Thursday, January 22, 2009

Webster and New World Words

Noah Webster himself used these alternate spellings in his first dictionary, many in an attempt to get people to use the shorter forms for convenience; he was rejected in each case.

Booty for beauty.........Soop for soup
Bred for bread.............Wimmen for women (still used in the south!)
Groop for group...........Tuf for tough (I’m for this one!)
Hed for head................Bilt for built
Tung for tongue...........Deef for deaf
Heerd for heard...........Nater for nature
Voloom for volume.....Thum for thumb (why the b, one wonders?)

Fantom for phantom – apparently sometimes this worked, as in fantasy (previously phantasy), other times the f for ph was rejected.

Webster also cleaned up the Bible for the insanely puritanical, re-writing such obscenities as testicles as “peculiar members”. Didn’t he realize that “testament” and “testimony” both came from testicles, for men swore on the family jewels in those days, the Bible not having been printed yet? Should testament therefore be “peculiar memberment”? When Onan spilled his seed, to Webster he “frustrated his purpose”.

Yankee, by the way, is a corruption of the Dutch Jan Kees, which means “John Cheese”, so apparently there were cheeseheads (i.e., Green Bay Packers’ fans) back in pioneer days. Now, at the Varsity in Atlanta, a “Yankee dog” is a dog with just mustard (in Mexico, it’s a “tourista”). If they knew the origin of Yankee, it would have to include john cheese on the dog.

One renowned linguist, Dr. W.C. Minor, who contributed a vast number of words to the first Oxford English Dictionary, a 12-volume compendium that attempted to be a complete and exhaustive encyclopedia of English, could not attend a conference of the contributors due to incarceration in a hospital for the criminally insane. His paranoia was a morbid fear of Irishmen, and when he finally was released and did go to England in 1871, he killed an innocent bystander that he thought was stalking him.

Hooch came from the Indian tribe Hoochinoo, noted for their homemade liquor. Nearly half of our state names came from Indian words, but only a few dozen words remain from Native Americans, notably canoe, hammock, and tobacco, while squash, hickory, and raccoon were shortened from longer, nearly unpronounceable words. Some compound words created in the New World are catfish, mockingbird, grasshopper, bullfrog, eggplant, rattlesnake.

“Ok” (for “okay”, which sounds like “oak hay”) was also a New World creation, along with hornswaggle, cattawampus, and rambunctious. OK was not in widespread usage (having first appeared in print in Boston in 1839) and may have died out but for the presidential campaign of Martin Van Buren, whose nickname was “Old Kinderhook”. Democrats organized the Democratic O.K. Club and the phrase was used as a campaign slogan in 1840. It is most likely an abbreviation for the illiterate “oll korrect”, used by President Andrew Johnson (along with O.W. for “oll wright”, both used jokingly), but the real origins are obscure and have been often debated. ok by me..

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