mastermind
Posted: 21 January 2008 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  443
Joined  2007-10-20

Just by chance I’ve read two Max Brand cowboy novels so far in my life and the plots are pretty much identical. Both were written in the 1920’s and each involves a mastermind of sorts. However, the word “mastermind” doesn’t occur in either novel, though one has to think that if the word had been available, the author probably would have found a use for it. OED1 has no entry for it whereas AHD (1967) does.

I guess the question that comes to mind is whether the origin of the word or concept was in the genre of, or predates, the spy novel. Professor Moriarty maybe? (It’s also interesting that Brand seemed to combine two genres.)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 January 2008 08:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1275
Joined  2007-03-21

Seems that Lionel Barrymore starred in a Movie in 1920 entitled “The Mastermind.”

NPA has an advertisement from Nov 15, 1920

The’story of a brilliant psychologist, who, through the impulse of revenge, is inspired to tise his mental faculties to ruin a young district attorney, who had conducted the prosecution which sent his
younger brother to the electric chair.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 January 2008 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2836
Joined  2007-01-31

The OED3 has two senses:
“1. An outstanding or commanding mind or intellect; a person with such a mind.” Citations date back to 1692 (Dryden), although the earliest that unambiguously refers to a person and not a person’s mind per se is a 1909 Wodehouse usage.

“2. spec. A person who plans and directs a complex and ingenious enterprise, esp. a criminal operation.” First citation from Trollope, 1872.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 January 2008 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  443
Joined  2007-10-20

Thanks. I’m not all that familiar with Trollope (put it on my to do list), but the fact that Wodehouse is an early source indicates that the word has long had a slightly campy, humorous tinge.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 January 2008 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2836
Joined  2007-01-31

I don’t know about that.  The citation reads: “1909 P. G. WODEHOUSE Mike xxxii. 183 You can’t expect two master-minds like us to pig it in that room downstairs.” Though I haven’t read the work cited, based on the substantial amount of PGW I have read, I’d bet that the word is being used with auctorial irony but that the speaker really believes that he and his interlocutor really are exceptionally bright.  “Geniuses” would fit about equally well, and isn’t campy or humorous.

Profile