Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 11:43:05 -0500
From: Jesse T Sheidlower jester[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PANIX.COM
Subject: HDAS dating practices (was: re: jerry)

I'd like to thank Jim Rader for his comments and corrections about
the entry for _Jerry_ (1) in the Random House Historical Dictionary
of American Slang. I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify our
practices in dating by secondary sources.

As Jim points out, we often cite from secondary sources. This is
chiefly due, as Jim also acknowledges, to the fact that checking
every cite against an original is extremely time-consuming, and we
are in effect a one-man show in the library research department.
Nonetheless we do try to check originals where possible, especially
for first attestations.

The date of the first RHHDAS cite, "ca. 1867," is
misleading, though. Lighter has taken it from a long extract in the
book _Makin' track: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad in the
Pictures and Words of the Men Who Were There_, edited by Lynne Rhodes
Mayer and Kenneth E. Vose and published by Praeger in 1975. The
extract in Mayer and Vose is attributed only to "reporter Cy Warman,"
with no bibliographical citation. I believe the source of the quote
is Cy Warman's book _The Story of the Railroad_ (New York: D.
Appleton & Co., 1898).

Lighter does not now remember the circumstances of this citation. In
general, we would never "back-date" a citation to the date of the events
described, unless there was some real evidence suggestion that that was
the actual date of composition. In this case, there must have been
something in Mayer and Vose to suggest that the passage really did date
from _ca_1867. If we did not have such evidence, we would date the passage
to the earliest possible documentable date, and add a "ref. to"-type note.
In this example, with the evidence we now have from Jim, we would re-date
this passage to 1898. Again, I can't explain where the _ca_1867 date
comes from. (If other evidence reliably pointed to 1867, we might say
"1898 Warman _Railroad_ 95 [ref. to _ca_1867]", for example, but I'll
accept Jim's word that this would not be correct here.)

There is also the
problem of dating by the period the author was referring to, on the
assumption that s/he was an eyewitness--another device resorted to by
other historical dictionaries. In some cases it works; in the case
of Cy Warman, who was twelve years old in 1867, it doesn't.

To restate this, we would not normally give a date for a citation
based only on the period the author was referring to. In fact, when
allegedly "period" documents that were published later seem to have
historically unlikely words in them, we will include notes saying
"the uniquely early 1942 example may be a later interpolation at the
time of publication," or something of the sort.

The accurate dating of our citations is very important to us, and
we'd appreciate any corrections of this nature that users of the HDAS

RHHDAS defines _jerry_ as "a section worker, orig. one who is Irish,"
though nothing in the cites justifies "orig. one who is Irish." The
Warman quote I give above could be read as equating _Jerries_ with
"Irish and ordinary labourers," but that's as far as it goes.

The passage in question reads "There have been times when the 'Jerries'
and 'Dagos' have got mixed." Since the whole passage is talking about
railroad workers, it seems very unlikely to me that this means "There
have been times when the section-workers and the Italian non-railroad-
section-workers got mixed." At the time of this reference, railroad
workers were chiefly Irish, Italian, or Chinese, and this passage
seems to be drawing a racial distinction. _Jerry_ being a common Irish
name of the period, I believe we are justified in assuming that in
this passage _Jerry_ means 'an Irish section worker', if not simply
'an Irish person'.

Jesse Sheidlower