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Subject:Re: OED Help! (was couth/uncouth) From:Valerie Archambeau <varchamb -at- MIDWAY -dot- UCHICAGO -dot- EDU> Date:Tue, 27 Dec 1994 16:59:59 -0600
At 10:59 AM 12/27/1994, Michael LaTorra wrote:
>You have a point about Webster's not specifically calling
>"couth" a backformation. And you're right that the dictionary
>categorized "uncouth" as Middle English, not Old English
>(which wasn't what I intended to claim; I wrote "old English"
>as in "not contemporary" but I should have been more clear).
>mikel -at- accugraph -dot- com
>The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my
>company -- but they probably should be.
I have access to the electronic OED--and it says quite a lot about "couth"
with usage dating back to the year 1000.
There are 4 main entries--the first (and longest) entry has 7 sub-entries
with relevant quotations.
Here is a sampling from the second definition of the first entry:
"As a quality of things: Known; well-known, familiar" and "the negative
Chaucer (my hero) uses "couth" in the _House of Fame_ "Loo this sentence
ys knowen kouthe Of every Philosophres mouth."
If I am reading the entry correctly, the first mention of it being a
"back-formation" occurs in 1896--"Used as a deliberate antonym of UNCOUTH."
IT appeared in M. Beerbohm's _Pageant_: "The couth solemnity of his
One of the earliest recorded use of "uncouth" according to the OED occurs
in 897 ("Of facts or matters of knowledge: Unknown, also, not certainly
known, uncertain) in OElfred's _Gregory's Past_. For obvious reasons, I am
unable to transcribe this passage for you here. In 893 it is used by ol'
Oelfred again (this time in _Oros_). Here, uncouth means "Of persons:
with which one is not acquainted or familiar, unfamiliar, unaccustomed,
Please let me know if you have any specific questions. If anyone would
like to receive the complete entries, I would be happy to email them to you
directly (provided it doesn't conflict with any copyright laws :^)
varchamb -at- midway -dot- uchicago -dot- edu