18 September 2018

More on Woodman and Woodsman

My examination of the shifting prevalence of “woodman” and “woodsman” and what that implies for how people speak of L. Frank Baum’s character the Tin Woodman brought this comment:

You don't seem to address the difference in the two professions, Woodman vs. Woodsman, though I'm not sure how well you could specify that in the search. But the word usage rates are clearly dependent on such, IMHO.

A woodman chopped and/or delivered firewood (like the Iceman or Milkman or Postman. A "Woodsman" is a forest ranger, naturalist, etc., that specializes in knowing about "the woods" and the failure to realize this difference in professions is what galls some of us - not the slight change to the spelling. Nick Chopper is a lumberjack not a forest ranger.
When did such a distinction arise, and how established is it?

Dr. Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary didn’t include the word “woodsman” at all. And his definition for “woodman,” with citations from his beloved Shakespeare, said nothing about chopping or delivering wood.
Instead, for Johnson a “woodman” was someone who hunted for sport in the woods.

Let’s jump ahead to Noah Webster’s dictionary in 1828. Once again, there was no entry for “woodsman.” And according to Webster, a “woodman” was:
1. A forest officer, appointed to take care of the kings wood.
2. A sportsman; a hunter.
It would be good to check an American dictionary from the 1860s when Baum was a boy, because that would be the best reflection of usage when he was learning the language. But I couldn’t find one on the web.

So let’s jump again to the 1903 edition of Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, published close to the time of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, albeit in Britain. It included a subentry for the word “woodsman”—but defined that word simply as a synonym for “woodman.” As for “woodman,” for the first time we see the word defined as Baum used it—but alongside the older definitions: “a man who cuts down trees : a forest officer : a huntsman.”

Finally, the 1913 edition of Webster’s had separate but overlapping entries for the two words. A “woodsman” was “A woodman; especially, one who lives in the forest.” A “woodman” had a more detailed definition, including all of the earlier meanings plus a new one:
1. A forest officer appointed to take care of the king's woods; a forester. [Eng.]
2. A sportsman; a hunter.
3. One who cuts down trees; a woodcutter.
4. One who dwells in the woods or forest; a bushman.
Today’s Merriam-Webster website shows how the popularity of the two terms has flipped: the entry for “woodman” points to “woodsman.” As for the definition of the latter term, the site says: “a person who frequents or works in the woods / especially one skilled in woodcraft.”

The Oxford Dictionaries site likewise has overlapping definitions. Woodman: “A person working in woodland, especially a forester or woodcutter.” Woodsman: “A person living or working in woodland, especially a forester, hunter, or woodcutter.”

The Collins Dictionary site offers the added complication of different entries for American and British usage, but the definitions still overlap. Woodman:
1. a person who looks after and fells trees used for timber
2. another word for woodsman
3. obsolete: a hunter who is knowledgeable about woods and the animals living in them
1. a person who lives or works in the woods, as a hunter, woodcutter, etc.
2. a person at home in the woods or skilled in woodcraft
Thus, there never appears to have been a widespread understanding that the two words have distinct and different meanings, with “woodman” meaning a woodchopper and “woodsman” meaning a forester. What’s more, the way Baum used the word—to mean someone who made his living chopping down trees—came late to the standard dictionaries of English.


David Maxine said...

The comment about woodman vs. woodsman was mine, so I figured I'd chime in once again. It's difficult, of course, to find colloquial usage of such terms that clearly explain the distinction. As I recall my grandmother (born 1897) explained to me what a woodman was i.e. a lumberjack.

also Baum is a sort of self citation from 1899 as he uses the word to mean lumberjack in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Nick is after all a wood chopper not a forest ranger, hunter, etc.

But you missed one of the probable major sources of Baum's understanding of the word. The 1837 poem "Woodman, Spare the Tree," by George Pope Morris. It gained near instant popularity, a popular recitation piece, memorized by children, and set to music in 1842 by Alan Dodworth. It became a major American song. As late as 1911 it was a major hit all over again when it was performed by black entertainer George Williams in the ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, which led to Williams recording the song which became a bestselling recording.

I knew the poem as a kid growing up in the '60s, sort of the same ilk as "The Raggedy Man."

In any case, Baum created a Tin WOODMAN, and IMHO, it's nothing but lazy ears and or lack of education that would cause folks to change it to WOODSMAN.

Here's a link to the poem and the song. I picked this one as it has a playable version of the music, too.


David Maxine

J. L. Bell said...

I mentioned George Pope Morris's poem "Woodman, Spare That Tree" in the first posting on this subject. I mentioned that it was also being affected by how woodsman is overtaking woodman in overall usage. A significant fraction of sources quote Morris's poem as, "Woodsman, spare that tree."

Misquoting Morris isn't a totally new phenomenon. Here are examples from the late 1800s. But the misreading appears to have been growing more recently. Here are three recent books using "woodsman." Here's a 1952 Herblock cartoon using "woodsman" (though librarians have carefully catalogued it under the original song title as well). Here's a 1942 Columbia cartoon titled "Woodman, Spare That Tree" which a YouTube user has labeled as a Looney Toon with "Woodsman." I'm not saying such misquotation is correct; I'm reporting that it's easy to find.

I tried to compare use of the phrases on the web, and discovered limits on Google searching. The service's latest algorithm automatically lumps woodman and woodsman together. The Google Books Ngram Viewer function doesn't recognize the phrase "Woodsman spare that tree" at all. And the total number of hits for common phrases varies significantly because it's based on how many the servers find in a certain amount of time. With all those caveats, I can report these very approximate findings from today:

38,000 hits for "Woodman, Spare"
4,500 for "Woodsman, Spare"

400,000 hits for "Tin Woodman"
60,000 for "Tin Woodsman"

It thus appears that about 10% of the webpages trying to quote Morris's line use "Woodsman," and about 13% of webpages naming the Tin Woodman refer to him as a "Woodsman." (That latter total includes some pages, like his Wikipedia entry, that acknowledge the mistaken name and correct it).

I, too, am bothered by people misstating the Tin Woodman's name, just as I dislike people referring to "Glenda" the Good Witch. It's definitely wrong because Baum was consistent in writing woodman. But when I measure usage and test hypotheses to explain why people get it wrong, the data keep surprising me.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer clearly shows that woodsman has overtaken woodman in overall popularity since Baum's time. I perceived woodsman as a more archaic form, so that was unexpected. It does help to explain why more people are inserting the S into the character name and the poem.

Furthermore, historical dictionaries show that woodsman is actually more recent than woodman, that the lumberjack meaning came relatively late, and that lexicographers reported no distinction in meaning between the two terms. That again explains why people are blithely substituting one word for the other.

I therefore can't say that the Tin Woodman is not a woodsman, by common use or dictionary definition, though I'd still never call him the "Tin Woodsman."

David Maxine said...

Thanks, John. I failed to go back and read the first post - hence my saying you'd not mentioned the poem. Curiously, I have an early article about the 1903 WIZARD OF OZ stage show titled: "Woodman, woodman, spare that show!" urging the producers not to close the show on Broadway so soon to take it on the road.