[Ads-l] Confusing ancestor and descendant in 1926

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 8 12:21:49 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."

Garson O'Toole wrote:
> > 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.
-- Example omitted ---

Jesse Sheidlower wrote:
> I feel obligated to point out that OED published a revised entry for _ancestor_ last year, and it
> includes a 1920 example of this sense (labelled "irregular"), from a magazine article on
> language errors:
> 1920 _Outlook_ 6 Oct. 259/1 Contributions to ‘topsy-turvy pronunciations [_sic_]’:..‘She is an
> ancestor of the famous Irish patriarch, Robert Emmet.’

Great! Thanks for locating and sharing that citation, Jesse. Glad to
see that the OED has referenced this topic.

Below is an 1893 citation containing the phrase: "He traces his
descendant to Cromwell's lieutenant general". I think that the
statement probably should be: "He traces his ancestor to Cromwell's
lieutenant general" or "He traces his ancestry to Cromwell's
lieutenant general".

Strictly speaking if you trace your ancestry back to a famous person
then you are simultaneously tracing the ancestry of all your
descendants back to that same person. However, I do not think that the
passage below is really about tracing the ancestry of a single unnamed

Date: April 5, 1893
Newspaper: Buffalo Morning Express
Newspaper Location: Buffalo, New York
Article: Carter H. Harrison
Quote Page 1, Column 4
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Carter Harrison was born in Fayette County, Ky., on February 25, 1825.
He traces his descendant to Cromwell's lieutenant general, Richard A.
Harrison, who led Charles 1. to the block. His great grandfather,
Carter H. Harrison of Virginia, was brother of Benjamin Harrison, the
signer of the Declaration of Independence, and great grandfather of
the last President.
[End excerpt]


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

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