Language Thugs

I’ve been seeing this quote on message board signatures a lot:

English doesn’t borrow from other languages. It follows them down dark alleyways and mugs them for loose grammar.

Anyone know where it came from?

6 thoughts on “Language Thugs

  1. It’s usually attributed to Booker T. Washington. I’ve been looking around on the quotes sites and none of them I’ve found yet attribute it to a particular work or date, but it seems pervasive enough that it’s unlikely it was James Nicoll.

  2. It was an off-the-cuff reply to someone,one that I would have edited a lot more carefully had I know it was going to be my fifteen minutes of fame. In the original I misspelled ‘rifle’ as riffle, for example, and the surrounding material is, at best, uninspired. Actually, pretty badly written would be closer. The lesson is that if one posts millions and millions of words on usenet over a period of about 20 years, fifty or so of them might not be crap.

    It’s weird that google doesn’t show what I was replying to. I know I was provoked by something but I don’t recall exactly what anymore. I do rememeber being worried that ‘cribhouse’ was a bit too impolite for the ‘net.

    There’s a comprehensive compendium of Booker T. Washington’s correspondence at http://www.historycooperative.org/btw/ and nothing like that quote appears in it. “Cribhouse whore” really doesn’t sound like a phrase he’d use, anyway.

    Also there was a discussion of that quotation on http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-499.html that agreed that’s my quotation.

  3. I’ve seen it attributed thus…

    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

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