Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 12:19:59 -0400
From: Larry Horn
Subject: Re: P.S. on banshees

At 10:57 AM -0500 4/23/98, Donald M. Lance wrote:
>>Correction: I just altered the search command on Nexis and came up with
>>two additional cites (besides the Pell-Safire one), one from the Orlando
>>Sentinel in 1991 (quoting an environmental sculptor) and one from the
>>Chicago Tribune in 1990 (quoting the village manager of Bolingbrook, Ill.).
>>It's possible, of course, that these four instances are all isolated ones,
>>with each speaker performing his (they're all male) own reanalysis of "Xing
>>like banshees", but it's also conceivable that the expression has in fact
>>shifted in langue rather than parole for some variety of English. Any
>IMHO, The transfer of 'banshee' from one kind of "frenzy-verb" to another
>is a normal linguistic process that doesn't have to be "learned" from
>someone else and doesn't have to be dialectal (regional, social, ...). I'm
>sure I've heard "working like a banshee" and have a picture of a carpenter,
>hoe-hand, cotton-picker, or some other physical laborer working so fast
>that his/her movememnts appear to be frantic. "Screaming like a banshee"
>is accompanied ny ph/frenetic or frantic movement as well. I think I might
>even use "banshee" with a variety of verbs to evoke such an image -- maybe
>because of the Celtic (mostly Welsh) blood that roils along with the
>Teutonic plasma in my arteries and veins.

Not really dialectal, then; sounds plausible. Thanks to Don, and to Jesse.
This confirms the analysis of my student, who saw the extension from
'screaming (frenetically) like a banshee' to 'working (frenetically) like a
banshee' as analogous to the earlier reanalysis of 'counting one's beads'
that presumably led to the shift in conventional meaning of 'bead' from
'prayer' to 'small round object used to keep track of prayers' to 'small
round object'. Here, the frenetic/frantic movement that's crucial, rather
than the nature or goal of the enterprise. In the unlikely event that
'banshee' ever ends up meaning simply 'hard-worker', the shift will be