speaks for them.

Etymonline.com lists two guesses at the source:
caucus (n.) "private meeting of party leaders," 1763, American English (New England), perhaps from an Algonquian word caucauasu "counselor, elder, adviser" in the dialect of Virginia, or from the Caucus Club of Boston, a 1760s social & political club whose name possibly derived from Modern Greek kaukos "drinking cup." Another old guess is caulker's (meeting) [Pickering, 1816], but OED finds this dismissable.
It also has an excerpt from a 1788 book that explains the term:
The word caucus, and its derivative 
caucusing, are often used in Boston. The last answers much to what we 
stile parliamenteering or electioneering. All my repeated applications 
to different gentlemen have not furnished me with a satisfactory account
 of the origin of caucus. It seems to mean,
 a number of persons, whether more or less, met together to consult upon
 adopting and prosecuting some scheme of policy, for carrying a favorite
 point. [William Gordon, "History, Rise, Progress, and Establishment of 
the Independence of the United States of America," London, 1788]

The Same book also suggested that the word was at least 50 years old, suggesting that Samuel Adams' father and business associates in the shipbuilding business in Boston would, "make a caucus".  

A dictionary written by a Scottish "Lecturer in the Academy at Edinburgh," published in Boston, and purporting to reflect the language of "polite speakers in London," published in 1777, lists the word without comment; so perhaps it was not of American Origin, after all.

Caucus, s. a private meeting to concert a plan of acting.

William Perry, The Royal Standard English Dictionary, Boston, [1777 (based on the purported date of the preface)]. HathiTrust.


> Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2016 13:47:14 +0000
> From: berson at ATT.NET
> Subject: Do Iowans think "caucus" is Algonquian?
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Joel Berson <berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Do Iowans think "caucus" is Algonquian?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Today near the beginning of the second hour (first 7 minutes or so) of "CBS=
>  This Morning" I heard an Iowan say " 'Caucus' is an Algonquian word meanin=
> g ..." .=C2=A0 One of the two origins discussed by OED2 ("not yet fully upd=
> ated"), both characterized as without any direct evidence.
> Unfortunately I did not hear what he thought it meant, and if his name was =
> displayed I missed it.=C2=A0 Perhaps someone can listen to a recording and =
> recover the missing information.
> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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