[Ads-l] in the first place

Benjamin Barrett mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 24 23:22:45 UTC 2016

In "An Ancient and Proven Way to Improve Memorization; Go Ahead and Try It” (The New York Times, http://nyti.ms/1T8l9VD), Austin Frakt says, 'The locution “in the first place” is a holdover from this ancient method of memorizing speeches’, referring to memory palaces, but I don’t see any clear evidence for that.

In "In the first place" (http://bit.ly/1WMzXYN), R. Bert says that Donald Howard "inferred that it had to do with how medieval people used mental placemarks as mnemonic devices” and says that the OED cites 1639 as the earliest usage.

I Google-Booked Howard’s "The Idea of the Canterbury Tales” (http://bit.ly/1LKS6pF) and Chaucer (http://bit.ly/1RAdkSV) but did not see any direct evidence for this.

FWIW, Frakt cites “Mnemonic Devices: Classification, Characteristics, and Criteria” (http://rer.sagepub.com/content/51/2/247.short), which I can’t access, so perhaps there is something there.

BTW, the end of The NYT article has a fun quiz which is loosely based on the memory palace method.

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA

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

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