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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: June ::
Re: No, It's Not True!
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1026  Thursday, 17 June 1999.

[1]     From:   Tom Dale Keever <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 14:30:05 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: No, It's Not True!

[2]     From:   Michael D. Friedman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 16:49:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1017 Re: No, It's Not True!


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Dale Keever <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 14:30:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: No, It's Not True!

Carol A. Cole writes:

>My goodness, people really are taking that Life in the 1500s email
>seriously!  I thought it was an obvious joke,

and Larry Weiss adds:

>I thought it was a joke, . . .I'm surprised anyone took it seriously.

Precisely my reaction when I downloaded "The Starr Report" !

What's obvious nonsense to some can be taken all too seriously by
others.  With the state of credulity on the Web, where everything from
Matt Drudge to "The Turner Diaries" and even "The Protocols of the
Elders of Zion" command loyal cyberspace followings, no one can be
certain that someone is kidding.  I have no idea what the original
intention of the author of "Life in the 1500's" was, but I can guarantee
you that many of the thousands who received it in the last few months
have accepted it at face value and its "etymologies" have entered the
vast sea of popular misconceptions.

The field of word lore is fertile ground for such misinformation.  It
would not surprise me to learn that intelligent, well-informed members
of this list believe that the word "posh" originated in an acronym for a
request for cabin assignments on a luxury cruise ship or that the first
"rule of thumb" was promulgated in a case of spousal abuse.  Both of
these "spook etymologies" have survived repeated debunkings by linguists
and will live on for years to come.

Renaissance literature is full of such creative etymological
misinformation and it is often accepted by scholars who should know
better.  Editors as recent as Furness accepted Edmund's suggestion in
"King Lear" that the English word "bastard" was cognate with "base."  I
was reading William Camden's survey of England, "Britannia," recently,
researching contemporary references to the Forest of Arden for an
upcoming edition of "As You Like It," and found him suggesting that
"Ardennes" is a French word for woods or forest.  This is apparently
nonsense, but he firmly believed it and he was one of Elizabethan
England's most learned scholars.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael D. Friedman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 1999 16:49:10 -0400
Subject: 10.1017 Re: No, It's Not True!
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1017 Re: No, It's Not True!

I can't say whether the compiler of the false etymologies believes in
them or not, but I can testify that some people take them very
seriously.  While visiting Anne Hathaway's cottage and Mary Arden's
house with my travel course last summer, I heard the guides (twice!)
solemnly repeat several of those origins of phrases almost verbatim.
"Upper crust" and "threshold" I remember clearly, and there was a long
disquisition on "Chairman of the board."

Michael Friedman
University of Scranton
 

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