[Ads-l] a mysterious term, 1792

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Thu Mar 31 14:31:25 UTC 2016

A Dutch (email) acquaintance who used to be into 18th-century history asked some colleagues at my request.  He reports:

"I’ve received a very plausible suggestion for the hon-spokes: ‘handspaak’ literally means hand spoke and is a kind of lever, which would fit the story nicely."

Long and rigid enough for the purpose of levering a sloop out of the mud?  A 1789 dictionary says "Léaver (s, a mechanical power used for raising a great weight) Een hefboom, handspaak, koevoet."  _A New English and Dutch Dictionary ..._.  By John Holtrop.  The First Volume.  Containing the English before the Dutch.  Amsterdam,1789.  Page 424.  http://tinyurl.com/znoj7nb

And, prompted by the above, I ask why didn't I (or anyone else!) associate "spoker" with the English "spike" (and "spoke")?  The OED has:

"handspoke, n.": 1. Chiefly Naut. and Gunnery. = handspike n. 1."  Etymology "... after early modern Dutch handspaecke crowbar, lever (although this is first attested later: 1588 in Kiliaan; Dutch handspaak ; < hand hand n. + spaecke bar, pole (Middle Dutch spāke : see spoke n.)); compare German Handspake (late 16th cent. as handspacke )."

 "handspike, n.": "1. Chiefly Naut. and Gunnery. A crowbar or lever, typically made of wood and tipped with iron; esp. such a tool used on board a ship or in manoeuvring heavy artillery."  Etymology "... its etymon early modern Dutch handspaecke, or Middle Low German hantspēke crowbar, lever".

The "-ers" in the Catskill Packet?  The Dutch plural would have -en.  An insertion by an English speaker of the -er suffix that he would expect for an agent noun?  Or, George, might there be an OCR mistranscription of "en" into "er", which was combined by the nespaper with an erroneous addition of the "s" customary in English plurals?


      From: George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
 Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 11:49 AM
 Subject: [ADS-L] a mysterious term, 1792
            On Saturday last, unfortunately ran aground on her passage off
the stocks, the sloop Jane, Captain ------; but by the assistance of
*hon-spokers* she got safe off, with no other damage than her bilg-ways
badly chafed with the blue mud.
            Catskill Packet (Catskill, N. Y.), September 17, 1792, p. 3,
col. ?

I don't find another instance of "hon-spokers" (or honspokers) in Readex's
America's Historical Newspapers, series 1-5.  For that matter, I don't find
this instance either, though that's where it came from, turned up while
searching for something else.  There are now 9 series to this source, but I
don't have access to the most recent four.
I also didn't find in in the American Periodical Series database, nor in
Gale's 19th Century American Newspapers.  It's not in the OED, nor DARE,
not Mathews' Dictionary of Americanisms.

This is likely to be Dutch, or the dialect of Dutch spoken in the Hudson
River Valley.  "On-lookers" or "by-standers", perhaps?  Or a type of boat,
or a tool?

Meanwhile, news of the spiritual life in the present-day Hudson River
Valley: The new New Paltz phone book has a heading in its yellow pages for
"Places of Worship -- Non-theistic".  The only listing is a Baptist church
in Newburgh.


George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

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

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

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