April 21st, 2014

Baseball as One Word or Two: More

1885 Base Ball ABC, McLoughlin

1885 Base Ball ABC, McLoughlin

On August 16, 2012, I ran a column called “Baseball or Base Ball?” (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/08/16/is-it-baseball-or-base-ball/). For those who recall the story or prefer not to follow the link, here are some highlights of that anonymous scribble in the Trenton Evening Times of November 13, 1915.

A small but influential minority con­tinue to adhere to the old notion that baseball isn’t baseball at all, but base ball. That is, that it is not one word, but two…. In the early days of the game “base ball” was universal. After a time, as the game increased in popu­larity, many publications adopted the hyphenated form, and it became “base-ball.” At a still later period along in the ’80s, as nearly as can be discovered—the newspapers began to drop the hyphen, and “base­ball” came into use.

With the aid of modern online databases and applications, plus some good old-fashioned ingenuity, we can bring data to the question of “Baseball or Base Ball?” My estimable friend Bruce Allardice searched the extensive newspaper set at genealogybank.com for each word in each yera from 1859 to 1900, and then 1905 and 1910 as a confirmation of the trend by which baseball superseded “base ball” forevermore.  Bruce writes:

Base Ball for Beginners, 1921

The general trends are clear. The exact numbers for any year depend on the vagaries of the OCR reads, and the OCR handling of the hyphenated (due to a line break) “base-ball.”

What strikes me is that the two-word “base ball” usage lasted far longer than previous scholars have thought. 1896-97 marks the time when baseball came to be used more often than base ball.

The chart below also illustrates the rise of newspaper reporting of the game. Note that the GenBank search process generally counts the hyphenated form, “base-ball,” as two words (i.e., as “base ball”).

Hits in GenBank Newspapers, by year

Year  “Base Ball”       “Baseball”  Total  1-Word %

1859  328                   26          354      7.3

1860  600                   32          632      5.0

1861  193                   23          216      10.6

1862  268                   14          282      5.0

1863  214                   11          225      4.9

1864  395                   34          429      7.9

1865  1544                 107         1651     6.5

1866  3354                 196         3550     5.5

1867  5656                 557         6213     9.0

1868  4559                 419         4978     8.4

1869  4840                 577         5417     10.6

1870  5926                 827         6753     12.2

1871  5126                 809         5935     13.6

1872  3445                 422         3867     10.9

1873  3355                 952         4307     22.1

1874  6567                1124        7691     14.6

1875  8029                1180        9209     12.8

1876  6530                 983         7513     13.1

1877  4941                 908         5849     15.5

1878  4779                1152        5931     19.4

1879  5444                1086        6530     16.6

1880  3740                 886         4626     19.1

1881  4512                 991         5503     18.0

1882  6307                1848        8155     22.7

1883  8307                2716        11023    24.6

1884  8847                3129        11976    26.1

1885  9207                3864        13071    29.6

1886  11681               4328        16009    27.0

1887  15605               6744        22349    30.2

1888  16057               9648        25705    37.5

1889  18973               8370        27243    30.7

1890  18654               9032        27686    32.6

1891  17555               9363        26918    34.8

1892  12821               9517        22338    42.6

1893  11932               8796        20728    42.4

1894  13722              10779       24501    44.0

1895  15762              14411       30173    47.8

1896  15763              15046       30809    48.8

1897  16135              20866       37001    56.4

1898  13165              15322       28487    53.8

1899  14728              18565       33293    55.8

1900  12194              21157       33351    63.4

1901

1902

1903

1904

1905  16384              43989       60373    72.9

1906

1907

1908

1909

1910  16180              78295       94475    82.9

An additional test may be run through Google’s marvelous Ngram Viewer, which graphs the appearances of baseball vs. those of “base ball” across all the books published (and digitized) from 1800 to 2000. [http://goo.gl/5tez3u]. You may view the disparity at intervals, or jog the results year by year.

 

 

 

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