Friday, May 06, 2005

More on Etymology: Ubiquity of Claims, Reliability of Explanations, and the Origin of Chairman

Damn, the list in that e-mail forward is a lot of places. A lot of people are really buying into it and trying to get the word out. Seriously. People eat it up. Here's another. And another. I'm not going to go on like that forever, but there are a couple of examples that warrant specific comment.

Why would you copy the whole thing, without even any criticisms or insights, into your little local newspaper and actually call it an editorial? He at least acknowledges he received it in an e-mail forward and that he isn't confident it can be trusted, but, leaving aside the question of how it even then makes a legitimate newspaper column, why do you present something you lack any reason to trust in a way that implies it's factual?

This guy has one answer for that question. [Dammit, that guy, I meant that question rhetorically.] He pastes the whole thing into a page on his site without comment other than this, appended to the end:
Gene’s CAUTION: Yeah, this is just another bit of creative writing (you really didn’t believe ALL these, did you?) that has been passed around via e-mails for who knows how long. But what the heck, a little silliness never hurt anyone…
Gene. C'mon. I like silliness. The Onion. Spamusement. Daily Dinosaur. And this, this, this, and this. But yes, if you look at the links in that first paragraph, a lot of them do appear to really believe those. So why propagate it? Let's not lead people to believe fiction to be fact if we can help it, OK?

Worse than Gene or the Benson County Farmer's Press is Coast Impressions, the Online Magazine of the Central Oregon Coast, Ruth Flanagan, Editor. On a professional-sounding and looking site, they've simply pasted the unaltered text, with no comments added whatsoever, and slapped a copyright on it, as if someone there wrote the thing. This is absurd. You can't copyright something on April 18 that on March 23 (by the URL) Richard Peterson acknowledged getting in e-mail forward.

I was going to each of the claims in that list in a separate post, probably linking to Word Detective a lot (who here presents a different origin for "chairman" than the thing about one chair in a house and everyone else eating sitting on the floor). After all, I find a lot more credible someone who actually puts his name on his work, especially with all the published book and the newspaper column (which he actually writes himself) than some unsourced piece that could have been written by anyone.

But further debunking by me on this looks unnecessary. Melanie and Mike Crowley have already taken care of it. Their backgrounds and their website, and their account itself, satisfy me enough to take their word for it.

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