LINGUIST List 13.406

Thu Feb 14 2002

Qs: "English words" Quote--Author, James D. Nicoll?

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  1. kemmer, author of "English words" quote

Message 1: author of "English words" quote

Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 11:52:04 -0600 (CST)
From: kemmer <>
Subject: author of "English words" quote

Can anyone tell me the original source of the following quote about
English words? Failing that, any reference at all as to where the
quote has appeared in print?

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that
English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow
words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways
to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
- James D. Nicoll

I have this quote posted on my course webpage for my course "English Words:
Structure, History, Use" (

To the best of my recollection, I got the quote out of an old book on
the English language published in the 50s or 60s, which I no longer
have (and I can't remember who it's by or the title). I think I've
seen the quote reproduced in more recent books on language too, but I
don't know where. Over the past 5 or 6 years, I have gotten the
occasional inquiry about where it comes from. But nobody can find any
reference to anything written by James D. Nicoll.

Now, somebody has posted the quote onto the American Bar
Association's SOLOSEZ listserve for solo and small firm attorneys.
And I am getting emails from lawyers asking about the source
and the context. 

Can anybody help me satisfy the curiosity of word lovers about the
origin of this quote? (including myself). Or as one of my
correspondents put it, "Who the hell is James D. Nicoll?"

- Suzanne Kemmer

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