First of all, we want to thank all Dig readers, tweeters, and collaborators in the media for helping spread the word about our coverage of the troubling surveillance state in Massachusetts. We may relish underdog status, but it takes an aggravated village to get any real response from government. And with that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
In the most petty and ridiculous catch polluting this week’s discarded baloney basin, it appears the Boston Globe has re-written history in order to write the Boston Herald out of it. Like so many other Globe readers, we absolutely love “The Word” in every Sunday’s paper. And so we’re that much more appalled that editors would offer this suspicious account of how the term “scofflaw” was born:
Tracing “scofflaw” through the Globe archives, we find that the story begins with Delcevare King, a prominent member of Boston Republican society in the early 20th century [who] seems to have combined firm moral convictions with a jolly clubbish spirit.
That seems accurate enough, but the next paragraph appears to be missing something. Take particular note of the characterization “it was reported,” as well as of the masturbatory Globe nod at the end.
In early January 1924, it was reported that, in support of the three-year-old national policy of Prohibition, King would award $200 in gold to the person who invented the best word to denounce a violator of the 18th Amendment. “I do seek a word which will stab awake the conscience of the drinker … and stab awake the public conscience to the fact that such lawless drinking is, in the words of President Harding, ‘a menace to the republic itself,’” King said, according to the Globe.
The story continues with King receiving “more than 20,000 entries” including “’boozshevic,’ ‘contralaw,’ ‘klinker,’ ‘lawjacker,’ ‘slacklaw,’ and ‘wetocrat.’” And with “two people [who] independently suggested ‘scofflaw,’ winning $100 apiece.” Thing is, we recall a different chain of events in the Ken Burns documentary Prohibition. From the 2011 PBS mini-series:
In 1924, four years after Prohibition was first imposed, the Boston Herald offered $200 to the reader who came up with a brand-new word for someone who flagrantly ignored the edict and drank liquor that had been illegally made or illegally sold. Twenty-five thousand responded. Two readers split the prize. Each had come up with the same word, “scofflaw.”
From what we can tell, both sources have it a little wrong. Burns fumbled the sponsor of the contest, giving credit to the Herald rather than the “clubbish” King. But whereas the documentarian appears to have made an honest error, he was seemingly right about the method of communication to the public, an oft-referenced January 1924 announcement in the Herald.
It’s possible that both papers covered the contest. The Globe may have even reported it first. But in 2014, the latter obviously lacks adequate evidence to change the popular narrative tying its longtime rival to the etymology of “scofflaw.” As as result, they could have, probably should have given credit where it’s due instead of writing “it” in lieu of giving props. Especially since the Globe acknowledges its own role endlessly, as well as that of another sheet that rode the Prohibition Era WINGO! wave:
How could King’s opponents fight a neologism as solid as scofflaw? Clearly, there was only one solution: to hold a word contest of their own. The editors of the Harvard Advocate, a student magazine, promptly proposed a $25 prize for words describing a “dry,” or a Prohibitionist. (“The [Advocate] editors wish it understood,” the Globe wrote in February 1924, “that they are ‘wet,’ but are not trying to encourage the violation of any laws.”) Among the more than 2,200 entries were “fear-beer,” “suds-hate,” “jug-buster,” and the winner, sent in by Katherine Greene Welling of New York City: “spigot-bigot.”
Kind of makes us want to have a contest of our own.
[Media Farm is wrangled weekly by DigBoston News+Features Editor Chris Faraone]