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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

The Baltimore Sun and the OED

The Baltimore Sun

When the twenty-volume second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1989, Judy Anderson of The Sun's London bureau, put together a little book of 103 pages, listing the citations from The Sun in the OED.

Paul McCardell, The Sun’s librarian, put the book in my hands, and the contents are too delightful not to share.

The Sun, for example, contributed to the documentation of our English tongue with this citation under strip-tease: “1951 Sun (Baltimore) A blond stripteuse was arrested at a Silver Hill night spot.”

It was a 1941 citation that recorded an idiom under strut: “Rain today made the prospect for off-going for the first card, thus giving the ‘mudders’ an opportunity to strut their stuff.” (This passage also supplies the citation for mudder. Thrifty, these lexicographers.)

Another 1941 citation provides etymological information for jerkwater: “In the early days of railroads the small boilers of the locomotives required frequent refilling, and water tanks were very few. Every train crew carried a leather bucket on a long rope with which they ‘jerked water’ from the streams along their track. As locomotives increased in size the small ‘jerk-water’ engines were relegated to branch-line service. Today no train crew carries a bucket, but the name ‘jerk-water’ still sticks and has become part of our national heritage of American slang.”

Advertisements supply citations as well as articles, such as this one from 1947 for nude: “Nude and white in sizes 33 to 40. Corset Shop, third floor.”

One sometimes wishes for more context than the bare citation, as in this 1942 entry under wacky: “Her grandmother, wackier than she is, haunts the place.”

It must have been the 1956 presidential election that supplied the conversion of teleprompter into a verb: “Two weeks of nominations,.. commentaries, teleprompted oratory and gavel-banging.” (They use two dots for an ellipsis rather than three, with no space on either side. You know some boffin at the Oxford University Press calculated how many pages that would save over twenty volumes.)

A 1943 article supplements the lengthy set of terms for intoxication: “Awful calamity at the Park bird bath..when somebody discovered the birds were potted due to some members of the Mint Julep Association having emptied their julep glasses in the fountain.”

Antique slang from 1929 is preserved like insects in amber: “Girls are described as weenies, janes, dames and broads. A mad-man is phooey, crackers or blooey.”

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