Wolf tickets for sale

Q: I recently heard a television commentator use the phrase “selling wolf tickets.” After research, I found both a Russian and an African-American Vernacular English source for somewhat related phrases. Did these evolve independently or is there evidence for cross pollination?

A: To “sell wolf tickets,” an expression that’s about 60 years old, is to oversell yourself—to spread boasts or threats that you can’t (or won’t) back up.

The usage was first recorded in writing in 1963, when sociologists noted its use by black gang members in Chicago. The sociologists had reported it two years before in a speech, and it was undoubtedly used on the streets even earlier than that.

Some commentators have suggested that the expression comes from “to cry wolf” (to bluff or raise a false alarm). But a more likely theory is that the “wolf” here was originally “woof” and was intended to mean a bark without a bite.

In African-American Vernacular English, to “woof” has meant to bluff or challenge since at least as far back as 1930. In fact, the phrase has been recorded as “sell woof tickets” since the 1970s.

But as we said, the earliest written example we’ve found for the complete phrase is the “wolf” version; this may reflect the way “woof” was interpreted by white sociologists in the mid-20th century.

Let’s start with “woof” and come later to “sell wolf [or woof] tickets.”

The Dictionary of American Regional English defines the verb “woof,” used “chiefly” among black speakers, as “to engage in behavior, esp speech, intended to impress, intimidate, or provoke; to bluff, kid.” DARE also mentions “woofer,” “woofing,” and other related words.

The dictionary’s earliest example of “woof” used in this way comes from a play written in 1930: “Stop woofing and pick a little tune there so that I can show Daisy somethin’.” (From Mule Bone, written in black vernacular, by Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes.)

In December 1934, the journal American Speech published a paper mentioning both “woof” and “woofer” as terms in black college slang. Here are the examples:

“WOOF. To talk much and loudly and yet say little of consequence,” and “A WOOFER. Applied to one who talks constantly, loudly, and in a convincing manner, but who says very little.” (From “Negro Slang in Lincoln University,” a paper by Hugh Sebastian.)

The earliest published example we’ve found for “sell wolf tickets” is from a 1963 paper on the sociology of gang behavior, though an unpublished version dates from 1961. Here’s the relevant passage (“worker” is a social worker and “Commando” a gang leader):

“In a conflict situation, without a worker present, Commando would find it difficult not to ‘sell wolf tickets’ (i.e., challenge) to rival gang members and instigate conflict.”

The paper, “The Response of Gang Leaders to Status Threats: An Observation on Group Process and Delinquent Behavior,” by James F. Short, Jr. and Fred L. Strodtbeck, was published in the American Journal of Sociology in March 1963. This was a revised version of a paper (now lost) read on Sept. 1, 1961, at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

In answer to an email query, Dr. Short told us that the same passage, with the phrase “sell wolf tickets,” probably appeared in the earlier, unpublished version that was delivered in 1961. “I cannot imagine that it was not in the earlier version,” he said.

Over the years, both “wolf tickets” and “woof tickets” have appeared, with variant spellings for “woof” and with “tickets” in singular as well as plural.

DARE, for example, says the phrase “woof ticket,” used “especially” among black speakers, means a “lie, bluff, challenge.” Its earliest written use was recorded in 1971.

The scholar Geneva Smitherman, writing in the English Journal in February 1976, wrote: “ ‘Sellin woof [wolf] tickets’ (sometimes just plain ‘woofin’) refers to the kind of strong language which is purely idle boasting.” The bracketed and parenthetical additions are hers.

Time magazine also used both versions in its Aug. 20, 1979, issue: “ ‘To sell wolf tickets’ (pronounced wuf tickets) means to challenge somebody to a fight” (from “Outcry Over Wuff Tickets,” an article about black English in the classroom).

And in 1982, an early rap group called Wuf Ticket briefly appeared on the singles charts.

A few years later, the linguist Carolyn G. Karhu said that “wolf ticket” (defined as an empty threat) and “selling wolf tickets” (making an empty threat) were terms used by prison inmates in Tennessee (American Speech, summer 1988).

But by the 1990s, these terms had apparently become passé in the language of the streets.

“ ‘Woof ticket’ is a somewhat dated phrase,” Betty Parham and Gerrie Ferris wrote in 1992 in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. And “selling wolf tickets” was defined as “archaic black slang” by Jack E. White, writing in Time magazine’s issue of Oct. 24, 1995.

So was this “woof” merely a black pronunciation of “wolf”? The language columnist William Safire thought so. Commenting on the phrase “woof ticket,” he wrote, “Woof is a Black English pronunciation of ‘wolf’ ” (the New York Times Magazine, Nov. 5, 2000).

That assertion brought a response from Peter Jeffery, now a professor of medieval studies at the University of Notre Dame. His letter, later published in Safire’s book The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time (2004), objected to Safire’s explanation for “woof ticket.”

“The origin had nothing to do with ‘wolf,’ ” Jeffery wrote. “The metaphor was of a barking watchdog (‘woof, woof!’).”

Jeffery, who grew up in Brooklyn and heard the phrase as a youth, added: “By the 1970s, ‘woof ticket’ had disappeared from the speech of young black Americans, though it may still be remembered among those are old enough.” He noted, “I’ve since heard that ‘woofin’ is still sometimes used among jazz musicians to describe the back-and-forth challenges between instrumental soloists.”

Well, old slang terms have a way of reviving, and that appears to be the case here.

Today the phrase is usually seen as “to sell wolf tickets,” and its meaning has become broader. It’s sometimes used to describe a hyped-up promotion or an inflated sales pitch—for a product or event that doesn’t live up to the hype.

(By the way, we’ve found no connection with the use of the phrase in Russian slang, in which it originally meant a document or a pass that might be withdrawn at any time. However, Russians may since have adopted the phrase in the American sense. That’s not cross-pollination, just borrowing.)

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Lesson 416 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Hyphens

Use a hyphen in compound numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nineand when used in larger numbers like two hundred fifty-five. (Note that you do not use an and between any of the numbers as that would indicate a decimal point.) Ordinal numbers such as thirty-first, seventy-second need hyphens also.
Instructions: Supply hyphens where they are needed in these sentences.
1. It used to be that one had to be twenty one to vote.
2. When adding thirty four and forty two, you get seventy six.
3. One hundred thirty seven people were killed in that crash.
4. The sixty fourth running of that race was cancelled due to weather.
5. Many more privileges come to people who are sixty five or older.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. It used to be that one had to be twenty-one to vote.
2. When adding thirty-four and forty-two, you get seventy-six.
3. One hundred thirty-seven people were killed in that crash.
4. The sixty-fourth running of that race was cancelled due to weather.
5. Many more privileges come to people who are sixty-five or older.

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/05/lesson-416-mechanics-punctuation-hyphens.html

Quiz for Lessons 411 – 415 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Apostrophes

Instructions: Supply the apostrophes in the following sentences.
1. Capn, can I bother you for a few minutes?
2. His us look just like my ns.
3. I wish everyone had the spirit of 76.
4. Its raining again, but its worth it to me.
5. I spose that you want your money back.
6. Its mother wont let me see if its okay.
7. Theyre goin to be here at four oclock.
8. Dont do that again because youre a better person than that.
9. Your mother said your ts looked like ls, and you run your sentences together with ands.
10. Ive had it with you if you shant help me pass the class.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. Cap’n, can I bother you for a few minutes?
2. His u’s look just like my n’s.
3. I wish everyone had the spirit of ’76.
4. It’s raining again, but it’s worth it to me.
5. I s’pose that you want your money back.
6. Its mother won’t let me see if it’s okay.
7. They’re goin’ to be here at four o’clock.
8. Don’t do that again because you’re a better person than that.
9. Your mother said your t‘s looked like l’s, and you run your sentences together with and‘s.
10. I’ve had it with you if you shan’t help me pass the class.

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/05/quiz-for-lessons-411-415-mechanics.html

The true history of false flags

Q: I simply don’t understand how “false flag” has come to mean (I guess) a staged tragedy to create sympathy for a group or to push an agenda such as outlawing automatic weapons. It supposedly relates back to pirate ships flying false flags, but that doesn’t seem parallel.

A: Yes, the term “false flag” conjures up images of pirates on the high seas, flying friendly colors to conceal their larcenous motives. However, we haven’t found any evidence that the phrase was ever used literally for a real flag on a real pirate ship.

In the 16th century, when the phrase first appeared in writing, it was strictly a figurative expression. It wasn’t used literally—to mean an actual flag—until almost 300 years later. And pirates weren’t mentioned.

“False flag” is one of those expressions that exist almost solely in figurative use. And its meaning hasn’t changed over the centuries.

In figurative contexts, the Oxford English Dictionary says, a “false flag” means “a deliberate misrepresentation of someone’s affiliation or motives; something used deliberately to misrepresent in this way.”

It first appeared, according to the OED, in a religious tract published in the mid-1500s: “Of this sort was Gardiner that abused K. Henry with a false flagge of religion, when he made hys booke of true obedience” (from Thomas Norton’s A Warning Agaynst the Dangerous Practises of Papistes, 1569).

At that time, the word “flag” itself was still new. The noun for a square or rectangular piece of cloth, varying in color and design and flown “as a standard, ensign or signal, and also for decoration or display,” first appeared in writing in 1530, the OED says.

The dictionary’s next example of “false flag” is also figurative, though the writer alludes to pirates. In a sermon published in 1689, George Halley called Roman Catholicism “a Religion that acts in disguise and masquerade, changes frequently its colours, and puts out a false Flag to conceal the Pyrate.”

Similar uses of “false flag,” mostly in political writing, have continued into the 21st century. This is the most recent one in the OED: “These are the true Tory colours, not the false flag of convenience he flies for the working poor” (from the Daily Mirror, London, 2008).

As we said, it wasn’t until the 19th century that “false flag” showed up in the literal sense, defined in the OED as “a flag used to disguise a ship by misrepresenting its nationality, allegiance, intent, etc.”

Here’s Oxford‘s earliest example: “The boarding officers must, in their discretion, decide, whether this be a true or false flag, and of the character of the vessel” (from a May 29, 1824, article in the Daily National Intelligencer, Washington, DC, that refers to searching merchant vessels sailing under foreign flags.)

And here’s the OED‘s most recent literal citation: “The Obama administration is urging global port authorities to be on the watch for Iranian shipping vessels flying false flags or sailing under fraudulent registrations” (from an Associated Press article that appeared in print and online on July 19 and 20, 2012).

As Oxford notes, the term “false flag” is also used adjectivally, as in “false flag operation” (first recorded in 1982) and “false flag provocation” (2002).

In this sense, the dictionary says, the term describes “an event or action (typically political or military in nature) secretly orchestrated by someone other than the person or organization that appears to be responsible for it.”

Here’s the OED‘s latest citation: “Some of those who believe that the 7/7 London bombings were a ‘false flag’ operation by state forces rejects [sic] as fake all the state’s evidence” (from a British monthly, Fortean Times, May 23, 2011).

More recently, an April 3, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times about the Parkland, FL, high-school shootings says “conspiracy theorists deemed the incident itself a hoax, or false flag, something that’s further marred the aftermath of every major shooting, including at Sandy Hook Elementary.”

As in those examples, the phrase is often used by conspiracy theorists who argue that widely publicized mass shootings, bombings, and so on are actually “false flags” or “false flag operations,” staged by the government or interest groups for political purposes.

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Lesson 415 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Apostrophes

Use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of letters, numbers, signs, and words referred to as words. The letter, number, sign, or word is italicized but the apostrophe and “s” (‘s) is not.
Examples: y‘s, 7‘s, &‘s, and‘s
Instructions: Supply the apostrophes in the following sentences.
1. Your fs look like bs when you write.
2. Your speech had too many uhs in it.
3. Your 3s and 5s need to be clearer.
4. Always spell out your ands and don’t use &s in your writing.
5. There are too many etcs in this paper.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. Your f ‘s look like b‘s when you write.
2. Your speech had too many uh‘s in it.
3. Your 3‘s and 5‘s need to be clearer.
4. Always spell out your and‘s and don’t use &‘s in your writing.
5. There are too many etc‘s in this paper.

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in eBook and Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/05/lesson-415-mechanics-punctuation.html

Lesson 414 – Mechanics – Punctuation – Apostrophes

In writing conversation, use apostrophes to show letters omitted in colloquial or careless speech.
Example: He prob’ly will be playin’ football.
Instructions: Supply the apostrophes in the following sentences.
1. We are all goin with you tonight.
2. I am runnin this place, and I am not wantin any help.
3. I do not want help from you r anyone else.
4. This souwestern will be a bad storm.
5. I blieve I will be going now.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. We are all goin’ with you tonight.
2. I am runnin’ this place, and I am not wantin’ any help.
3. I do not want help from you ‘r anyone else.
4. This sou’western will be a bad storm.
5. I b’lieve I will be going now.

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog http://dailygrammarlessons.blogspot.com/2018/05/lesson-414-mechanics-punctuation.html

Can ‘refute’ mean ‘deny’?

Q: The increasing use of “refute” as a synonym for “deny” is threatening to finally separate me from the last vestiges of my sanity. I have always thought the former to mean “disprove,” which is very different than “deny.” I just read such an example in an Alaskan news article that sent me running to you.

A: You’ll be disappointed by our answer. Historically, “refute” and “deny” have had separate meanings. But over the last half-century or so the distinction has blurred, and today the use of “refute” to mean “deny” is accepted as standard English—at least by the editors of all nine dictionaries we’ve checked.

However, you’re not alone in objecting to the newer usage. Even some of the standard dictionaries that accept this sense acknowledge that there’s still resistance to it. And none of the usage manuals we’ve consulted wholeheartedly endorse the new sense, though some see the writing on the wall.

Here, for instance, are the senses of “refute” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.):

(1) “To prove to be false or erroneous; overthrow by argument or proof,” as in “refute testimony.”

(2) “To deny the accuracy or truth of,” as in “refuted the results of the poll.”

Both are accepted as standard, but the dictionary adds this in a usage note:

“This second use has been criticized as incorrect or inappropriate since the early 1900s, despite being common. A majority of the Usage Panel accepts the use as a synonym of deny, but not by a wide margin. In our 2002 survey, 62 percent accepted the example In the press conference, the senator categorically refuted the charges of malfeasance but declined to go into details. This suggests that many readers are uncomfortable with this usage and would prefer to see deny in these contexts.”

Merriam-Webster Unabridged has similar definitions but adds that the second meaning “has frequently been cited as an error by commentators on English usage.”

The same is true with Webster’s New World College Dictionary (5th ed.), which accepts both meanings, but adds that the “deny” sense of “refute” is a “usage objected to by some.”

However, Merriam-Webster.com, an updated and expanded version of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), accepts both meanings as standard, and without comment.

Similar definitions, without caveats, appear in four of the standard British dictionaries we consulted—Collins, LongmanMacmillan, and Cambridge online. All accept without reservation that “refute” can mean either to prove that something is untrue or to say that something is untrue.

Another British reference, Oxford Dictionaries online, accepts the new and old senses of “refute,” but adds a caveat similar to ones in American dictionaries.

Just because the newer sense is standard, though, doesn’t mean you have to use it. We don’t use “refute” to mean “deny.” The traditional sense is also standard, and that’s the one we use. However, you’ll have to endure the use of the newer sense by others.

For the time being, you’ll find support in most usage guides. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, for example, notes that “refute” has “two senses, both of which are in common use, but one of which is widely regarded as an error.”

The usage guide notes, however, that the disputed use of “refute” to mean “deny” is “extremely common, and the contexts in which it occurs are standard”—that is, in speech or writing widely accepted as correct.

“Its most frequent use is by journalists reporting the emphatic denials issued by those accused of wrongdoing,” the usage guide adds. “Hardly a day now goes by, it seems, without one government official or another refuting a new set of allegations.”

In The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2004), the linguist Pam Peters says “it seems unlikely that the objections can be sustained much longer in the face of usage. It may rankle with those who like to keep words in the state to which they are accustomed, but language moves on.”

We suspect that the traditional use of “refute” to mean “disprove” may be lost as the verb is increasingly used to mean “deny.” At some point, even traditionalists may have to abandon “refute” and use a term like “disprove” or “rebut” to make sure they’re understood.

The Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary, says English borrowed “refute” in the early 16th century from Anglo-Norman and Middle French, where refuter meant to prove something wrong, contest something, or reject someone. The ultimate source is refūtāre, classical Latin meaning to suppress or disprove something, or to prove someone wrong.

The verb meant to refuse or reject someone or something when it first appeared in English, according to the OED. The dictionary’s earliest citation is from the Benedictine monk Henry Bradshaw’s biography of St. Werburgh, patron saint of the author’s monastery in Chester, England:

“Her royall dyademe, and shynynge coronall / Was fyrst refuted, for loue of our sauyoure” (from The Holy Lyfe and History of Saynt Werburge, written sometime before Bradshaw’s death in 1513 and published posthumously in 1521). An Anglo-Saxon princess, Werburgh gave up her coronet to become an abbess.

Two decades after Bradshaw’s death, the verb took on what is now considered its traditional sense, which the OED defines as to “prove (something) to be false, esp. by means of argument or debate.”

The first Oxford example is from a 1533 polemic that Thomas More wrote during a theological debate with William Tyndale: “If Tyndale wold now refute myne obieccion of ye Turkes and theyr Alcharon.”

The use of “refute” to mean “deny” showed up in the 19th century. The earliest OED citation is from an 1886 satire of poor English: “Mind, i ain’t a snob; I utterly refute that idear. I don’t judge bi the koat he wares, or the joolery, or nothing of that kind.”

The dictionary’s next example is from a Canadian newspaper, the Manitoba Morning Free Press, Jan. 13, 1895: “Members wish to refute the assertions … that Hayes council ‘is on its last legs.’ Never in the history of the council was it in better shape.”

We’ve seen several possible earlier sightings, though it’s often hard to tell whether “refute” is being used in the sense of “disprove” or “deny.” As the OED notes, “In many instances it is unclear whether there is an implication of argument accompanying the assertion that something is baseless.”

In Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, for example, Emma wonders why she doesn’t like Jane Fairfax:

“Mr. Knightley had once told her it was because she saw in her the really accomplished young woman, which she wanted to be thought herself; and though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her.”

And in The Warden (1855), the first of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire novels, Eleanor Harding is asked if she’s in love with John Bold:

“ ‘I—’ commenced Eleanor, turning sharply round to refute the charge; but the intended falsehood stuck in her throat, and never came to utterance. She could not deny her love, so she took plentifully to tears.” (The excerpt is from a conversation between Eleanor, the warden’s daughter, and Bold’s sister, Mary.)

The earliest objection to the newer usage, according to the M-W usage manual, is from Every-Day Words and Their Uses, a 1916 usage guide by Robert Palfrey Utter:

“To refute a statement, opinion, accusation, imputation, or charge, is not merely to call it in question, or deny it without proof, but to disprove it, overthrow it by argument, show it to be false.”

Henry Fowler doesn’t mention “refute” in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), which suggests that the new sense was uncommon at the time. But Sir Ernest Gowers, editor of the 1965 second edition of Fowler’s guide, says one refutes something “only by producing the evidence.” Without evidence, one “could only deny it.”

In the 1996 third edition, R. W. Burchfield writes, “I have an uneasy feeling that the new sense will begin to sound normal in the 21 c.—but not yet.”

And in the 2015 fourth edition, Jeremy Butterfield says that “it will sound normal to those who normally use it in this way, and aberrant to those who do not.” We assume it sounds aberrant to him. But the century is still young.

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