September 20, 2007

Crosley Shelvador comes in from the cold

I seem to have been excessively indirect in my remarks on "Dr. Alfred Crockus and Crosley Shelvador, M.D." This happens a lot, as certain people have helpfully pointed out to me over the years, though this failing is balanced (if not excused) by the frequent occasions when they find me to be excessively explicit. In any case, I would have saved some readers the time that they've spent showing that Peconic County Community College has probably never existed, that Shelvador is not a plausible Brazilian surname, etc., if I had directly stated that Crosley Shelvador was the first Refrigerator-American ever to have had an article published in a major refereed journal.

In fact, I understated Crosley's accomplishments, since he also authored a 2001 book notice in Language (a review of "Cracking the Codes" by Richard Parkinson), and more. However, he fell far short of the brilliant career that some of us anticipated for him. As Larry Horn explained on the ADSL mailing list (Re: obsolescene, 28 Feb 2005) :

The Crosley Shelvador...ah yes, I remember it well. When I was a (non-post-doc) post-doc at MIT in 1971-72, the old fridge/ice box for graduate student use in one of the corridors of the linguistics quarters in the late Building 20 (can't recall if it was the D wing or E wing) was a Crosley Shelvador, and some of the graduate students (this was the era of Lasnik, Fiengo, Wasow, Prince, et al.) decided that this would be our "Bourbaki", so that squibs would be submitted as authored by Crosley Shelvador, acknowledgments in papers would express gratitude to Crosley Shelvador, and so on. Can't recall (this was 33 years ago, and memories of even important events of this kind do tend to fade over time, as Maurice Chevalier reminded us) how far we progressed with this scam, or what became of the eponymous Crosley himself.

Meanwhile, back in the hunt for Dr. Alfred Crockus, discoverer of the brain region that bears his name ("the detailed section of the brain, a part of the frontal lope"), Tracy Walsh has supported the bar-bet theory with a clue from Cassell's Dictionary of Slang:

crocus (metallorum) n. (also croacus, crockus, crokus) 1 [late 18C] (orig. milit.) a doctor, a surgeon, esp. a quack. 2 [mid-late 19C] a beggar who poses as a doctor. [? pun on croak us (though CROAK v.2, to die or kill is first recorded slightly later), but OED suggests 'the Latinized surname of Dr. Helkiah Crooke, author of a Description of the Body of Man, 1615, Instruments of Chirurgery, 1631, etc. ...' The quack implication suggests a further pun on hocus-pocus. Note fairground use, crocus, a doctor, a herbalist, a miracle-worker; market use, crocus, a fair-weather trader who works only during the spring or summer (f. the flower). Metallorum, lit. 'of metals', plays on crocus metallorum or crocus antimonii, which are more or less impure oxysulphides of antimony, obtained by calcination]

Several readers also suggested an etymological or perhaps intellectual connection to another entry on the same page of Cassell's:

crock of shit n. (also bucket of shit, crock of bullshit, load of shit) [1940s+] complete nonsense, a lying statement, anything useless or unpleasant [SE crock, a pot + SHIT n.3]

I prefer to think that Dr. Crockus might be a well-loved Crock Pot. The brain region know as the "Crockus", though certainly complete nonsense, is anything but useless, since it "supports the Corpus Callosum" and explains why girls are better with details and thus well suited to secretarial or clerical work. And the crock-pot hypothesis also explains the good doctor's reclusive behavior. You may find this hard to believe, in an age in which several house plants have been elected to national office, but in the academic world, there is a still a lot of prejudice against household appliances.

[Update -- Dr. Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks has begun making nominations for the Dr. Alfred Crockus Award for the Misuse of Neuroscience.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at September 20, 2007 07:36 AM