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American Speech 77.4 (2002) 339-343

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American Speech Remembers Frederic Gomes Cassidy, 1907-2000

All grammars leak.

—Edward Sapir

Once a phoneme, always a phoneme.

—Bernard Bloch

Truth is a linguistic question.

—Dwight Bolinger

On to Z!

—Fred Cassidy

On the long-running television quiz show Jeopardy!, the names of the eminent scholars of language above would all be answers to the question "Which twentieth-century contributor to American Speech is associated with this linguistic adage?"

As former American Speech editor John Algeo said at the "Feast for the Spirit of Frederic Gomes Cassidy" in Madison, Wisconsin, on 18 June 2000, "Fred Cassidy belonged to a select tribe of twentieth-century scholars of American English respected for the depth of their knowledge, admired for the breadth of their interests, and loved for the humaneness of their natures" (Newsletter of the American Dialect Society [NADS]32.2, 9). Testimonies from throughout the world echoing Algeo's characterization of Cassidy have continued in the two and a half years since his death. For example, the NADS 32.2 (May 2000), which appeared midsummer 2000, contained remembrances by Algeo, Joan Houston Hall, Donald Lance, Salikoko Mufwene, and August Rubrecht. Dictionaries 22 (2001) contained a fuller record, including an editorial by Michael Adams (vii-viii), two of Cassidy's poems (27-30), a bibliography of his writings compiled by the staff of the Dictionary of American Regional English (14-26), and a documented biography by Hall (1-13). Hall, Cassidy's longtime friend and his successor as editor of DARE, ends her account with his rallying cry "On to Z!"

December 2002 marks another giant step for DARE on the way to Z, the publication of volume 4. To celebrate this accomplishment and to recall his importance to the American Dialect Society and its journal, we dedicate this issue of American Speech to the memory of Frederic Gomes Cassidy. [End Page 339]

Cassidy's first publication in American Speech appeared in 1940 (two pages on Wisconsin words [15: 326-27]) and his last in 1995 (a brief comment on Jesus H. Christ [70: 370]). In the intervening 55 years he was a regular contributor of articles, reviews, and short pieces on specific words and phrases. Several items concern English varieties of the Caribbean, a lifelong professional interest stemming from Cassidy's birth and early childhood in Jamaica. "The Place of Gullah" (55 [1980]: 3-16) applies his understanding of language contact from the Caribbean islands to the islands off the coast of South Carolina. Other articles set down Cassidy's thinking about the lexicographical principles needed to guide the production of a dialect dictionary for North America. The desire for such a dictionary had been an impetus for the founding of the American Dialect Society in 1889, but until Cassidy put his mind to it, the project consisted of the collection and publication of unrelated word lists. "On Collecting American Dialect" (23 [1948]: 185-93) outlines the planning of a dialect dictionary in stages and discusses methodology for each stage. At this point Cassidy had acquired limited funding from the University of Wisconsin to undertake a lexical study of the state that would allow him to test his proposed plan. Of course, there was no mention of computer technology in the plan of 1948. However, by the mid-1960s, when Cassidy launched the DARE with a grant from the United States Office of Education, he saw the potential of computers in dictionary making and, approaching the age of 60, had the patience to tolerate the frustrations of keeping apace with rapidly changing technology. Twenty-five years after his 1948 proposal for a dictionary of Wisconsin words and well into the process of analyzing the words collected nationally by field-workers in their "word wagons," Cassidy used the pages of American Speech to explain the label regional in DARE (48 [1973]: 282-89).

Cassidy's contributions to American Speech were not solely his writings. For many years he served on the editorial advisory board of the journal, and apparently it was he who oversaw the...


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