[PW] Burger, Shakes and Fries

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Tue Aug 27 06:33:16 PDT 2019

On Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 3:01 AM Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:

1939   Amer. Speech 14 154.
> 1941   Word Study Nov. 7/1   A favorite broth of the word-brewers..forms
> like -burger, -krieg, -teria.
> 1946   Amer. Speech 21 88   Burger, hamburger sandwich. 'Burger steak' is
> hamburger steak.
> 1960   Observer 28 Feb. 13/4   Recently the Hamburger has become just a
> 'burger', and there are 'beefburgers', 'chefburgers', 'cheeseburgers',
> 'eggburgers' and even 'kingburgers'.

Thanks for doing the research, but I must differ from your conclusions.

> We can't tell how it was used in American Speech in 1939 (which is
> unusual),

Most likely a article featuring the word.  _American Speech_ is a
scholarly journal documenting special features of American English,
including but not limited to changes in the language.  Unfortunately
Project Muse does not contain issues going that far back.

> but burger = hamburger was still novel in 1946

Again, not necessarily.   This is probably a summary article.

and was considered a recent usage even in 1960.

Now we are dealing with a U.K. newspaper.  There are two explanations: one
is simply that the word took a long time to make it across the Pond.  The
other, which is more likely a priori, is that this is an instance of the
Recency Illusion, an extremely common fallacy in which people believe that
lingustic usages that have only just come to their conscious awareness are
genuinely novel.  Well-known examples are uptalk (known long before Valley
Girls were a thing), _really_ as an intensifier (used by Benjamin
Franklin), _literally_ as an intensifier (first recorded 1765),  "between
you and I" (used by Shakespeare), and singular _they_ (first recorded 1375).

> So this suggests that people going out for "burgers" was, at best, not
> particularly prevalent anywhere in 1941.

If it weren't prevalent at least in some regions or among some social
groups, it probably wouldn't have made it into _American Speech_.

John Cowan          http://vrici.lojban.org/~cowan        cowan at ccil.org
If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing
on my shoulders.  --Hal Abelson

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