[Ads-l] Confusing ancestor and descendant in 1926

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 8 08:16:55 UTC 2020

Wilson Gray wrote:
> "[Jody Foster, daughter of Lucius Fisher Foster, III] is a member of a very
> wealthy Chicago family with _descendants going back_ to the Mayflower."

Excellent example, Wilson. English users do have difficulty employing
the words "ancestor" and "descendant" correctly. Here is an example of
the confusion from a newspaper report in 1926.

When Robert Todd Lincoln died he was the last remaining direct
descendant of Abraham Lincoln sharing the Lincoln surname. However,
the paper used the phrase "last remaining direct ancestor".

Date: August 3, 1926
Newspaper: Visalia Daily Times
Newspaper Location: Visalia, California
Article: RQBERT TODD LINCOLN (misspelling in original text)
Quote Page 2, Column 1
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
The passing, last week, of the last remaining direct ancestor--by the
name of Lincoln--of the great Civil war President occasioned modest
mention in the telegraphic news of the country. The news value and
importance attached to the death of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the
Emancipator, to whose illustrious memory and statesmanship the world
honors . . .
[End excerpt]

This confusion has been discussed periodically on the ADS mailing
list, e.g., in 2011, 2015, and 2017.

Mega-selling author J. K. Rowling confused ancestor and descendant
while describing Lord Voldemort within a book of the beloved Harry
Potter series according to Professor Paul Brians.

Topic: Common Errors in English Usage
Author: Prof. Paul Brians
Institution: Washington State University

[Begin excerpt]
When Albus Dumbledore said that Lord Voldemort was “the last remaining
ancestor of Salazar Slytherin,” more than one person noted that he had
made a serious verbal bumble; and in later printings of Harry Potter
and the Chamber of Secrets author J. K. Rowling corrected that to
“last remaining descendant.” People surprisingly often confuse these
two terms with each other. Your great-grandmother is your ancestor;
you are her descendant.
[End excerpt]


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

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