Scientist
Posted: 30 May 2018 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve been browsing through Mencken’s American Language and this caught my eye.

More than once, during the preceding chapters, we encountered Americanisms that had gone over into English, and English locutions that had begun to get a foothold in the United States. Such exchanges are made frequently and often very quickly, and though the guardians of English, as we saw in Chapter I, Section 3, still attack every new Americanism vigorously, even when, as in the case of scientist, it is obviously sound, or, as in the case of joy-ride, it is irresistibly picturesque, they are often routed by public pressure, and have to submit in the end with the best grace possible.

A quick check with OED confirmed my vague remembrance that the term was introduced in 1834 by an Englishman, William Whewell, in Quarterly Review. From OED:

1834 W. Whewell in Q. Rev. 51 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers… Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.

(BTW I love OED’s dry comment on this - It is possible that the ‘ingenious gentleman’ referred to in quot. 1834 is Whewell himself.)

So what does Mencken mean by the above? Was the word adopted in the US more quickly than in England? Or was he simply mistaken? (And this isn’t to knock Mencken if such be the case, I venerate the guy.)

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Posted: 31 May 2018 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Dunno how accurate it is but Google ngrams seems to think that the word goes back to 1700, appearing in BrE before it appears in AmE.

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Posted: 31 May 2018 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Faldage - 31 May 2018 01:49 AM

Dunno how accurate it is but Google ngrams seems to think that the word goes back to 1700, appearing in BrE before it appears in AmE.

Google ngrams only go back to 1800. If there are hits for works prior to this, they’re almost certainly errors (OCR errors or metadata problems). The OED Entry is from 2014, and I find it hard to believe that they would fail to find citations more than a century older.

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Posted: 31 May 2018 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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So what does Mencken mean by the above? Was the word adopted in the US more quickly than in England? Or was he simply mistaken? (And this isn’t to knock Mencken if such be the case, I venerate the guy.)

Mencken was wrong. That’s from the second, 1921 edition, which is the one in the public domain. The fourth edition from 1945 omits that statement and credits Whewell with the coinage in 1840. (Mencken seems to have been unaware of the 1834 citation. The OED also has an 1840 citation from Whewell, which Mencken appears to refer to.)

Mencken was not a trained linguist, and indeed, he worked before the discipline and tools of linguistics really developed. He got a lot of stuff wrong, and other than in historical study of how people used to view language, his stuff isn’t all that useful.

As for venerating him, he was a white supremacist and and anti-Semite. (I’m not sure what his views on the Nazis were, but he opposed US entry into WWII, so there’s that.) Not a nice man. He is a classic case of “art vs. artist,” but even if one likes his work, one shouldn’t admire the man.

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Posted: 31 May 2018 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dave Wilton - 31 May 2018 04:34 AM



As for venerating him, he was a white supremacist and and anti-Semite. (I’m not sure what his views on the Nazis were, but he opposed US entry into WWII, so there’s that.) Not a nice man. He is a classic case of “art vs. artist,” but even if one likes his work, one shouldn’t admire the man.

Whoops, wasn’t aware of that, at least unaware that he exceeded the normal bigotries of whites in the age that he lived. I love his writing though so I guess I’m going to have to put him alongside Wagner and others, artists who were shits but who it would be much harder to live without reading or listening to.

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