Bootleg
Posted: 03 March 2007 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I am doing an etymological study for a class and I chose the word “bootleg.” So far, I have found in a book that my professor has that it came about in the late 1890’s when it was illegal to bring alcohol onto Indain reservations and so some “cowboys” snuck flasks in by slipping them into the leg of their boot. But I want to know more! How has the word evolved into an adjective, noun and verb relating to the controversial black market of online music? I have some ideas of my own, but comments would be appreciated.

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Posted: 03 March 2007 11:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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OED concurs with your professor insofar as the original reference being to liquor carried in boots and has first cites of 1889 for bootleg and bootlegger.

a1889 Omaha Herald (Barrère & Leland), There is as much whisky consumed in Iowa now as there was before,..‘for medical purposes only’, and on the boot-leg plan.

1889 SANGER Rep. in J. B. Thoburn Hist. Oklahoma (1916) I. 223 Liquor dealers (or as they are called here ‘boot-leggers’).

First cite for the sense of unauthorized copying of music is 1951.

1951 Record Changer Nov. 1 (heading) Victor presses bootlegs!

The extension from illicit liquor to illicit recordings seems unremarkable.

[ Edited: 04 March 2007 05:51 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 04 March 2007 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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a recent program i viewed called something akin to “bootleg, moonshine, and whitelightning” took on the task of weaving the history of alcohol in america the terminology in the title of the program.

apologies for not offering anything with rigor, fact checking, or detail, but i seem to recall that “bootleg” according to the documentary referred to the method of conveyance even in colonial times (1700s to 1800s? and hence in the colonies which would preclude “cowboy” in my mind) to avoid taxation.  The hooch was carried in a boot with ample room for conveyance and concealment and was bartered under the cover of night (hence “moonshine”, as well).  the barterment circumvented the problem of taxation.

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Posted: 04 March 2007 05:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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IMO, the dynamics of extending a word usage from one area of activity (alcohol) to quite another (music) have much to do with the lack of a suitable term already in existence. Nature and the English language abhor a vacuum. In 1951 what slang words could have been used besides “bootleg”? Most penalties had to do with the avoidance of taxes, import duties, or in this case royalties. “Contraband” would have been one appropriate term, and for obvious reasons it might seem confusing to use that word for music illegally marketed in violation of copyright law. Without consulting a lawyer, I’d say that taking someone’s music and not paying royalties is along the lines of a tort with the innocuous sounding name “conversion”, possibly a crime akin to theft, and most likely a crime against the federal government. (A tort is something that occurs between two private parties and a crime is something the government takes an interest in controlling.) No good, pithy terms come to mind.

[ Edited: 04 March 2007 05:25 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 04 March 2007 07:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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i seem to recall that “bootleg” according to the documentary referred to the method of conveyance even in colonial times (1700s to 1800s? and hence in the colonies which would preclude “cowboy” in my mind)

It’s always possible that someone has come up with an earlier citation than the OED has, and since the 3rd edition hasn’t got round to the B’s yet, the OED’s entry represents the scholarsip as of 1989.

Nevertheless, as aldi notes, the first cite in the OED is from 1889, and my experience on this board has been that historical documentaries on television are such abundant sources of misinformation about word histories and etymologies, that I would offer good odds, even if your recollection is correct and the program put the term back to colonial times, that this is simply wrong.

If it was on the History Channel, make that “very good odds”.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 10:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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foolscap - 04 March 2007 05:06 PM

IMO, the dynamics of extending a word usage from one area of activity (alcohol) to quite another (music) have much to do with the lack of a suitable term already in existence.

Bootleg in the music (and movie) industry doesn’t just refer to illegal copies of official released recordings.  It often refers to an unauthorized recording of a concert or recording session.  People in the audience with a hidden recorder (or film camera in the case of movies) would record the show and then sell copies. The recording is a bootleg as the recorder/camera was smuggled into the venue and the recording smuggled out hidden on the person.  I may be wrong but I think that apt use of bootleg for these illegal “originals” may have smeared to include illegal copies as well.

[ Edited: 05 March 2007 10:32 AM by Myridon ]
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Posted: 07 March 2007 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Wow, thanks! All of these comments will be very useful for my study. You have each brought up things that I did not intially think of. I frequent concerts where bands welcome “bootleggers” to their audience and it was at the back of my mind. Such a hippie-oriented culture (ahem, yes, I used the H-word) should embrace the modern-day form of bootlegging. I was aware of the OED definition, and now that I think back on it, I think that is where I initially got the idea of the “cowboy’s boot leg.” As far as I have found so far, this etymology seems to be the most logical. I also found in “The Cowboy Dictionary: The Chin Jaw Words of the American West, 2nd Edition” (Adams), that bootleg is also a mining term used to describe “a charge explosive that fails to break a rock.” How in the world did it get there? Applying it to the act of sneaking music around a concert venue seems to fit so much better.  Along with that, I am also perplexed by the the numerous meanings and origins of just the word “boot” itself. It has origins in a variety of European languages, of which I am only slighlty familiar with the connections, where it was used as a verb meaning to “make better” or as a noun meaning “advantage or profit.” Now, this coincides so well with the moder-day definition of bootlegging, but it is a flase etymology. But how did the word so conveniently attatch itself to an article of clothing that can sneakily bring its wearer profit? No doubt, a boot makes life better, but is that false etymology also? Then there is the saying “to boot” which comes from the verb form, meaning “in addition to, besides,” but was the creator of “bootleg” so clever to have known this and made the connection in the seemingly literal term? Ugh. I hope I get this paper done by Tuesday.
Again, thanks for all of your help.

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Posted: 07 March 2007 07:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The boot you wear and the boot in “to boot”, “bootless”, etc., are actually different words, not different senses of the same word.  See this old thread.

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Posted: 27 March 2007 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Seems to me the word went from meaning tranporting contraband to manufacturing contraband.

People who illegally manufactured alcohol were bootleggers.

Using that definition, not much of a jump to illegal copying of music or anything else.

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