SBG 1913 on Foul Language

I am always combing the internet for free stuff. Most of it is trash, but every now and then a gem can be found - particularly when looking for content where copyright rights have expired. This is the perfect batch for hidden gems; things are free and readily available simply because they are so old!

Such is the case with the 1913 edition of Spalding's baseball guide. It can be found for free on the internet in all sorts of formats. This is part one of an ongoing series in which I will investigate excerpts of a hidden treasure.


Spalding's Baseball Guide - 1913: on foul language
It has ever been the policy of the GUIDE to stand for clean and high class Base Ball. Twenty per cent. more women attend ballgames than ten years ago. Eighty per cent. more women spectators are likely to attend games five years from now. To encourage their attendance every effort should be made to eliminate all disgraceful conversation on the field. 
As a general rule two good reasons may be advanced for disputes on the part of players. 
First: Desire to "cover up" the player's own blunder. 
Second: General "cussedness."

On-field language was an issue in baseball well before 1913, as this 1898 memo to players suggests*. However, women were showing up to games by 1913! Or at least Spalding's guide had statistics suggesting that more women were attending ballgames. I have no idea where there numbers come from. Regardless, women couldn't stand the kind of crass discussions that ballplayers engaged in. Everyone knew that in 1913! No need for statistics to back that claim up!

*The memo may have been real, or a bit of a joke. Even if it was a joke, it would only be funny if there were players notorious for mouthing off.

The real gems of this passage are in the vernacular. Baseball was "base ball." Furthermore, we use "percent" now, but in the Spalding guide we get a glimpse at our modern word's roots. "Cent." is short for "100" (notice how a century is 100 years), so the phrase "per cent." literally means "out of 100." If you know how to calculate percentages, this term makes total sense.

Lastly, I'd be doing a disservice if I wrote nothing about cussedness. It remains an official English word, although it was probably used about twice more frequently back in 1913 than it is today (it is in the midst of a comeback though!) Cussedness is most commonly found in dictionaries listed as the noun form of the adjective "cussed," a word born in America as a variant of "cursed." The Oxford dictionary (see previous hyperlink) defines cussed as "stubborn; annoying," while Merriam-Webster** defines it as "obstinate, cantankerous." These definitions suggest that cussedness does not necessarily refer to foul language, but Spalding's Guide is clearly worried about what ballplayers say on the field in earshot of lady patrons. It's hard to think anything but bad words are involved with these old ballplayers that exuded cussedness.

**Merriam-Webster also provides an audio recording of someone pronouncing cussedness!

Major League Baseball didn't have to worry about steroids in 1913, but the trouble those potty mouths caused...