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Summary Details

Query:   Miss Fidditch
Author:  Pius ten Hacken
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   History of Linguistics

Summary:   Regarding query:

Summary Miss Fidditch

In Linguist-List 16.3527 I asked

In his ''Two Models of Grammatical Description'' (Word 10 (1954) 210-231),
Charles Hockett writes:

''The description must also be prescriptive, not of course in the Fidditch
sense, but in the sense that by following the statements one must be able
to generate any number of utterances in the language, above and beyond
those observed in advance by the analyst?new utterances most, if not all,
of which will pass the test of casual acceptance by a native speaker.''

Could anyone give me some background about the expression ''Fidditch''? Is
this a real person, a fictional character or something else? Any
information greatly appreciated.

From the many, largely overlapping answers I conclude that Miss Fidditch is
the mythical American school teacher representing the prescriptive
tradition in grammar teaching. She was often evoked by the
Post-Bloomfieldians as representing the opposite to their own view of language.

A number of people pointed me to Martin Joos and more in particular his
“The Five Clocks”. The Oxford English Dictionary gives “Miss Fidditch” in
the entry for “Miss”, with Joos’s Five Clocks as the source of the first
quotation. However, this work dates from 1962, i.e. eight years after my
quotation from Hockett. The expression must have been around before 1954,
because Hockett assumes his readers know it. In a preface to Joos’s “Five
Clocks” that the OED dates to 1967, Albert H. Marckwardt gives the
following information about its origin:

''Although Joos mentions Shaw, Goethe, and Wolfram and ignores Ovid, what
he has written is one of the Metamorphoses. He begins with Miss Fidditch,
a character originally named by Henry Lee Smith, Jr., in one of his more
devastating moments but described by H. L. Mencken two decades earlier as
one the old-maid schoolteachers who would rather parse than eat. As she is
described here, 'Webster is one Webster, and Miss Fidditch is his prophet.'
At the end she emerges as Candida, and if she has not quite acquired the
divine insight of her prototype, she has begun to distinguish between
reality on the one hand and follies, illusions, and vanity on the other.
... '' (p.xiv)

I have not been able to find “Miss Fidditch” in Mencken’s “The American
Language” but I might have overlooked it. I am not sure whether H.L. Smith
published what Marckwardt refers to, but if anyone has additional
information, in particular a quotation from before Hockett, I would be
happy if they could let me know.

I would like to thank the following people for their replies: Wayles
Browne, Ed Burstynsky, Paul Chapin, Peter T. Daniels, Scott DeLancey,
Stefan Dyla, Harry Feldman, Nancy Frishberg, Clyde Hankey, Earl M. Herrick,
Claire Hiscock, John M Lawler, Stuart Luppescu, Geoff Nathan, Marc Picard,
Amara Prasithrathsint, Harold F. Schiffman, Michael Silverstein, Herbert
F.W. Stahlke, N. Wiedenmann, Job M.van Zuijlen. Special thanks are due to
Michael Silverstein for the quote from Joos, which is not in our library,
and to Wayles Browne who pointed me to the OED.

LL Issue: 17.156
Date Posted: 17-Jan-2006


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