J. Kent '34 | Frederic Cassidy
'30 | Tom
Linehan | William
EDITOR SHAPED LOCAL LINGUISTICS
1907 - 2000
like "chizzywink" (a mosquito in Florida) or "hooftie" (a hippie
in Pennsylvania) may not be found in standard dictionaries, but
Frederic Cassidy '30 believed
that such words provide a window into the ways that we really
scholars inspire a devoted following the way Frederic Cassidy
did. He was the driving force behind the colossal project known
as the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), which--when
finally finished around 2007--will contain the definitions and
origins of over 60,000 words and phrases in folk and regional
sheer scope and ambition of the project, to which Mr. Cassidy,
as chief editor, devoted more than 30 years of his life, garnered
him praise from scholars, writers, and laypersons alike. The New
York Times called DARE "one of the glories of modern scholarship"
and labeled Mr. Cassidy "the undoubted hero of the enterprise,"
while language pundit William Safire declared him "America's folk
laureate." The first volume of DARE went through five printings
and sold 16,000 copies when it was released in 1985--quite an
accomplishment for a 903-page lexicon that only went up to the
letter "C." Behind it all was Mr. Cassidy's insatiable curiosity
and a life-long love of language.
in Jamaica in 1907, Mr. Cassidy's linguistic interests blossomed
early, as he spoke standard English at home and Creole in the
streets. His family moved to Akron, Ohio, when he was 12. He transferred
to Oberlin from Akron University, earning a bachelor's degree
in 1930 and a master's degree in 1932. "Oberlin saved my life,"
he once wrote. "Under Professors Charles Wager and Robert Jelliffe
and others, I discovered that I wanted to teach."
at Oberlin, he also discovered Hélène Lucile Monod
'30, a graduate student from France and his future wife. The couple
continued their studies at the University of Michigan, where Mr.
Cassidy earned a PhD in 1938. In 1939, he began teaching linguistics,
history of the English language, and early English literature
at the University of Wisconsin, the institution with which he
would be affiliated for the rest of his life.
groundwork for what would become DARE was laid during the next
couple of decades. Thanks to a Fulbright grant, Mr. Cassidy gained
valuable fieldwork experience while studying the language of his
native Jamaica. This labor of love and its fruits, A Dictionary
of Jamaican English and Jamaica Talk, led to his selection in
1963 as chief editor of the DARE project by the American Dialect
Society. It had been 70 years since the ADS had been founded to
undertake the project, but it was not until Mr. Cassidy's appointment
that the endeavor actually began to take shape. Building on his
experiences in Jamaica, he developed a 1,847-question survey and,
between 1965 and 1970, sent 80 researchers into the field to interview
nearly 3,000 informants in over 1,000 communities all across the
country. Supported by a small staff, Mr. Cassidy spent the rest
of his life compiling, editing, and researching the origins of
the two million entries generated by these interviews, in addition
to the thousands more that interested word-lovers continue to
the time of Mr. Cassidy's death on June 14, 2000, at the age of
92, only three of the anticipated five volumes of DARE
had been completed. His work will live on, however, as a monument
to an original and visionary scholar who spent his life dedicated
to a pursuit that he enjoyed immensely. "My father loved
words from the moment he was a very small child," said his
daughter, Claire Cassidy '65. "So he was able to follow his
bliss and make a good living."
Cassidy was preceded in death by his wife in 1980, and his brother,
Harold Cassidy '30, in 1992. He is survived by his sister, four
children, and seven grandchildren.