The Times of London
January 06, 2005
Literary detective who sniffed out the origins of many new words
FROM 1879, when James Murray, the first editor of the Oxford English
Dictionary, published his call for readers, the dictionary has had many
eccentric contributors. These ranged from Dr Fitzedward Hall, the American
recluse and Sanskrit expert, to William Chester Minor, the murderer and
Broadmoor inmate, believed to be responsible for about 10,000 citations.
The dictionary is still dependent on layman lexicographers for help in
charting the unspooling vagaries of the English language, and one of its
most dedicated such helpers was David Shulman.
Shulman was a typical New York eccentric. Clad in an anorak and baseball
cap and carrying a plastic bag stuffed with sheets of paper, he haunted the
rare books room of the New York Public Library for half his life. A
connoisseur of the colloquial, he would work his way through pulp novels,
trade magazines and old copies of the Police Gazette, hunting for early
uses, variant spellings or contrasting shades of meaning. A 300-page study
of the earliest use of the term "hot dog " is in production, for which
Shulman was a third responsible.
Shulman's detective hobbies - he described himself as a "literary Sherlock
Holmes" - were a matter of personal as much as professional pride. He once
spent months ransacking old issues of Delicatessen, the defunct trade
paper, to disprove the validity of a rare spelling of "pastrami" in
"I figure that patience will pay off in the long run," he once said, "and
so far, it always has." He also claimed to have been responsible for the
inclusion in the OED of the word "snowman", and to have found the earliest
citation for "bagel".
Shulman was born in the Bronx in 1912 and educated at City College. He
then took work as a compiler of puzzles for the World Post and the New York
Post, before - he said - working for the US Army as a cryptanalyst. In the
1950s he set up his own company to produce word puzzles, and in 1976 he
published An Annotated Bibliography of Cryptography.
Shulman was also an avid collector of American ephemera. He donated to the
city library a vast collection of cryptographic material - including a
prized 16th-century text on secret writing. In his eighties he passed over
a mass of documents, ranging from a stack of 20,000 postcards to a ticket
for the impeachment trial of the US President Andrew Johnson.
He had no immediate family. His library survives him.
David Shulman, etymologist, was born on November 12, 1912. He died on
October 30, 2004, aged 91.
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: [EMAIL PROTECTED]>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
The Cryptography Mailing List
Unsubscribe by sending "unsubscribe cryptography" to [EMAIL PROTECTED]