SKALLEWAGG.

A Visual Thesaurus post by Ben Zimmer is an interesting exploration of the history of a great word, scalawag:

My latest column for the Boston Globe tells how Nathaniel Sharpe, a 22-year-old amateur genealogist from a small town in North Dakota near the border with Canada, discovered some keys to the origins of scalawag when he found that one of his ancestors was described with that label. Actually, he was called a skallewagg (one of many variant spellings floating around), in an 1836 newspaper from Batavia, New York that printed a list of people who had skipped town before settling their debts with local merchants.
Sharpe found the article on FultonHistory.com, a rather quirky website that archives digitized newspapers from New York State. He kept looking in the Batavia papers for other listings of debtors, and managed to take skallewagg back to the Sep. 16, 1834 issue of the Batavia Republican Advocate, following the name of Abial Hawkins, a butcher. Further digging on another database turned up scalliwag in a political context in 1832, referring to opponents of the region’s Anti-Masonic Party.

The whole thing is a lot of fun, and hurray for quirky websites like FultonHistory.com.
Incidentally, if you like reading about books, occasional LH commenter Gou Tongzhi has a site Book Solo, well described by its subtitle: “One man tries to read everything.” He’s got reviews going back twenty years.

Comments

  1. Further digging on another database turned up scalliwag in a political context in 1832, referring to opponents of the region’s Anti-Masonic Party.
    Would that make them anti-Anti-Masonic?
    Incidentally, Batavia was the home of the incident that gave rise to the Anti-Masonic Party.

  2. John Emerson says:

    The small town is Bathgate, very near the old site of Pembina, a fur-trading town which was one of the first European settlements in the American / Canadian West and part of the territory of the Metis people (mixed Native American / French, or Native American / Scottish). I wouldn’t be surprised if Sharpe’s genealogical researches were motivated by that part of history (by conjecture he might be descended from the Scots traders centered on Hudson Bay). Originally this area traded via Hudson Bay, but when settlers reached southern MN an oxcart trail was developed in that direction to escape the Hudson Bay Company monopoly.

  3. Jihn, you are conflating two Peminas.
    One is near Edmonton:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pembina_(Edmonton)
    and one is in ND:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pembina,_North_Dakota
    Presumably the Metis settlement is the first one, and the one near Bathgate is the second.

  4. John Emerson says:

    Jim, from what the Wiki says Pembina / Edmonton just seems to be the name given to a modern urban neighborhood. The history of Pembina ND is well known, and it was a center of the Metis.The Metis territory extended into Canada but as far as I can tell, geographically Pembina was in ND.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    From recently closed threads, including the next one:
    Ramps oil: …ah, maybe that’s why you can only eat the leaves before the blossoms grow.
    Children: compare Dutch kinderen to German Kinder, singular Kind – synchronically, that’s one of the 10 regular ways to form a plural, like Buch/Bücher.
    Sow/swine: German Sau/Säue “sow” vs. Schwein/Schweine “pig”.
    Kine: German Kühe, sg. Kuh.
    Rapunzel: can’t be High German because of the p, and if it’s not, I can’t see how it got into Italian if it’s not native there.

    There have never been many glottochronologists, and glottochronology has never been a generally accepted subfield, let alone a tradition in historical linguistics.

    It’s alive and kicking in Russia. Papers from there, even when they’re in English, take it completely for granted.

  6. From recently closed threads
    David, you’ve got to start coming around more often! I actually leave threads open an extra day or two, thinking “David Marjanović will probably have something to say about this,” but then the spam gets too rampant and I close them in frustration.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    David: glottochronology: It’s alive and kicking in Russia.
    There seems to be a lot of historical work being done in Russia, often with more enthusiasm than reliability. They seem to be the opposite of US historical linguists, most of whom are rather timid.
    Rapunzel: can’t be High German because of the p, and if it’s not, I can’t see how it got into Italian if it’s not native there.
    I agree, I had not thought of all the implications when I posted earlier. In the meantime I looked up all the rampion (bellflower) articles on Wikipedia, in order to see the equivalents in the various languages, plus a couple of other sources. Omitting a non-IE language probably of the former USSR, they are:
    Late Latin: rapúntium
    Learned Latin: rapúnculum, dimin. of rapum
    Italian: raperonzo (Wiki), raponzo(lo)
    French: raiponce
    “Sud-Est” (prob. Gascon): rampouchou [rampuʃú]
    Catalan: repunxó [repunʃó]
    Spanish: reponce, reponche, (rapónchigo)
    Portuguese: ruiponto
    Breton: rabezenn-ouez, rabez-guez
    German: rapunzel
    Dutch: rapunzel(-)klokje
    Swedish: rapunkel(-)klocka
    (English: bell(-)flower)
    Polish: dzwonek(-)rapunkuᴌ
    Russian: колокольчик рапынцель (kolokol’nik rapuntsel’)
    Estonian: rapuntul(-)kellukas
    Hungarian: raponc(-)harangvirág ([ráponts]), harangvirág félék
    The oldest word attested is Latin rapuntium, with more or less derivative reflexes and reformations in other Romance languages, especially diminutives, but except in Italian, a direct descendance from the Latin word would have weakened the p to b or (in French) v. It is likely then that the words in -p- have their origin in borrowings from Italian. Gascon (or at least Occitan) rampouchou and Catalan repunxó are probably from Latin *rapuntionem, reformed as *ram/rempuntionem, which could also be the origin of presumably Old French rampion (alternately, the Latin original could have had the root *ramp not *rap). Spanish reponce, reponche are similar to French raiponce, in which the first vowel written ai must go back to Latin a. This would mean that the Spanish forms reponce, reponche were borrowed from French (the alternation between c and ch could be dialectal). Sp rapónchigo is probably from a different route, including a confusion with rapóntico, a word of Greek origin which is also one of the Spanish words for ‘rhubarb’. Portuguese ruiponto may be related to rapóntico, with influence from Sp ruibarbo ‘rhubarb’.
    German rapunzel must be from an Italian diminutive, probably a feminine one in -ola. Dutch uses the German form followed by a word meaning ‘bell’. Swedish has the same pattern, but uses rapunkel where the stem-final k is unexplained. Russian uses the German word after a derivative (?) of the word for ‘bell’, and Polish follows the same pattern with an adaptation of the Swedish word, preceded by what is presumably the Polish word for ‘bell’. The Estonian form seems to be calqued on the Polish one, this time with stem-final t, with reverse word order according to the pattern of that language. Of the two Hungarian forms, one uses raponc, which could have come from Italian raponzo via a Germanic borrowing *rapunz, followed by harangvirág meaning ‘bellflower’. The second form uses this word followed by one for which I could not find a translation.
    As for the Breton forms, the initial or stem rabez(-) is probably related to Latin rapa or rapum ‘edible root’, but I don’t have any information about the following word.
    Many details of the formations and correspondences are obscure, probably because this humble food plant must have had similar names in many dialects, and the official languages (or at least the sources generally available) have preserved only some of them.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    Swedish rapunkel seems to be a regular borrowing of Latin rapunculum.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Trond, you must be right. This would also explain Polish rapunkuᴌ.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    David, you’ve got to start coming around more often! I actually leave threads open an extra day or two, thinking “David Marjanović will probably have something to say about this,” but then the spam gets too rampant and I close them in frustration.

    *haz a sad* I’ve been doing métro-boulot-dodo, so I haven’t been at home enough except on the weekends, and this computer (soon to be replaced) takes forever to boot…

    Of the two Hungarian forms, one uses raponc, which could have come from Italian raponzo via a Germanic borrowing *rapunz

    Or the Hungarians interpreted the /l/ as a (southeastern) German diminutive ending and decided not to borrow it along with the supposed root.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    David: raponc : that makes sense.

  12. m.-l.

    The second form uses this word followed by one for which I could not find a translation.

    Did you mean >this? -k is the plural suffix.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Did you mean this?

    Link doesn’t work.

  14. Link doesn’t work.
    hat’s machinery must have stripped it of the code!
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-f%C3%A9le

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Juha, your link did work for me: félék is the plural of féle ‘type, sort’, but I did not know I should look for féle. So the second name harangvirág félék must mean ‘bellflower species’ (in the plural).

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