Today’s NY Times has a story about the tailors of Savile Row; my wife was reading it when she called me over and showed me this bit:

Both the tuxedo and the bowler hat were invented here, and when the suit emerged as the uniform of capitalism, the street set the gold standard for craft and durability. Its history and reputation are stellar enough that the name has found its way into at least one language. The Japanese word for “business suit” is sebiro. (Say it out loud.)

I raised my eyebrows and headed for the internet, where I found the Wiktionary entry for 背広 [sèbíró] ‘business suit’; the etymology says “Unknown, but thought to be related to English civil clothes, Savile Row, or Cheviot.” Sigh. I’ve long since stopped expecting, or even hoping, that newspapers will learn to double-check these enticing origin stories, but I still call them out when I get the chance.

Unrelated: I just learned that diathesis, which I knew only as an imposing word for grammatical voice (from Greek διάθεσις ‘disposition, arrangement’), is also a medical term meaning “a hereditary or constitutional predisposition to a group of diseases, an allergy, or other disorder.” I’m sure a great many Hatters knew that already; is it in common use?

Addendum. I just ran across a bizarre usage in the latest New Yorker; Evan Osnos is writing about the change brought by the telegraph: “By the end of the century, readers were wading through a flood of cheap errata from afar—mostly of war, crime, fires, and floods.” As far as I know, errata can mean only ‘errors in writing or printing’; can anyone think how it might have come to be used for (presumably) ‘newspaper stories’? (Insert boilerplate rant on decline of copyediting standards at major publications.)

Further Addendum. Another from the latest New Yorker: in Merve Emre’s “Tricked Out” (retitled online as Our Love-Hate Relationship with Gimmicks), she says “The word ‘gimmick’ is believed to come from ‘gimac,’ an anagram of ‘magic.’” No it fucking isn’t; OED, AHD, and M-W all concur in the judgment “Origin unknown.” The OED has a 1936 citation from Words (Nov. 12/2):

The word gimac means ‘a gadget’. It is an anagram of the word magic, and is used by magicians the same way as others use the word ‘thing-a-ma-bob’.

That’s certainly suggestive, but it’s not an etymology. Stop it with the cute word-origin stories, people! They’re all lies, lies!

…And then Emre says this:

In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Invitation to a Beheading,” from 1935, a mother distracts her imprisoned son from counting the hours to his execution by describing the “marvelous gimmicks” of her childhood.

Argh, what a mess! Invitation to a Beheading (the New Yorker quirkily insists on putting the titles of novels in quotes) is a 1959 translation of Приглашение на казнь, which was published in the Paris journal Sovremennye zapiski in 1935-36 and as a book in 1938; “marvelous gimmicks” is, of course, quoted from the translation, and the original has “удивительные уловки” [astonishing/wonderful tricks]. Emre goes on to chew on these “gimmicks” at length:

The most shocking, she explains, was a trick mirror. When “shapeless, mottled, pockmarked, knobby things” were placed in front of the mirror, it would reflect perfectly sensible forms: flowers, fields, ships, people. When confronted with a human face or hand, the mirror would reflect a jumble of broken images. As the son listens to his mother describe her gimmick, he sees her eyes spark with terror and pity, “as if something real, unquestionable (in this world, where everything was subject to question), had passed through, as if a corner of this horrible life had curled up, and there was a glimpse of the lining.” Behind the mirror lurks something monstrous—an idea of art as device, an object whose representational powers can distort and devalue just as easily as they can estrange and enchant.

Trick mirrors are gimmicks, but they are also metaphors for how gimmicks work, eliciting both charm and suspicion.

But all of this is bullshit, because it’s based on a translation; the original passage is in Russian and has nothing to do with the word “gimmick”! That’s not some esoteric quibble, and it’s perfectly evident if you give it a moment’s thought. But of course you’d have to know that Invitation to a Beheading is a translation, and I guess we can’t assume that knowledge on the part of the magazine’s authors or editors. We live in a fallen world.

…But wait, there’s more! She goes on to say:

Yet its single-use success—no other writer could get away with repeating her trick—reminds us that the literary marketplace, as Theodor Adorno once observed of the art world, favors “work with a ‘personal touch,’ or more bluntly, a gimmick.”

Adorno observed no such thing! She’s quoting from Aesthetic Theory, a 1995 English translation by Robert Hullot-Kentor of Adorno’s Ästhetische Theorie. I don’t have an easy way of finding out what Adorno actually wrote, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “a gimmick.” So again, Adorno is irrelevant if you want to talk about gimmicks. And surely Emre is aware Adorno didn’t write in English.


  1. Diathesis is a standard Russian term for food allergies causing rashes. Since most of the Russian Hatters experienced it in their childhood, most of them know it from well before they learned other Greek words.

  2. Interesting!

  3. I think New Yorker should issue errata.

  4. Just to finish the trifecta of respected NYC publications, the New York Review of Books published this, in Mark Mazower’s 2019 review of two books on Talaat Pasha: “… a paramilitary force of irregular killers under the control of a Talaat confidante, Behaeddin Şhakir.” In the online version they’ve corrected it to Şakir, which is encouraging, but still: where were the copyeditors?

  5. It sounds like Osnos thinks errata means “small printed items, such as might appear offset in a box.”

  6. Ah, good guess. We all have such misinformation in odd corners of our brain, but it’s the job of the editorial staff to save us from displaying it to the public.

  7. I wonder is Osnos intended ephemera, and simply miswrote? Or perhaps he mistyped the word, and was sandbagged by the spool chucker.

    I still remember, long ago, I think in one of Douglas Hoftstader’s works on self-reference, an errata entry for the errata page itself that read something like: “For errata, read erratum“. (And, obviously, nothing else.)

  8. Plausible headings for a column of such short notices include “In brief” and “Around the world”. The only name I can think of for an individual notice is “bus plunge”, but even as a metonym it’s not quite broad enough. Is there an actual name in use that might be confused with “errata”?

  9. @Owlmirror: Once or twice a year, MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech, would put out a parody issue, parodying one of the publications of campus. (The quality of the humor was highly variable.) For one such issue, my sole contribution was writing errata boxes. The first one was supposedly a correction of something (that had not actually appeared) on the front page, followed by further boxes successively correcting previous corrections, with variable levels of apology.

  10. i also thought of ephemera. or memoranda? effluvia? trivia?

  11. John S Costello says

    The “diathesis-stress” model for psychological disorders is taught in undergrad psych classes. “Diathesis” is the underlying predisposition towards the disorder, which is triggered by the “stress”.

  12. Thanks!

  13. Stu Clayton says

    Whatever the word “errata” there was supposed to be, it should be a word that makes sense when modified by “cheap”. That puzzles me more than “errata”. I can’t imagine any association of “cheap” with “war, crime, fires, and floods”. Even reports on such things are not “cheap”. Nor is “wading through” them.

    I withhold benefit of the doubt and declare that sentence to be dead in the water. Blame is not always fairly assignable to copyeditors. Let’s call a spud a spud.

  14. Speaking of being confused about words that begin with the same letter or letters, “diathesis” reminded me of a word for a different medical condition, meaning “A gap or space between two adjacent teeth, especially the upper front incisors (in humans).”. But I couldn’t recall it exactly at first, and had to resort to a Wiktionary browse (“dia-something? diaresis? no… diastasis?” no…).


  15. Whatever the word “errata” there was supposed to be, it should be a word that makes sense when modified by “cheap”.

    But “cheap” is exactly what I would associate with “ephemera”.

    Maybe “excreta” was intended.

    Even reports on such things are not “cheap”.

    “Cheap”, as in “a cheap way to increase sales”. See: Yellow journalism.

    [Vicious fight breaks out in usually staid language blog! Cutting words flung! Sarcasm deployed! Exclamation marks horribly overused! Disgusting smears slung about! Read all about it!]

  16. Stu Clayton says

    If ephemera are by nature cheap, then “cheap ephemera” doesn’t make much sense. If they are not, then there should be such a thing as pricey ephemera – but I can’t think of any.

    Anyway, wars etc are hardly ephemera.

  17. No, wars are not ephemeral. But journalism about wars is ephemeral. News articles on the current violence being committed. Maybe he should have written “battles” or “attacks on a certain front/location in wars”, but he was being brief.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    pricey ephemera

    A night on the town …

  19. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I read cheap as ‘filling columns cheaply’ – I mean, presumably you do pay for what I believe are called wire stories, but no one from your office has to be paid to spend time investigating them.

    Maybe ephemera – if you still mainly report local news, only the most sensational snippets of world news are likely to find space, and no one story is likely to stick around for long.

  20. I read it as “stuff that erred in/over here”, erratic stuff.

  21. David Marjanović says

    at major publications

    You missed such a chance to write preëminent here.

    “a hereditary or constitutional predisposition to a group of diseases, an allergy, or other disorder.”

    Never heard of it, but medical terminology in common use can be amazingly different in different countries. For example, Angina in German is not an angina pectoris unless that second word is mentioned, but a strep throat.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Diathesis is indeed a known word (in the given sense) for UK medics, though I find it doesn’t come up much in my own line of work. “Bleeding diathesis” is probably the commonest use in Real (medical) Life.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    Angina in German is not an angina pectoris unless that second word is mentioned, but a strep throat.

    A similar sense persists in UK medicalese in “Ludwig’s Angina”

    (It’s very nasty.)

  24. By repeatedly trying to misspell that addendum text, my phone’s autocorrect says that undoubtedly Osnos meant “[b]y the end of the century, readers were wading through a flood of cheap erotica from afar—mostly of war, crime, fires, and floods.” Considering that SMUT is the same length as STOP, this seems most likely to me, too.

  25. I like it!

  26. cheap erotica from afar

    Funny. But the word that’d occurred to me fits the context better: “exotica from afar…”

  27. Hmm. Could be!

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Are not the best erotica also exotica?

    OK. Maybe it’s just me, then.

  29. Roberto Batisti says

    As a Classical linguist I am of course well-acquainted with the grammatical sense of diathesis (especially since Italian diatesi is the usual term for ‘grammatical voice’, not confined to technical discourse), but I learned of the medical sense only last year.

  30. Indeed, erotic dancers are often called exotic dancers in the U.S., apparently once to dodge the authorities, and now by mere tradition. The U.S. is also the home of that wonderful word for ‘stripper’, ecdysiast, coined by H. L. Mencken at the behest of stripper Georgia Sothern, another Baltimorean artist (and not Gypsy Rose Lee, as often claimed).

    ephemera are by nature cheap

    Single-page broadsides (aka leaflets or flyers) printed before 1550 command hefty prices today, precisely because they were intended as ephemera and most of the copies were used to wrap fish or kindle fires or were otherwise destroyed.

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    All pricey things are ephemeral (it’s just a question of degree.)

  32. Maybe he was trying for a coinage: “cheap erratica” — random (and perhaps error-filled) violence-porn from all over the place.

  33. All pricey things are ephemeral (it’s just a question of degree.)

    In the sense that they will not survive the Sun’s expansion, yes. Elemental rhenium is rare (the Earth’s supply of it is mostly in the iron core) and expensive (US$1300/kg), but hardly ephemeral.

  34. I thought I would just ask him. This is what he replied, via Twitter DM:

    My “errata” was, alas, an erratum. I was really thinking of something like “squib” (in the North American usage, newspaper filler).

  35. Thanks for that!

  36. “Squib” is of unknown etymology (possibly onomatopoeic) but lacks the apparently-desired majesty of a Latinate word. Google translate suggests “libellus” as the closest Latin equivalent of the relevant sense of squib, so maybe a jocular coinage from that? Libellotica? Maybe the lawyers in charge of defending newspapers and magazines from libel accusations wouldn’t like it, of course.

  37. Unknown, but thought to be related to English civil clothes, Savile Row, or Cheviot.”

    This is a very strange statement indeed. “Savile Row” to “sebiro” is plausible, as is “civil clothes” to “sebiro”, but I can’t think of any remotely believable reason why a men’s business suit should be known as a “Cheviot”. Cheviot is a range of hills on the Scottish borders, and a breed of sheep from the hills. Yes, men’s business suits are made from wool, but (unlike merino or cashmere or mohair) Cheviot wool isn’t sufficiently good quality or distinctive to be used as a name for the fabric.

    “Civil clothes” is odd too – no one uses that phrase in BrE. You’d say “plain clothes” or “civilian clothes”, or (obs.) “mufti”. Though I googled it and found several uses, meaning “plain clothes”, in the English-language Indian press, so perhaps it’s survived there while dying out in Britain?

    And it’s simply wrong to say that Savile Row was the birthplace of the bowler hat. James Lock & Co’s chief designer, William Bowler, produced the first bowler hats, and Lock’s shop is, as it has been for two hundred years, in St James Street, not Savile Row.

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    Maybe just as a running “miscellaneous stuff about genome-sequencing and prehistory) thread is needed, a running “stupid stuff about language published in the New Yorker” thread is needed?

  39. I guess this is it!

  40. Lars Mathiesen says

    Speaking of planetary cores and solar system evolution, I touched a bit of Mars (1e7 $/kg) the other night, courtesy of a Mr. Bizzarro. It turns out there are undifferentiated bits of original material in its mantle, because no plate tectonics. Look for a rousing yarn of 50 micron zircons getting lost under microscopes, coming to a major publication “soon”.

  41. David Marjanović says

    Yay, zircons. They tend to have trace amounts of very interesting stuff inside…

  42. From personal experience, reducing a rock which barely fits in your hand to a half a pea’s worth of barely discernable shiny zircons is very satisfying.

  43. Lars Mathiesen says

    Martin Bizzarro did look like a man who is happy with his job. Apatite inclusions, in this case.

  44. @ajay: “Cheviot wool isn’t sufficiently good quality or distinctive to be used as a name for the fabric.”

    But it is so used: Google “Cheviot cloth.” It even has its own Britannica entry. Since шевиотовый was a relatively common adjective in 20th-century Russian (usually applied to a jacket or a coat), it’s not at all unlikely that the word made it into Japanese as well.

  45. Interesting! I had not come across that at all – in that case, I agree with you that it does sound plausible.

  46. Ah, I hadn’t read Ästhetische Theorie since I was writing my undergrad dissertation, but I’m always up for a spot of Adorno scholarship! The relevant passage reads:

    Vielfach wird unmittelbar gesellschaftlichökonomisch in die künstlerische Produktion eingegriffen; gegenwärtig etwa durch langfristige Verträge von Malern mit Kunsthändlern, die das begünstigen, was kunstgewerblich eigene Note, schnodderig Masche heißt. (GS7, p. 340)

    I’ll leave the unpicking of the semantics of Masche to those better versed.

  47. Thanks! GT does pretty well with that up until the crucial endpoint, where it collapses in confusion: “In many cases there is direct socio-economic intervention in artistic production; at present, for example, through long-term contracts between painters and art dealers, which favor what is called a neat handicraft with its own mark.” (I gather “trick” would be a more appropriate rendering of Masche in this context.)

  48. My German is so rusty it crumbles on touch, but I have the feeling ‘shtick’ may be the best approximation — it captures both the distinctiveness and the artifice.

  49. David Marjanović says

    That’s closer. Not having Masche in this sense in my active vocabulary myself, I’d explain it as “somewhat eccentric personal hallmark/distinctive way of doing things”.

    (I have the more literal meanings of Masche in my active vocabulary: “the figure you tie your shoelaces in”, also any ornamental bow especially in the dialectal diminutive.)


    “German” is misleading there; Stück is “piece”, but here you have to start from Theaterstück and send it through Yiddish.

  50. Re: Further Addendum: “Gimmick” — it seemed probable to me that the word derived from an older sense of “gimcrack”, but I guess the OED needs more than a few letters of similarity and a similar older meaning.


    [2.] b. A mechanical contrivance; also plural scientific apparatus.
    1709 R. Steele Tatler No. 34. ⁋5 My Eye was diverted by Ten Thousand Gimcracks round the Room.
    1712 J. Arbuthnot John Bull Still in Senses vi. 24 What a Devil’s the meaning of all these Trangams and Gimcracks [surveying instruments] Gentlemen?
    1772 T. Mudge Let. 2 June in Descr. Timekeeper (1799) 23 I am prosecuting my gimcrack with all the vigour I am able, and hope I shall have an opportunity of shewing it to you going (but I fear without the balance spring).
    1887 A. Gray Lett. (1893) 796 Weisner’s physiological laboratory I had an hour or two in, and saw all his gimcracks.

    [ . . . ]

    4. (See quots. 1785, 1854.) Now only dialect.
    1766 B. Franklin Let. 6 Apr. in Wks. (1887) III. 458 There is also a gimcrack corkscrew, which you must get some brother gimcrack to show you the use of.
    1785 F. Grose Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue (at cited word) A gimcrack also means a person who has a turn for mechanical contrivances.
    1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northamptonshire Words I. 272 Gimcrack, or Gimcrank, an universal mechanic, a Jack of all trades. ‘He’s quite a gimcrank, he can turn his hand to anything.’

    Searching Google Books can be a huge pain, because it includes as a date the date of first publication. So I’m looking at the offered text, and seeing that there’s something suspiciously modern-looking about it . . . and, duh, it’s got 1962 printed right there! Feh.

    Nevertheless, I found two antedates to the OED’s 1926 citations. The first is a bit surprising, because it’s hardly a minor publication:

    Smith, Edward H. Invention and the “Grifter”. Scientific American, August 1923.

    But perhaps the simplest way to make the whole business clear is to take up a few of the representative summer park and carnival games and explain how they are gimmicked.

    [ . . . ]

    The grifter laughed loudly, pocketed the wise young man’s money and benignantly showed his new friend the gimmick, an obvious enough little catch which kept the blade from being closed down.

    The other is a little more obscure, but is interesting precisely because it does not have anything to do with carnival games or magicians’ devices.

    Domestic Engineering and the Journal of Mechanical Contracting. Attributed to Strickland W. Gilliland in L.H. Drury’s “Hits”. January 8, 1910

    In a hotel in Muscatine, Iowa, the other day I twisted the gimmick attached to the radiator [. . .]

    Google Books link. Freely downloadable.

  51. Two more hits for “gimmick” that antedate 1926:

    Picking Winners with Major Miles. Copyright 1922.

    . . . I will introduce yo’ to th’ real gimmick of th’ game.


    The Flutist, June 1923. Credited to Nat Rapport.

    But here! What fine adjustment of the tension on this spring,
    The glorious golden gimmick, this and that and everything —

    This one is interesting because it is accompanied by a humourous illustration showing a flute with added odds and ends, labelled with letters. Once again, “gimmick” refers to a generic mechanical add-on or contrivance, without the specificity of carnie scams or magicians’ props.

  52. One more:

    Long Lines, December 1922. “Under the Bounding Main”, by R. P. Glover.

    (Subtitle: When Number Two Key West-Havana Cable Fails, Telephone Men Board Ship and Yank Up Deep Line to Repair Troubles.)

    Putting cable over pulley in the “gimmick” on barge’s end

  53. I am tempted to derive gimmick from informal English “gimme” with “-ic/ick” suffix attached.

    Original meaning then – “that small piece of machinery which I keep asking for”

  54. The Billboard, April 14, 1917

    Callicutt is a hard worker, full of original funmaking and dry witticisms, and served [I think – text is very blurry right here] to be the gimmick to the success which that attraction enjoyed.

    Here, “gimmick” is clearly being used more abstractly.

  55. Telephone Review. The date that Google Books presents is 1922, but I’ve learned to distrust that. Still, it reminds me of the citation from “Long Lines”, definitely dated to 1922.

    Gimmick: Device for guiding rope when pulling underground cable through ducts . ( L.I. )
    Gimmig: Any tool whose name is not remembered or known . ( M.B.W. )

    SFReader, are your real initials MBW?

  56. Telephone Review was published by the New York Telephone Company and I learned that abbreviation M.B.W. in that company stood for Manhattan-Bronx-Westchester Area of New York City.

    I suppose the word “gimmig” was supplied by employees of the New York Telephone Company working in that area.

    Abbreviation “L.I.” above stands for Long Island, obviously.

  57. Owlmirror: Those are great antedates, you should send them to the good folks at OED.

  58. I should have realized that the initials in parentheses were not individuals, because the next entries in that list of local jargon terms are:

    Goose Egg: Strand connectors for splicing messenger. (Albany)
    Gun: Blow torch for waxing cables. (Newark)

    In my defense: Tiny blurry print.

  59. Lexico “powered by Oxford” has sv ‘gimmick’

    of unknown origin but possibly an approximate anagram of magic, the original sense being ‘a piece of magicians’ apparatus’.

    I suspect many hack journalists of automatically removing any hedges and qualifiers when using (credited or otherwise) a scholarly or scientific source. I wouldn’t expect it of a New Yorker Writer, though.

  60. These don’t both antedate the OED, but I thought I’d post them, because they were from the New Yorker itself, and because the uses of “gimmick” seems unusual to me – a vicious and brutal trick, or a base fraud :

    New Yorker, July 28, 1928. “A Reporter at Large” (I didn’t see a byline) This was about the New York State Boxing Commission:

    On a tour of the Middle West, Miller was alleged to have whispered about that his man Tiger Flowers had been knocked unconscious by Jack Delaney with the help of a gimmick, or large iron rivet wrapped in tape and worn inside of the [boxing] glove. The commission ruled that loose whispering in the Middle West about gimmicks was contempt of the commission, since it might give the impression that the commission’s rules were not properly enforced. The commission’s rules forbid the use of gimmicks, brass knuckles, red pepper, vitriol, and articles of ironmongery in boxing gloves.

    New Yorker, December 25, 1926. “Talk of the Town” (no byline?)

    Since the paragraphs are about words, I’ll post all of them for the general interest:

      Usually when a new word is born into the world, there are no photographers or reporters lurking in the shadows of the hospital portals. Indeed, on such occasions these breeders of self-consciousness are almost invariably fatal and a nice new word like “scofflaw,” for instance, dies in its pretty and expensive swaddling clothes.
      Less public are the verbal accouchements among the lawless. Lo, already the bootleggers have three fine sturdy new words roaming this city. No one seems to know where they came from. Their age, ancestry and place of birth are alike uncertain. The bootlegger is using a new vocabulary to express the graduations of his stock. If his Scotch is genuinely true to its label’s boast, then he will say to his intimates, “That there stuff’s the McCoy.” If the label is spurious and the contents a trifle nouveaux, such stuff is known as the Gimmick. Most of us drink Gimmick.
      Finally there is the stuff which is both spurious without and lethal within, not only phony but foul. This, dear readers, is known as the Gonfaroo. If, in the final hours of 1926, you have any lingering inclination to give 1927 a try, beware the Gonfaroo.

    NB: Per the OED “scofflaw”:

    Jan 16, 1924. Boston Herald
    Delcevare King of Quincy last night announced that ‘scofflaw’ is the winning word in the contest for the $200 he offered for a word, to characterize the ‘lawless drinker’ of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor. ‘Scofflaw’ was chosen from more than 25,000 words, submitted from all the states and from several foreign countries. The word was sent by two contestants, so the prize will be equally divided between Henry Irving Dale..and Miss Kate L. Butler.

    I am tempted to read “Gonfaroo” as “Goinfre-roux” – glutton-sauce. Anyone have a better take?

  61. I thought that contest sounded familiar; turns out John Cowan mentioned it back in 2010.

  62. During the Prohibition, contraband alcohol in New York came from Quebec, so the source could have been French Canadian slang.

  63. Green’s Dictionary of Slang is my first place to go. It has examples of grifter from 1911, 1914, and 1915, and of gimmick from as early as 1911. I like the 1921 example: “Being a Possible Questionnaire for Submission to Applicants for the Position of Assistant Stage Doorman […] What is the starflop? A startrap? A vampire trap? A gimmick?”

  64. David Eddyshaw says

    Gonfaroo immediately suggested granfalloon (because Bokononism explains everything)

    Sadly, it seems unlikely (for technical reasons that I will not enter into here, as the margin is too narrow) that the bootlegger term is derived from Cat’s Cradle.

  65. An idea, here. OED has gammock, n.2, < game n. + -ock suffix, “A piece of fun; a game, a jest; a frolic. Frequently in plural: antics, ‘tricks’.” Going back to 1819. Spelled variously gammyk, gamock, gommack, gamack, gamak, gamalk, gammick, gammik, gammock, gammuck, gammux, in various parts of England, from Cheshire to East Anglia to Surrey to Devon.

  66. it seems unlikely that the bootlegger term is derived from Cat’s Cradle.

    Reportedly, real live mafiosos started using “Godfather” as a term of respect for their bosses, under the influence of Mario Puzo’s book. When he was growing up, he said, it was just an affectionate term for older people, not necessarily relatives, like English “uncle”.

  67. @Y: The FBI, who were listening in on so many mafia conversations in the 1970s, noted that the speech of the gangsters really started imitating The Godfather after the movie was so influential. The film was, after all, immensely popular with organized crime leaders, soldiers, and associates, since it portrayed many of the characters (especially Brando’s Vito Corleone, who, for example, wanted nothing to do with narcotics) as adhering to a sort of ethical code, which they took deadly seriously. As I remember one obituary for Puzo said, “he sometimes allowed the Corleones to be judge on their own terms.”

  68. I wonder if some of that was trying to connect with some mythical old Sicilianhood in the face of assimilation (which is alluded to in the book, in the person of Michael.)

  69. @Y: Assimilation of the mafia was definitely a cultural issue at the time, but it turns out to be very complicated matter, which I doubt anybody has every fully understood—inside or outside of the mafia. By the time The Godfather film came out, only the Bonanno crime family was still importing a substantial number of mafiosi from Sicily. The American La Cosa Nostra was inducting new made men who were of Italian, but not Sicilian, descent. The “Italian” mob had largely become a second- and third-generation Italian-American group, alongside an increasingly diverse crew of (non-member) associates.

    In general, assimilation of the mafia into American culture seems to have been (perhaps paradoxically, given how much more violent the “men of honor” could get away with being in the old country) associated with increasing levels of violence. Salvatore Marzano (coincidentally or not, the founder of the Bonanno family*) was the last of the old-fashioned “Mustache Petes” to be a preeminent figure in the American mafia. While he had himself come to power by killing off the even more old fashioned and hidebound Giuseppe Masseria, Marzano’s rule only lasted half of 1931, before he was himself offed on the order of Lucky Luciano (who had previously assisted in killing his own boss, Masseria), who was relatively open to both the drug trade and more violent new forms of extortion. Luciano, although born in Sicily, was much more Americanized culturally, having immigrated when he was only eight. Moreover, unlike the Mustache Petes, Luciano was willing to go outside La Cosa Nostra to arrange the hit, which was carried out by (probably) three Jewish gangsters, one of whom was Bugsy Siegel.

    * Until the 1960s, mafia families tended to change their names upon taking a new leader. However, once the FBI started to crack down on them, the bosses quickly realized that it was not in their best interest to have their own names used to refer to their criminal organizations. So the names became fixed—Gambino, Genovese, Columbo, etc.—and even the position of “boss” more and more frequently became an obfuscation,** where the official boss would merely be a lieutenant, with the real boss acting from well behind the scenes and insulating himself from prosecution by giving as few direct orders as possible.

    ** Having a fake “front boss” was not a new idea in the 1970s, although more families started using front bosses at that time. Paul Ricca*** may have been the real boss of the Chicago Outfit from as early as 1931, when Frank Nitti took over from “Scarface” Al Capone as the official leader. Ricca certainly remained the real power after his own stint as the official boss, although Ricca gradually passed more and more control to another one of his former front bosses, Anthony “Big Tuna” Accardo, after Accardo’s own “retirement.” Ricca and Accardo continued to use front bosses for decades, and they were fairly successful in distracting attention away from themselves. Outfit front boss Sam Giancana is (and was) far better known than the shadowy Ricca and Accardo, who were still pulling the threads**** from behind the scenes.

    *** Paul “the Waiter” was a man of many names. Born Felice De Lucia, his legal name through most of his criminal career in America was Paul De Lucia. He was also, rather notably for somebody who was a leading mafia figure by the early 1930s, not from Sicily but Naples. As a youth in the old country, he had been an associate of the Camorra, rather than La Cosa Nostra.

    **** I did not mean this as joke, but I realized that it might come across as one, since Giancana infamously ran his operations as a capo and later front boss out of a tailor’s shop.

  70. Fascinating! As an aficionado of the Godfather films, I have an interest in that sort of thing.

  71. >there should be such a thing as pricey ephemera – but I can’t think of any.

    Rudy Giuliani’s reputation as an attorney?

    I can only raise a hackle or two at a newspaper that attributes the etymology of sebiro to one of three words that is mentioned in a more formal etymology, and is the only one of those three that seems likely to have given that result.

  72. January First-of-May says

    there should be such a thing as pricey ephemera – but I can’t think of any

    Basically anything that was not intended to be saved long-term and is now collectible.

    The first example that comes to my mind is admission tickets to old exhibitions, some of which can cost hundreds of dollars; I’m sure there’s an even better example that I just couldn’t think of offhand.

  73. Baseball cards.

  74. I was just discussing this with my daughter. The classic examples are (at least in America) were baseball cards and comic books. They were popular but ephemeral, thrown out by mid-century moms in enormous numbers. Looking at the values of items of different ages, one can actually see how the price structure changes, once they become known as popular collectables so that people start hoarding them.

    There is a separate phenomenon of collectables that people expect to become valuable (like Beanie Babies). The purveyors might try to create manufactured scarcity, but even if there is a rapid run-up in prices, it typically collapses, because the real scarcity is not there, and interest in the product was often just a fad to begin.

  75. Incidentally, “Gimmig” appears to be a real name. A lot (most? nearly all?) of the hits in Google books are names, not things. GB also has the Close Rolls of Henry III, with a Thomas de Gimmig’ (Gymeges, Gymeg’) (see also Gamag’, Gamages, Gamasch’, Gammach’) (anyone know what those trailing apostrophes represent? Just the clipped “-es”?)

    An eventual spelling variant could well have been “Gimmick”, which does show up as a name in some searches. For example, there was a Gimmick Furniture Manufacturing Company; a Philip Gimmick (from Russia?) lived in London and received a Certificate of Naturalization from the Home Office; a Samuel E Gimmick served as Attorney General for Pennsylvania; probably others . . .

    [ One “Gimmick” was an OCR error (for “Chinniah”) in a partly viewable book, but also available fully available in a different edition: A Progressive Grammar of the Telugu Language with Copious Examples and Exercises; hey, free language book.]

  76. Probably most of these names are related to

    Recorded as Gamage, Gammidge, Cammidge, Cammiage, and the variant dialectals Gammey and Gammie, this famous name is English, but of Norman-French origins. It is locational and derives from the villages of Gamaches found in the Department of Eure, Normandy. It has been claimed that the earliest name holders were followers of the Conqueror in 1066 and this is probable, although the earliest recording is somewhat late. The name is recorded heraldically in France, both in Picardy and Berry, the main original coat of arms having the blazon of two golden lions passant on a black field, whilst the English coat of arms granted to Payne de Gammage in about the year 1450 has a silver field charged with five red lozenges in diagonal. The name oddly, is believed to be from the ancient Gaelic words “Cam-apia” meaning winding river”. The name development includes Alicia Gamage of Oxford in the Hundred Rolls of 1279, and William Gamage of Yorkshire in 1583. Somewhat later in Victorian times we have the recordings of Martha Cammiage at the church of All Souls, Marylebone, and James Alexander Gammie at Sty John the Baptist, Notting Hill Gate, both city of London, on October 22nd 1871. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Godfrey de Gamages. This was dated 1158, in the Pipe Rolls of the county of Hereford during the reign of King Henry 11nd of England, 1216 – 1272. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

  77. When found as a surname among scarecrows, golems, etc., the name is most commonly spelled Gummidge.

  78. David Marjanović says

    The name oddly, is believed to be from the ancient Gaelic words “Cam-apia” meaning winding river”.


    See also: Gars am Kamp.

  79. David Eddyshaw says

    Is there really a Gaulish *apia “river”? All the Insular Celtic “river” words I know are from *ab-, not *aq-.

    Presumably *-abia would give French –age (as with rage.) I’m not sure that *-apia would (sachant.)

  80. German wiki derives Kamp from Celtic kamb- crooked.

    Does the nearby placename Kamegg contradict that?

  81. Well known to British people of a certain age: Worzel Gummidge.

  82. I am tempted to read “Gonfaroo” as “Goinfre-roux”

    No searches for “gonfaroo” have found any other hits besides that one New Yorker article (well, there’s a French commune called “Gonfaron” which shows up as “Gonfaroo” as an OCR error). Looking for bootlegging slang doesn’t show any similar words that might have been spelled differently. Toxic liquor is “rotgut”, already well known.

    Continuing my speculation, I note that goinfreux = gluttonous = glouton = Gulo gulo = wolverine = “this drink will tear your guts out”.

    Alas for this notion, French Wikipedia gives no suggestion that goinfre/goinfreux has ever been used to refer to the animal, only glouton, for the European subspecies. The Québécois for the North American subspecies is carcajou, derived from Algonquin Kwi’kwa’ju.

  83. David Marjanović says

    All the Insular Celtic “river” words I know are from *ab-, not *aq-.

    But *abonā is from *h₂ap-h₃on-ah₂ “the one having water”, with the actually PIE “water” root rather than the one that’s limited to Germanic, Italic and maybe Celtic.

    German wiki derives Kamp from Celtic kamb- crooked.

    Yeah, that’s the standard explanation, and seems rather more likely. By the way, that would be one of about two words where *mb became mp in the High German consonant shift as one would expect; the other is Wampe “fat belly”, the cognate of womb.

    It’s also not clear to me why *k would become g in French word-initially.

    Does the nearby placename Kamegg contradict that?

    No idea.


    Keep in mind those don’t occur south of Scandinavia (and are limited to the mountains even there). The whole “glutton” complex looks like a translation of the German term, Vielfraß, basically “eat-a-lot”, which is usually interpreted as a 15th-century folk etymology of the “Old Norwegian” fjeldfross “rock/mountain tomcat”.

    (I don’t know how much it eats. But it don’t care. It eats what it wants.)

    Speaking of folk etymology, I just found the English name quickhatch on Wikipedia, from East Cree kwîhkwahâcêw.

  84. David Eddyshaw says


    Thanks. From PG’s discussions:

    they include several European river-names ending in -apa (which might or might not be a Gaulish cognate of aqua, not confirmed by any Gaulish text)

    Looks like this *apia “river” is indeed a figment (as indeed is *abia.) But then one would expect no less from someone who thinks the Gauls spoke “ancient Gaelic.”

  85. PlasticPaddy says

    1. The element “am Kamp” could mean “at the river bend” the adjective cam is crooked but in placenames there is a specific form camas for riverbend.
    2. These names in lower Austria need to be traced to their earliest attestation, because the settlement pattern (Celtic replaced by Slavic and Germanic) was a long and dynamic process.
    For example Gars am Kamp: the consensus seems to be that the Kamp is Celtic. But is Gars from Slavic “gor” or Germanic “gerade” (giving a placename “straight by the crooked” but OK) or something else? My guess is that this name (compare Gars am Inn, which has an early attestation) is ultimately from PG *gardaz, but this was borrowed very early in to Celtic, and Gars may continue the Celtic word.

  86. Maybe “Gaelic” was somebody’s “correction” of “Gallic.”

  87. David Eddyshaw says

    I suspect you’re right. I was thinking it might be something like an autocorrection of “Gaulish”, but “Gallic” is much more plausible as a starting point. Still wrong, but much less silly.

    French Wikipedia says “le gaulois (autrefois appelé gallique)”, though I don’t recall seeing the language called “Gallic” in English. I expect someone did, though …

  88. Kid—back in my day, we made autocorrect errors by hand!

  89. @David Marjanović: Wampa.

  90. J.W. Brewer says

    Re the Gaelic/Gallic ambiguity, I thought I had probably previously quoted at this site the relevant excerpt from the liner notes to Steeleye Span’s _Below the Salt_ LP, viz. “So there we was sitting in this dressing room when in comes this guy with glasses and he says, ‘Oim afraid youse got de wrong toitles for de toons,’ and then he goes and rattles off a whole load of Garlic what we couldn’t make out, so we gets the roadies to see him off. Handy things roadies.”

    But some googling suggests that my previous quotation was over at Language Log (in 2013), where I further explained: The track this text relates to is a set of jigs said to have been composed by “Trad.” and rightly or wrongly titled “The Bride’s Favourite / Tansey’s Fancy.”

  91. David Eddyshaw says

    Gaelic and Gallic are in fact exact homophones in my idiolect, and (I think) for Scots in general.

  92. per incuriam says

    La Cosa Nostra

    La Mamma Mia

  93. Here’s an interesting turn-up, directly contra the claim that “gimmick” had its origin in “gimac”; magicians’ devices (I mean, given all the antedating appearances, that seems highly probable, but it’s nice to see additional confirmation from specific examples of negative evidence in usage by magicians themselves).

    Fleischman, A. S. Words in Modern Magic. American Speech, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Feb., 1949), pp. 38-42

      Somewhere between 1928 and 1932¹² the word gimmick came to magic and filled a conspicuous vacancy in the language. The word is used to describe any article secretly brought into play during a trick. Thus a thread, magnet, or mirror may be the gimmick of a trick. It is interesting to look through the literature of magic prior to the appearance of this word and find the authors groping for a word not then in the terminology. One finds such circumlocutions as ‘the additional element in the apparatus’ or such vague diminutives as little appliance, little mechanical aid, or little accessory.

      Magicians had some difficulty, at first, in pinning the word down to a standard spelling. Since gimac is an anagram of magic, many writers of magic in the early thirties preferred that spelling, and most magicians believed that to be the source of the word. Actually, of course, the term had been borrowed, probably from the carnival man’s lexicon, and has since passed into the general idiom. Gimic, gimmik, and gimick all appear in the magical periodicals of the thirties, but anything other than gimmick is now considered to be a misspelling.

    And footnote 12 reads:

    12. In a catalogue issued by the Thayer Magic Company in 1928, the word gimmick does not appear. In a supplement published four years later the word appears several times. Usage is closely reflected and often inspired by the magic catalogues.

    Speaking of magic catalogues, Google Books turned up a magic book that it claims is from 1927 which has the word “gimmick” all over the place: Magic · Volume 3, by Harlan Tarbell. I wonder now if that might be the first place it occurred, to then spread to the rest of the magic-practicing world?

    Someone compiled and uploaded Tarbell’s works to the Internet Archive. There’s no trustworthy copyright, but there is a paragraph in the introductory material that contains:

    My Linking Ring Trick, for instance, was invented by a Chinaman in 1735, almost 200 years ago. And now in 1926, I use this simple trick. In 200 years no spectator has discovered the secret of it. Yet it is based on the simplest move imaginable.

    In the text of the book, “Gimmick” specifically refers to a connector used for rope tricks.

  94. David Marjanović says

    1. The element “am Kamp” could mean “at the river bend” the adjective cam is crooked but in placenames there is a specific form camas for riverbend.

    The whole river is called Kamp; it is indeed crooked all over, though that’s not terribly distinctive in that region.

    But is Gars from Slavic “gor” or Germanic “gerade” (giving a placename “straight by the crooked” but OK) or something else?

    Neither can explain the -s as far as I can see.

    PG *gardaz, but this was borrowed very early in to Celtic

    Could just be cognate.



  95. Wampe “fat belly”, the cognate of womb

    <* LED moment *>

  96. Vielfraß


    Originally meaning “glutton (one who eats a lot)”, from Proto-Finnic *ahma. Related to dialectal Estonian ahm, Ingrian ahmo, Karelian ahmo, ahmoi, Ludian ahmo, Votic ahmia (~ ahmia) and more distantly to Northern Sami vuosmmis (from Proto-Samic *vuosvēs).

    The meaning “wolverine” is possibly a calque from other European languages such as German Vielfraß and Latin gulo.

    IPA(key): /ˈɑhmɑ/, [ˈɑxmɑ]
    Rhymes: -ɑhmɑ
    Syllabification: ah‧ma


    wolverine, glutton (Gulo gulo)

  97. järv

    From Old Swedish iærver, from Old Norse jarfr, from Proto-Norse ᛖᚱᚨᚠᚨᛉ (erafaz), of debated origin. Cognate with Faroese jarvur, Norwegian Nynorsk jerv & Norwegian Bokmål jerv, and possibly related to Old Norse jarpr (“brown”), Old English eorp (“brown; dark, dusky”), from Proto-Germanic *erpaz (“light brown”).

    IPA(key): /jærv/
    Homophone: djärv

    järv c

    wolverine (Gulo gulo)


  98. 屈狸

    From Nivkh кʼузр̌ (kʼuzř).

    The kanji spelling is an example of ateji (当て字), used both for the sound values, and for the meanings:

    屈 (kuzu, “stooped, bent over”, irregular on’yomi)
    狸 (ri, “raccoon dog”, on’yomi)
    (Irregular reading)
    (Tokyo) くずり [kùzúrí] (Heiban – [0])[3]
    IPA(key): [kɯ̟ᵝzɨᵝɾʲi]
    Alternative forms
    貂熊 (rare)
    屈狸くずり • (kuzuri)

    a wolverine
    Usage notes
    As with many terms that name organisms, this term is often spelled in katakana, especially in biological contexts, as クズリ.

    When spelled in kanji, the 屈狸 spelling appears to be more common.

  99. So that’s what it was

  100. And is the bokr—a wild guess—северный олень (the reindeer)?

  101. juha: ahma

    Originally meaning “glutton (one who eats a lot)”, from Proto-Finnic *ahma. Related to dialectal Estonian ahm, Ingrian ahmo, Karelian ahmo, ahmoi, Ludian ahmo, Votic ahmia (~ ahmia) and more distantly to Northern Sami vuosmmis (from Proto-Samic *vuosvēs).

    The meaning “wolverine” is possibly a calque from other European languages such as German Vielfraß and Latin gulo.

    If, as suggested, Vielfrass is a late medieval folk-etymological borrowing from Norwegian dial. fjellfross “mountain bear/tomcat”, there’s not much time to establish a calque on the Finnish side. And why would Finnish calque the name of this animal, of all things, from German or Latin? Finnish ought to have perfectly good words for it. Also, how old is the Latin name? If it’s Linnaean, the calque could well be the other way around.

  102. David Marjanović says

    The Latin name is Linnaean, and de:WP says it’s after “the voracious Norse legendary character Gulon”, who is a red link and doesn’t look terribly Norse to me.

  103. Trond Engen says

    That name doesn’t look Norse at all, and it’s not in my Old Norse dictionary, which is otherwise extensive on names of both real and legendary characters. I think you can safely delete that from the article.

    Me: And why would Finnish calque the name of this animal, of all things, from German or Latin? Finnish ought to have perfectly good words for it.

    Finnish WP:

    Ahma (Gulo gulo), joka tunnetaan myös nimillä osma, osmo, kätkä (pohjoissaamen kielestä geatki) ja kamppi

    Of these, ahma, osma and osmo look like different dialectal relexes of the same Uralic word, kätkä is a borrowing from North Sami geatki, and kamppi looks like it could be a borrowing from Early North Germanic “fighter”.

  104. i think the early-20s citations (telephone techs, flautists, etc) and the fleischman & tarbell professional magician evidence make a nice pair. together, they make it look to me like the magicians were looking for a term for strictly mechanical aids to a trick to distinguish them from overtly deceptive rigging. if they hadn’t wanted to make a distinction between more and less ‘honest’ aids, they’d’ve just used “gaff” for both (that being the carnival/variety performance term for the tools used to fake a ‘natural’ wonder). so they pulled in “gimmick”, as a word already current in other contexts. i’d hazard a guess that the boxers and bootleggers did the same thing, but with more of a sense of active trickery, since they didn’t have the near-doublet “gaff” as ready to hand to distinguish it from…

  105. Another meaning of gimmick, in the first few decades of the 20th century, seems to have been something like “guy”, “fellow”, “person”.


    Memoirs of France and the Eighty-Eighth Division, 1920, pg 158

    [A poem, titled “Le Printemps Est Ici”, attributed to the Lorraine Sentinel (Students, University of Nancy)]

      An’ yesterday a guy paid us five francs that we never expected to see again,
      An’ another gimmick offered to buy a drink, but we were all so surprised that he got out ‘fore we could say “cognac.”


    Dramatic Mirror and Theatre World, February 26, 1921, pg 361 (“Broadway Buzz”)

    This gimmick Dave Marion soitinly [sic] knows just what the burlesque “fan” likes for an evening entertainment.

    [I wondered if this was the first example of the spelling-pronunciation of “certainly”, but it is not.]


    Time Magazine, January 19, 1925

    [The overly-specific description here (something like “conformist” or “materialistic”, maybe “square”, to use the slang of a few decades later?) does not seem to quite match up with other usages.]

    A “gimmick” is a person who puts a price tag on everything he sees and a label on everything he thinks. Most musicians pride themselves on not being gimmicks. To differentiate themselves from this clan, they wear their hair longer; their neckties, their phrases, are more picturesque. The only criticism they fear is the accusation that they fear criticism, that they are trying to make themselves as gimmicks are.


    Miss Letitia’s Profession, by Lupton A. Wilkinson
    The North American Review, Vol. 238, No. 1 (Jul., 1934), pp. 61-65

    “Drop that rod, gimmick!” Miss Letitia said. “If you gat me you’ll fry in the hot seat.”

    [Context for the above: A short story. Miss Letitia is thin and frail, losing weight to some medical condition. She lives a genteel life in a pleasant house on Long Island, and while she has an inheritance, she has also spent her time making something of a career as a “true-life” confessional crime writer, researching the sundry argots of criminals. One day, she finds a burglar stealing the family silver. She snaps out the line cited, which so flummoxes the burglar that he obeys and drops his gun — and as she continues slanging at the burglar, his nerve breaks and he flees.]

  106. I like the 1921 example: “Being a Possible Questionnaire for Submission to Applicants for the Position of Assistant Stage Doorman

    My newspaper archive search has found the full list of questions, by the way:

    With a Bow to Mr. Edison
    New York Times, May 15, 1921

    01. What is an Annie Oakley?
    02. What is a three-sheet? A herald? A throw-away? A stand?
    03. What is an eight-week buy?
    04. Who invented motion pictures? Why?
    05. What is a baby spot? A flood? A gelatine?
    06. What is the difference between hokum and jazbo? Jazbo and gravy? Gravy and hokum?
    07. What is opening cold?
    08. What is L. U. E.?
    09. At what curtain call does David Belasco appear on opening nights?
    10. What is a shillaber?
    11. What is a local?
    12. What is a grip?
    13. What is a hoofer?
    14. What is playing in one?
    15. What is a bloomer?
    16. What is a centre-door fancy?
    17. What time do 10 o’clock rehearsals start?
    18. What is o. p.?
    19. What is a healthy bend?
    20. What is a wow?
    21. What is a Southern U. T. C.?
    22. What is a side?
    23. What is a tormentor?
    24. What is doubling in brass?
    25. What material are motion-picture stars made of?
    26. What is hard stuff? Soft stuff?
    27. What is a daub?
    28. What is winging a part?
    29. What is tripping a drop?
    30. What is a dope sheet? A swindle sheet?
    31. What is a joey? A musgrove?.
    32. What are clearers? Juicemen?
    33. What is the starflop? A startrap? A vampire trap? A gimmick?
    34. What is a grummet box?
    35. Who has the key to the curtain?

    I didn’t find an answer key in that paper, but in The Congressional Digest for November 1928, there is a Glossary of Motion-Picture Terms which says:

    Gimmick: The old square reflector arcs.

    I see that the slang dictionary did not have the same answer as the Glossary as to tormentor, which is:

    A large portable wall draped with special material to prevent echo and resonance on the sound “set”.

  107. Yow!

  108. Shillaber, now known by the abbreviated form shill, is an utter mystery. There’s even no certainty about where the stress is.

  109. Searching through some old newspaper archives (very arduous, ProQuest has worse OCR than Google, so there are multiple hits on “Chronicle”, for some dumb reason. Also on names like “Dimmick” and “Kimmick”, which at least makes some sense):


    One more for “gimmick” as thing:

    Boston Daily Globe, May 20, 1917
    Lingo of Our Navy Men

    If there’s an object you have no name for, it’s a “gadget,” “gimmick” or a “gilguy”.


    One more for “gimmick” as “fellow”; “guy”:

    The Pittsburgh Press, May 3, 1921

    The Girl Next Door says she has a hard time deciding whether to go with the young fellow who owns his own flivver or the gimmick who uses his father’s twin-six.

    [Flivver! Now there’s a bit of old slang. But the OED has a cite from 1910.]

  110. Hm. Here’s “gimmick” as a thing in theater, but as nothing to do with lighting.

    [Quoting the whole thing because it’s not that long, and amusing]

    The Conning Tower
    F P A
    New – York Tribune , Aug 4, 1921

    The Italics Are George Macdonald’s
    (And the Broadway answers are Marc Connelly’s)

    Where did you come from, baby dear?
    The Chorus Equity sent me here.

    Where did you get those eyes so blue?
    I mixed No. 5 with some No. 2.

    What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
    That’s belladonna I just dropped in,

    Where did you get that little tear?
    That’s glycerine. Gosh, you’re a dumbell, dear!

    What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
    A rubber gimmick that I apply.

    What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
    Alabastine, for the chin and nose.

    Whence came that three-cornered smile of bliss?
    I used court plaster to get me this.

    Where did you get this pearly ear?
    There’s lots of us bringing them out this year.

    Where did you get those arms and hands?
    Hustling my baggage at one-night stands.

    How did they all just come to be you?
    There’s nothing publicity men can’t do.

    But how did you come to us, you dear?
    I must have been cuckoo….I exit here.

  111. J.W. Brewer says

    I see that urbandictionary is ahead of me in citing the sense used in “G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten / So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan.” Attn dialectologists: that’s slant rhyme. “Rotten” and “Manhattan” don’t really rhyme in the idiolect of the author or AFAIK anyone else’s idiolect.

  112. Again, “gimmick” as a thing, part of a mechanical device.

    Burlington Daily Free Press, 09 Feb 1922:

    Also: Detroit Free Press, 09 Feb 1922 (accompanied by an illustration of a young child writing in said notebook)(also, slightly different text from above appearance):

    Also: Toronto Daily Star, 09 Feb 1922 (no illustration)

    Little Benny’s Notebook, by Lee Pape

    [ Context: A new clock has been purchased that chimes every 15 minutes. This seems to be some sort of syndicated humorous column, I guess. All spelling and punctuation below is as it appears. ]

    Im not saying enything, wat am I saying, the clocks all rite, sed pop. And he got up and started to look at it close, saying. Hello, heers a little gimmick to make the chimes stop ringing, O thats a fine ideer, thats swell, its a grate clock.

  113. Antedating my antedate, I see that the radiator gimmick anecdote posted above appeared earlier in:

    Boston Daily Globe, 01 Mar 1908 (which also has an attribution of “Chicago News”)

  114. @DM: “German” is misleading there

    Erm, I meant my German isn’t good enough to judge whether ‘Masche’ would be best translated as ‘shtick’.

  115. East Cree kwîhkwahâcêw ‘wolverine’ looks like it must have a transparent etymology. This has cognates all over Cree/Ojibwe, and I looked at some dictionaries of such online, but couldn’t find an etymology anywhere, and the library is closed.

  116. Micmac word for ‘wolverine’ (and also mythical demon which looks like wolverine) is “gigwadju”. In “Indian Place Names of New England”, it is said that “gigwadju” literally means “beast of the mountain”.

  117. PlasticPaddy says

    Re Adorno and gimmick:
    “Das engagierte Kunstwerk entzaubert jenes, das nichts will denn da sein, als Fetisch, als müßige Spielerei solcher, welche die drohende Sintflut gern verschliefen; gar als höchst politisches Apolitisches. Es lenke ab vom Kampf der realen Interessen.”

    Theodor W. Adorno: “Engagement”, in: Noten zur Literatur, hrsg. von Rolf Tiedemannn. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1981. (= Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. 355.), S. 409-430

    This is kind of dense; basically it says that a politically engaged work unmasks [entzaubert] one “that has no objective other than to exist” as a fetish, as a time-wasting [müßig] gimmick [Spielerei] of those who want to sleep through the coming Apocalypse [drohender Sintflut], as a highly political non-political work, which distracts viewers from the struggle.

    I think Stu is better with texts like this, so my translation may be incorrect. It is possible that Adorno said something similar in A.T or that the author of the New Yorker was thinking of this essay.

  118. Thanks for finding and explicating that!

  119. Speaking of translated gimmicks,

    “Über die mechanischen Grundlagen der Thermodynamik,” Ann. d. Phys. 33 (1910), 225-274
    On the mechanical foundations of thermodynamics
    By Paul Hertz
    Translated by D. H. Delphenich

    Gibbs preferred such canonical spatial ensemble in his presentation. However, no physical sense can be ascribed to them. It has been said that they are only an analytical gimmick.

    Original German:

    G i b b s   hat solche kanonische Raumgesamtheiten in seiner Darstellung bevorzugt. Aber mit ihr läßt sich kein physikalischer Sinn verbinden. Man hat gesagt, daß es sich nur um einen analytischen Kunstgriff handelt.

    (The claim is footnoted as being said by H. A. Lorentz)

  120. What’s the function of the special type (bold/spaced) for Gibbs?

  121. That’s a now rather old-fashioned way of distinguishing proper nouns in German.

  122. Huh. Seems kind of silly to carry it over into English, where there is no such tradition.

  123. PlasticPaddy says

    Addison&Steele (or their printer) seem to have capitalised proper names and italicised them, to distinguish them from an ordinary capitalised noun e.g Farmer (which could also be a surname). You can see this in Wikipedia.

  124. OK, but that was three hundred years ago. If D. H. Delphenich chose to imitate Addison and Steele in all aspects of his writing, that would be one thing, but to me this just seems pointless. We know Gibbs is a proper name.

  125. What’s the function of the special type (bold/spaced) for Gibbs?

    There’s no italic version of Black Letter/ Fraktur. Extra spacing was the best they could do.

  126. Sure, I understand about the German; what is bizarre to me is the felt need to reproduce it in English. I don’t see the point.

  127. I mean, as far as I understand it, the entire function in German is to indicate that it’s a proper name. We don’t need that in English, since we don’t capitalize other nouns.

  128. It used to be (and maybe still is) that the Daily Torygraph would print all proper names in bold in its editorials. To give the paper a respectable 19th-century look, I suppose.

  129. I have two comments. First, I was curious how proper adjectives would have been handled. (For example, the ensemble of many parallel systems introduced and described by Gibbs is known as the “Gibbsian ensemble.”) So I looked at another pseudo-randomly selected paper [M. v. Smoluchowski, “Zur kinetischen Theorie der Transpiration und Diffusion verdünnter Gase”—another article about statistical thermodynamics] that appeared in Annalen der Physik in 1910. On the first page, I found the answer, in the form of the adjective “M a x w e l l sche.”* So only the proper name was kerned out, with the adjectival suffix spaced normally.

    Second, I think it is interesting to see the Gibbsian ensemble called an “analytischen Kunstgriff” or “analytical gimmick” (although “analytical trick”) might be a better English rendering. I am not sure how critical Paul Hertz intended this to sound in 1910—quite early in his career, before his work, as part of the Vienna Circle, on the foundations of statistical mechanics. Fleeing the Nazis in 1938, Hertz came to Yale to be part of a 1939 centennial commemoration of Gibbs’s work, but he became and ill and died without actually participating in a significant way.

    However, it is certainly not wrong to call the Gibbsian ensemble an “analytical gimmick.” The idea is that, to determine the average behavior of a macroscopic system, about which only a small number macroscopic measurements can be made (mass, volume, temperature, pressure, etc.), it is suitable to average over the behavior of all possible systems whose states are consistent with the small number of known facts about the system. Of course, this is not the kind of average behavior that anyone is actually interested in, in actual practice. What Gibbs claimed was that the real object of interest—the time averaged behavior of a single system—could be replaced by an ensemble average over all possible consistent systems. This is clearly a gimmick, of a sort. Moreover, while the replacement of a time average with an ensemble average can be reasonably well justified if the time average is taken over very long times (long enough for a given system to explore nearly all possible allowed states—which is actually absurdly long, nepers of nepers longer than the lifetime of the universe), the remarkable thing is that the time average agrees with the ensemble average even when the times involved are quite short. A handful of collision times is typically enough, so any time average over longer than 10 ns for a typical gas sample can be accurately replaced with an ensemble average.

    The resolution of the problem came from the original observation by Ludwig Boltzmann, later augmented by Gibbs and then Edwin Jaynes, that nearly all states of a system with a macroscopic number of degrees of freedom (i.e., thermodynamically large) are very close to the state of a system with a canonical** distribution. Therefore, wherever a system starts out, it takes only a short time evolution to bring it into an essentially canonical distribution state, because those states so utterly outnumber the noncanonical distribution states. Unfortunately however, it is very hard to make this rigorous for anything beyond artificially simple systems.

    * The noun phrase, in full, was “M a x w e l l sche Geschwindigkeitsverteilungsgesetz,” which is transparent enough that Google Translate has no trouble interpreting it correctly as “Maxwell’s speed distribution law.”

    ** A canonical distribution (of which the M a x w e l l sche Geschwindigkeitsverteilungsgesetz was the first one discovered) is one in which the probability of being in a state with energy E is proportional to exp(–E/kT), an exponential factor which is known as the “Boltzmann factor.”

  130. There’s no italic version of Black Letter/ Fraktur.

    Annalen der Physik was not printed using Fraktur. Not the 1910 paper I looked at; not the 1799 first volume. I doubt that it ever was.

    For context, the original page, and the translation.

    I must complain about how the footnote numbering resets after each page rather than continuing from (1) onward for the entire paper.

  131. David Eddyshaw says

    Spacing rather than italics seems to be pretty common in German academic works at least of a certain genre and vintage. Pulling the first few German works off my shelves at random, I see that Kleinschmidt’s Greenlandic grammar does it for e m p h a s i s in the German text, while citing actual Greenlandic forms in italics. My somewhat ancient copy of von Soden’s Akkadian grammar does the same: spacing for emphasis, italics for Akkadian. Klingenhaben’s Fulfulde grammar is similar. (None of these is in Fraktur; the sole work I possess in Fraktur is a copy of Faust* that belonged to my grandfather; he did have an appropriately-Fraktur Also Sprach Zarathustra, but I don’t know what’s become of it.)

    Mind you, none of these does anything peculiar with authors’ names.

    *EDIT: Oops, no: it’s not in Fraktur at all. Quite right too: Goethe transcends such parochialism. The Nietzsche, though, was. But also my grandfather’s copy of the German translation of Pickwick Papers, about which there are family legends …

  132. Second, I think it is interesting to see the Gibbsian ensemble called an “analytischen Kunstgriff” or “analytical gimmick” (although “analytical trick”) might be a better English rendering. I am not sure how critical Paul Hertz intended this to sound in 1910—quite early in his career, before his work, as part of the Vienna Circle, on the foundations of statistical mechanics.

    But as I noted, he was quoting — or rather, translating/paraphrasing Lorentz:
    “H. A. Lorentz, Ges. Abh., pp. 286 and 287, Atti del 4. Congr. dei Mat. Roma 1 (1908), pp. 152. ”

    Per Lorentz’s full bibliography, that latter work is:

    1909h – “Le partage de l’énergie entre la matière pondérable et l’éther.” In Atti del IV Congresso Internazionale dei Matematici (Roma, 6–11 Aprile 1908). Vol. 1, pp. 145–165. G. Castelnuovo, ed. Roma: R. Accademia dei Lincei, 1909. Repr. of 1908b with add. note. – repr.: 1934b.15 (C.P. 7, pp. 317–343).

    The Atti del 4. Congr. dei Mat. Roma can also be found in the Internet Archive.

    If I am parsing it correctly, what Lorentz wrote was “artifice mathématique”. Does that translate exactly to “analytischen Kunstgriff”, or is there some nuance being added or lost?

    I note that the style for Atti (Italian scholarly works of that period in general?) is to render names in small caps rather than spaced text. Although it isn’t consistent, or at least, I can’t figure out the exact rule. For example, on page 48 of the text, the name “Marcolongo” is given without small caps, then immediately after is:

    Marcolongo, Di un trattato di Meccanica inedito anteriore alla Mécanique analytique di Lagrange.

    “Marcolongo” is small caps, but “Lagrange” is not.

    But on the same page:

    Il Prof. Loria presenta al Congresso il primo esemplare del 4e volume delle Vorlesungen über Geschichte der Mathematik di Moritz Cantor; e propone di inviare al Prof. Cantor un telegramma di ringraziamento, di plauso e di augurio. La proposta del Prof. Loria è appoggiata dal Presidente e approvata per acclamazione dall’Assemblea.

    “Loria” and “(Moritz) Cantor” are in small caps.

    Who can say?

  133. Trond Engen says

    Y: East Cree kwîhkwahâcêw ‘wolverine’ looks like it must have a transparent etymology.

    Yes, it has…

    SFR: Micmac word for ‘wolverine’ (and also mythical demon which looks like wolverine) is “gigwadju”. In “Indian Place Names of New England”, it is said that “gigwadju” literally means “beast of the mountain”.

    The word clearly is cognate with Norw. fjellfrass “tomcat/bear of the mountain”, with the correspondence Gmc. f- ~ Alg. K-. I’ve not been able to identify the Oti-Volta reflex.

  134. David Eddyshaw says

    the Oti-Volta reflex

    It’s clearly compounded from the elements seen in Kusaal gik “dumb” and wabʋg “elephant” (with Scandi-Congo *dj -> b, as regularly in Oti-Volta.) The semantic shift from “big dumb object” to “mounainous beast/beast of a mountain” to “mountain beast/beast of the mountain” is straightforward.

  135. The Ginormous Wolverphant is related to the Heffalumph and the Colossal Boojum (not to be confused with the Spectacular Boomjar or the Spectacled Bamjab), and is much sought after by Bakers, Bellmen, Batmen, Batsmen, and Ontologists. It can occasionally be spotted near or in Trondheim, Tanzania, Tibet, Tacoma, and Cleveland.

    Do not taunt the Ginormous Wolverphant.

  136. Marcolongo, Di un trattato di Meccanica inedito anteriore alla Mécanique analytique di Lagrange.

    “Marcolongo” is small caps, but “Lagrange” is not.
    Maybe the reason is that “Lagrange” is part of the quoted title of the article.
    On Kunstgriff: for me, it doesn’t have the slightly disapproving overtones of “gimmick”, but that’s perhaps because for me it’s a literary word that’s not part of my active lexicon.

  137. David Marjanović says

    I’ve always interpreted Kunstgriff more as “artful trick” connotation-wise (Kunst: “art”), but it’s nowhere near my active vocabulary either.

    What’s the function of the special type (bold/spaced) for Gibbs?

    Emphasis used to express conventionalized respect for  a u t h o r i t a h .

    Even today there are journals that render all last names in large & small capitals.

    Spacing rather than italics seems to be pretty common in German academic works at least of a certain genre and vintage.

    Yes, into the mid-late 20th century that was the default for emphasis – and the bar for what warrants emphasis in the first place was a lot lower than it has been in English in centuries.

  138. @David Marjanović: Rendering names in small caps is, if not particularly common in English, at least familiar. It’s only the spacing out of the letters for emphasis that looks weird to those used to English conventions.

  139. An antedate of “gimmick” from Electrical Review, March 11, 1893:

    Dark Times in Bucksport

    The electric light plant at Bucksport is busted and the town has gone back to kerosene till the engine can be mended. A few minutes after starting up last night the engine was taken with a series of spasms, the parabola of the dewflicker got jammed hard to starboard, which, of course, caused the flopper to fall down on the mizzen reciprocal eccentricity gimmick, and this brought the whippletree chuck up against the governor, bent the council, and, as a natural consequence, the lights went out, as one might naturally suppose who is posted on machinery. — Bangor, Me., News.

    While I am 99.99999% sure that this was not meant to be a serious report, it nevertheless seems clear to me that in context, “gimmick” is used to mean “mechanism or (sub)component of a mechanism”.

  140. Great find! Here’s the actual clip:

  141. @Owlmirror: There’s a long list of terms for structural, mechanical, or electromechanical parts used humorously there. The only one I was completely unfamiliar with was whippletree, so I looked it up and found that it was an obsolete synonym of singletree—which looked more familiar, but I didn’t know the meaning of either. It is apparently an American variant of the more natural looking swingletree, “a wooden or metal bar used to balance the pull of a draught horse or other draught animal when pulling a vehicle.”

    I also looked looked up dewflicker, which I was familiar with, but was curious to know more about. The word is similar in origin and meaning to to doohickey or doojigger—which, in retrospect, seems like it ought to be obvious. However, Green’s Dictionary of Slang lists a secondary meaning of “the foreskin,” which I assume to be of eggcorn-ish origin. However, for the only attestation given (published in 1953, but from a folklore and song collection—so undoubtedly actually older) the meaning could equally well be the entire “penis.”

  142. Owlmirror, this is great. How come it didn’t come up in previous searches? What search gimm… trick did you use?

  143. Wow! Thanks for the find.

    Couldn’t stop reading Electrical Review of 1893, everything in it is so fascinating.

    Even boring corporate article on new president of Western Union is written in amazing style.

    Gen.T.T. Eckert who was elected president of the Western Union Telegraph Company on March 8… is a genial, self-reliant, approachable disciplinarian of magnificent physique and splendid executive ability.

    Why people don’t write press releases like that anymore?

  144. Reminds me of David Eddyshaw’s Auden quote in the other thread:

    Behold the manly mesomorph
    Showing his bulging biceps off,
    Whom social workers love to touch,
    Though the loveliest girls do not care for him much.

  145. David Marjanović says

    Rendering names in small caps is, if not particularly common in English, at least familiar.

    Yes, but it used to be much more common in German.

    My math schoolbooks rendered all names in plain all-caps, including ARCHIMEDES for example.

    Why people don’t write press releases like that anymore?

    Because, in 20th-century culture, a man saying another man has a “magnificent physique” thereby outs himself as gay.

    That would still let men write like that about women, but it soon became painfully obvious how one-sided the result was, and so it was abandoned as sexist (after a few decades).

  146. Lars Mathiesen says

    And now in the after times, praising a woman’s physique is demeaning so we shouldn’t very well praise the men either innit? I’ve often been assumed gay for other reasons, like not chasing girls hard enough, so that’s not what’s stopping me.

    Australian rules football does seem to select for some impressive (male) physiques in very minimal shorts, I’ve recommended the watching of it to my old Mum. I don’t know if they have women’s sides, they don’t get air time on Eurosport if so.

  147. David Marjanović says

    now in the after times, praising a woman’s physique is demeaning

    What bugs me personally about it is that beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder. Any such praise of anyone’s physique only tells us details about the speaker’s personal taste that nobody cares about.

    I don’t know if they have women’s sides

    Wikipedia knows.

  148. Lars Mathiesen says

    There are commercial interests caring enough about those details to try to tell us what they should be.

    I like the 1915 photograph on that page, for the fact that the ball is not in it but clearly up in the air somewhere to the left. (Though I actually wanted to see what shape it was). Being a sports photographer in the age of long-travel triggers was clearly a challenge.

  149. Don Challenger says

    I would suppose that Evan Osnos’ use of “errata” in that way springs from the usual reporting of errors in a text book/journal article as a series of notes in an appendix/section (similar to the usage as foot’notes’ and such) – and so “errata” gets conflated with “notes from all over” as a reference to a collation of odd, maybe topical, extracts/excerpts from foreign media ‘wired’ in for further consideration perhaps as story suggestions to follow up (a foreign reporters jetsam/flotsam).

  150. See D-AW’s comment above, with Osnos’s answer.

  151. First, I was curious how proper adjectives would have been handled. (For example, the ensemble of many parallel systems introduced and described by Gibbs is known as the “Gibbsian ensemble.”) So I looked at another pseudo-randomly selected paper

    I just took a look at Owlmirror’s “original page” and noticed that a few lines above “G i b b s” is “P e a n osche Kurve” (repeated in footnote 1).

  152. Lars Mathiesen says

    Pfft, I got blocked from further editing of the previous because I played around too much with Unicode line breaks. You will have to infer line endings in that stanza, it’s not hard.

    But to the crux: All proper surnames in running text are spatiated, but not first names. Also I found one instance (Part 6, The First Love, a comedy by Scribe translated by I. L. Heiberg) where the names (including initials) are in heavier weight on the title page but not in the volume’s table of contents.

  153. Lars Mathiesen says

    This was “the previous” but that instance got spam-filtered, knowing that may improve understanding…

    There’s no italic version of Black Letter/ Fraktur — so they used antiqua for French words. (Or English, I suppose, if ever they should demean themselves so).

    Checking my 1843 edition of Either-Or, I find the first section (Δ Ι Α Ψ Α Λ Μ Α Τ Α) with the dedication ad se ipsum and a French verse on the reverse of that page both in antiqua. Also Roman numbers.

     Grandeur, savoir, renommée / Amitié, plaisir, et bien. /  Tout n’est que vent, que fumée: / Pour mieux dire, tout n’est rien.

    (What I have is actually a 1937 photographic reprint, but with the added front matter in Fraktur as well, even the “Printed in Denmark” line that was usual then. It was given to me by my grandmother who took up bookbinding at the municipal activity center in the 80s, and she was able to gold-stamp the spine in Fraktur as well so they must have had a case for that).

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