Another Follow Up To 1898 Obscene Language Baseball Document!

Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized

We’ve really been surprised at the amount of interest generated online by the 1898 Obscene Language Baseball document. The document was covered by dozens of blogs and was the subject of numerous message boards. Tens of thousands of people have visited the REA site in the past two days to view it. Surprisingly, the response was greatest not from baseball collectors, but from people with interests in many other arenas: sports fans, people interested in popular culture, fans of the HBO Deadwood series, baseball historians, nineteenth-century American history scholars, and, we were fascinated to see, many serious linguists from all over the country, including from very prestigious universities such as Northwestern and Berkeley. We didn’t know there were so many linguists. These guys are all over the place. One of the most unexpected revelations about the document is that it includes the earliest known printed appearance of the expression (well, there’s really no way to avoid this) “Go f*ck yourself”. We’re not kidding. According to historians and linguists, this document now holds the record for the earliest recorded use of this phrase in print. The previous record was 1920. We’ve beaten the old record by 22 years. In the scholarly field of linguistics, that’s like a massacre. This record is a big deal. This document is now sort of like the Magna Carta of that expression. And that’s not all! The document also includes another record: The earliest appearance in print anywhere ever of the word “c*cksucker”. Again, we’re not kidding. Previously, the earliest known printed example of that word was 1902. We’ve beaten that record by four years. That’s two major records in one document!

We’re so proud. We can’t wait to tell our parents.

Here’s a link to an article about the piece at Salon.com that just went up:

 http://www.salon.com/sports/col/kaufman/2007/12/06/thursday/

One very well known linguist, Geoffrey Nunberg of UC-Berkeley, was quoted in the article as saying that he thought the document was a “clumsy hoax - either a modern concoction or a modern alteration of a contemporary document.” We hate to get into disagreements with highly respected members of academia, and Geoffrey Nunberg is most certainly highly respected, both as a linguist and professor. (Here’s his website: http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~nunberg/. This guy’s like in the Hall of Fame of linguists.)  But when it comes to baseball documents, at least in this case, it is our most sincere opinion that he doesn’t know his frickin’ ass from his elbow! We are absolutely certain that this item is not a modern creation or an altered period piece. We’re just kidding about getting on Professor Nunberg’s case about disagreeing with us - we think it’s great that he would even be willing to talk to a reporter about this crazy item and we just think we happen to know he made an error in this case. That’s OK - we’re from a field that for that credits Civil War General Abner Doubleday, who never had anything to do with baseball, as the inventor of the game. We’re used to - and welcome - all dissenting opinions. Now get out the record books!

Late Addition: Here is a link to the response to the Salon.com article by Bill Savage (Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Northwestern University, who teaches baseball literature and history) to the Salon.com story:

http://slog.thestranger.com/2007/12/more_obscene_baseball_news



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