Gerald Cohen, professor of foreign languages at the University of Missouri-Rolla, recently completed the third and final volume of his Dictionary of 1913 Baseball and Other Lingo. Its material is taken primarily from the baseball columns of the San Francisco Bulletin newspaper between February and May of 1913.
The project began as a search for the origin of the term "jazz" as used in a baseball context. The term was used to mean pep, vim, vigor or fighting spirit before being applied to music. "But so much additional interesting material turned up that I decided to compile it into a dictionary," Cohen says.
Among the baseball terms included in the dictionary, Cohen counted 21 different terms for "pitcher" in his three volumes — box artist, boxman, curvist, flinger, gunner, heaver, hillman, hurler, hurlster/hurlester, hurlsmith, mound artist, moundsman, moundster, pitcher, slab artist, slabman, slabster, slinger, speedburner, tosser, twirler and wingster.
Why so many? "Variety is the spice of life," Cohen says. "The reporters refer to a pitcher so often they evidently decided to find creative new ways to describe him."
In his research of 1913 baseball, Cohen noted several differences from today’s game. "The biggest one is that African-Americans are now an integral part of the game," Cohen says. "It was really absurd back in 1913. The owners were often frustrated in their search for talent, and there it was, right under their noses in the black players, many of whom were enormously talented. There were occasionally exhibition games between the black and white teams, but that was the extent of the mixing."
Although he mainly teaches foreign language courses at UMR, Cohen’s field of research is etymology the study of word origins, a field he describes as "enormously broad. It includes everything of human interest," Cohen says, "and slang is an important part of this picture."
Cohen teaches a course on etymology at UMR. "I’ve been working on etymology for 30 years and have collected interesting material on a wide variety of topics," Cohen says. "It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand why we call a hot dog a hot dog or the story behind ‘eureka,’ ‘gung ho’ or ‘shyster,’" Cohen says. "Or to see how our alphabet derived from pictures. Or to understand that ‘Mississippi’ derives from Algonquin ‘missi,’ meaning big, and ‘sipi,’ meaning river. Or that ‘Missouri’ really means merely ‘canoe’ and not ‘river of the big canoes.’
Cohen aims for his dictionary to be scholarly and hopes it winds up in various libraries so the public will have ready access to it. He printed the copies himself and is offering 100 for sale. Proceeds from the sale will be donated to a scholarship fund at UMR. Cost of the volumes (which includes postage and handling) is $25 for volume one, $30 each for volumes two and three.