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.