SpecGram Vol CLXXVI, No 2 Contents The Grapholinguist—Davis Prickett

On the Etymology of Editorials

A Letter from Editor Curmudgeon H.D. Onesimus

Some of our readers are addicted to etymology, and a goodly number have undoubtedly figured out ways to access the increasingly inaccessible Oxford English Dictionary. We are told that this resource is available in some mythical “on line” state, though here at SpecGram HQ we do not bother ourselves with such techno-babble; if it’s not important enough to transcribe on parchment, we don’t read it. Our office copy of the OED (First Edition) is a well-worn one, personally signed by both the Professor and the Madman, or persons purporting to be them.

Anyway, the OED is wrong in many places, and it occurred to us that some readers of this space may be relying on it for its erroneous “etymology” of editorial. This is a deplorable state, leaving such victims completely untutored as to why editorials are so critical to modern life, and indeed, to the effectiveness of our journal. For these lamentably-deprived readers, we offer the following corrective history lesson.

Joaquim Brandão De Carvalho, 2002, “Formally-grounded phonology: From constraint-based theories to theory-based constraints,” Studia Linguistica 56.3.

Chiasmus of the Month
June 2016

Although the correct answer is only moderately difficult to discern, the provenance of the modern word editorial has been surprisingly unsettled. Three candidate etymologies have been proposed, and are presented in (1)-(3):

  1. ed + ditto + (get) real
  2. edit-o + riyal
  3. editor + leer

Heated discussions among etymological experts have failed to settle the public dispute among these candidates. The minutes of the most recent conference on this subject may be distilled down to the following points in favor of (1), (2), and (3), respectively:

Proponents of (1) claim that SpecGram’s 34th Editorius Generalus, Edmundo del Mund, was perfunctory in the performance of his duties. His primary “contribution” to the editorial process was to agree with the comments of other editors, by means of circling on the page proofs those he wished to endorse. His strongest statement of said agreement was to add the comment “ditto” in the margin. In fact the legacy of his writings does not provide any evidence of a wider vocabulary; he may have been literally monolingual. Del Mund’s fellow editors frequently responded to his “ditto” insertions with the counter-insertion “get real!” (Stronger alternatives can be found on many manuscripts in our archives, but cannot be printed here, and appear to have been constructed ad hoc, none attaining the grammaticalized status which “(get) real” achieved.)

Come to think of it, (2) and (3) have nothing to recommend them. Proponents are purely deluded. We will not even waste enough space here to lend them the air of plausibility.

But (1) is wrong, too.

The truth, as is often true of scholarly publications, involves a hovercraft. In this case the hovercraft was full of editorsreturning from an offsite team-building writers’ workshopwho were mistaken by an onlooker for eels. Why this particular association should have occurred to the spectator has never been clear, but the hyphenated expression “editor-eel” was applied, jocularly at first, to the manuscripts which were just then in the possession of the content production team. Minor phonological changes soon produced the current version of the word.

The editors in question, we would like to point out, had no connection with Speculative Grammarian. No, indeed. Rather, they are rumored to have been the editors of the National Enquirer.

Though we are not especially proud of this history, we nevertheless own it, because it is the truth. And we recommend to you, dear reader, that you read all future SpecGram editorials in the light of this truth.

The GrapholinguistDavis Prickett
SpecGram Vol CLXXVI, No 2 Contents