Date: Tue, 9 Dec 1997 09:28:49 +0000
From: Jim Rader jrader[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]M-W.COM
Subject: Re: Morris's Word and Phrase Origins
My apologies--I got a little carried away. I meant to write--and
thought I had written--"is of value mainly as a collection of
etymology folklore," not "only as a collection of etymology
folklore." It's not that I have that low an opinion of the book--I
have recommended it on occasion to laypeople looking for entertaining
stories of word origins. The problem is that laypeople take these
entertaining but usually unsubstantiated or
impossible-to-substantiate stories as gospel. After churning out the
umpteenth letter of the year explaining why we cannot accept the
"port-out/starboard-home" etymology of posh --repeated in MDWPO--I
get hot under the collar and curse books of this ilk.
As an example of the sort of stuff I find offensive in MDWPO, let me
quote the article on glottochronology and lexicostatistics :
"Our candidates for this century's ugliest words are two:
lexicostatistics and glottochronology . And do you know who
coined them? Linguists, that's who--the very people who should be
concerned with maintaining minimum linguistic standards. These two
gems were coined to describe a technique by which some language
researchers claim to be able to "date" the age of a word, just as Dr.
Libby's carbon 14 method has successfully dated ancient artifacts."
First--why these two words should be considered "ugly" is beyond
me--they're no more sesquipedalian than thousands of other English
words formed from Greco-Latin elements. Second-- the swipe at
linguists is gratuitously anti-intellectual and gives laypeople a
false idea of what linguists do. Third--the characterization
of what lexicostatistics and glottochronology purport to do is wholly
Sorry, but this entry is drivel and is going to raise the hackles of any
linguist. I realize that some of the people on this list are not
"professionals" (whatever that means in this field, and the subject
of another current thread) and are going to look at this book
differently than I do. But I consider that all the more reason to
give a "professional" opinion when someone on the list cites a work
that I think is demonstrably flawed. Tallying its major and minor
inaccuracies would take up a lot of space.
Maybe there is a newer edition of the book that has remedied
some of its more egregious features (the copy at hand has a 1977
copyright). If so, I would be glad if someone would point that fact
out to me.