RIP DAVID SHULMAN.

Yesterday the NY Times had an obituary (by Douglas Martin) for a man I’d never heard of but who was well known to the editors of the OED:

David Shulman, a self-described Sherlock Holmes of Americanisms who dug through obscure, often crumbling publications to hunt down the first use of thousands of words, died on Oct. 30 at Victory Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn. He was 91 and lived in Brooklyn…
Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, said Mr. Shulman contributed uncountable early usages to the 20-volume lexicon. “All very good stuff,” Mr. Sheidlower said.
“What David did was read through the sort of things most people don’t read,” he added, mentioning yellowing editions of The National Police Gazette.
Mr. Sheidlower said only a few contributors were more prolific and fewer still possessed Mr. Shulman’s knack for sending usable material. His name appeared in the front matter to O.E.D.’s epochal second edition, each of the Addition Series volumes, and is currently on the Web…

Gerald Cohen, professor of foreign languages at the University of Missouri, Rolla… said Mr. Shulman’s most pioneering effort concerned the term “hot dog.” He found the word was college slang before it was a sausage, paving the way for deeper investigation. A book on hot dog’s glossarial provenance will appear this year under the names of Mr. Shulman, Mr. Cohen and Barry Popick.
Dr. Cohen said Mr. Shulman obliterated a big impediment to finding the origins of the word jazz by proving it was on a 1919 record, not the 1909 version of the same disk. (Other scholars traced first use of the term to the baseball columns of Scoop Gleeson in the San Francisco Bulletin in 1913.)
Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Shulman was first to challenge that “shyster” derived from a lawyer named Scheuster. Others, particularly Roger Mohovich, then traced the etymology to 1843-1844. “Shyster” turned out to be a Yiddish corruption of a German vulgarism meaning a crooked lawyer.

A few points:
1) What is meant by “and is currently on the Web”? In a trivial sense, of course, his name is on the Web because the Times has put it there (though he presumably had at least a mention or two before he died). I suspect, however, Martin means “and in the online edition.” The whole sentence is poorly constructed.
2) The Times has misspelled the name of Barry Popik, who is probably New York’s best-known wordsleuth. I don’t have to chide them for this, because I’m quite sure Mr. Popik did a bang-up job of it about five seconds after the obit appeared. (From his page on “hot dog”: “In 2001, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (www.hot-dog.org) officially admitted that the TAD story is a myth. My name is on the web site as Barry Popick. The myth still gets told by lazy newspaper reporters and writers who do not know how to search the web, or who use old, outdated materials.”)
3) The “German vulgarism” is Scheisser, literally ‘shitter.’ When will the Times give up its increasingly absurd struggle against verbal impropriety? Even maidens don’t have maidenly blushes any more, Times. Join the 21st century.

Comments

  1. Actually, I found that obit fascinating. I can’t believe that guy was so committed to finding the source of common terms.

  2. Oh, I did too. I hope my quibbles aren’t perceived as the point of this post; I found the obit thoroughly delightful and was glad to know about this character. I can think of worse ways to spend one’s life.

  3. Hee hee. No, Barry was in Bhutan, so it took him a couple of hours to respond. (He travels a lot and collects food words: He’s been to dozens of countries that I know of.)
    I never met Shulman (though I saw him once in the lobby of the OUP offices), but what I know of him was that he was the classic eccentric. A true monomaniac. A man to whom the the only thing that mattered was the evidence: If you couldn’t support your far-fetched word origin theory, then you shouldn’t be spreading it around. And if your theory was any kind of accurate at all, then the proper digging was bound to prove it.

  4. Nitpicking is permitted at LH, if I’m not mistaken, and to my mind the proper expression is “R.I.P.”. The expression “Rip him a new one” has invaded the RIP niche, driving out the original term, which is less well-adapted to the Iron Age we live in.
    If your headers weren’t all-caps, there probably wouldn’t be a problem.

  5. (Nitpicking of my own stuff.) Barry was actually in Singapore, just back from Bhutan. Sounds glamorous, I know, but I think he takes coach tours with the silver-hairs.

  6. Nitpicking is positively encouraged at LH, but I prefer my abbreviations sans points, even at the cost of possible ambiguity.

  7. [trying to think of a snappy retort which would not be in terribly bad taste, and also not terribly disproportionate to the magnitude of the nit -- a nit upon which he feels confident he is absolutely right -- but still in some way connected to the particular phrase in question]
    ……

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