menace to society

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menace to society

Post by Anghellic » Thu May 26, 2005 3:05 am

Can anyone tell me to originas of the phrase "menace to society"? I'm guessing that it might have been orignated by either the government or law enforcement officials, but I'm not sure. I think that there's a movie out with that name, did the phrase originate before the movie?
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menace to society

Post by William Barclay » Thu May 26, 2005 10:49 am

No takers??

Okay, allow me….

…my sources tell me that the origins can be traced back to the early 1960s with Dennis being somewhat of a menace to poor Ol' Mr. Wilson. However, by the mid-70s, when he reached his late teens, he had become a “menace to society”.

Voilla!
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menace to society

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu May 26, 2005 7:39 pm

Ang, First off, I suggest that you run your writing through a spellchecker. It’s really not seemly to display such sloppy spelling in public, especially on a site devoted to the love of the English language, when that can so easily be corrected (grammar and sentence structure errors, however, are not as easily caught and fixed). If you are a non-native speaker trying to practice and improve your English, that is a somewhat different story, but since you chose not to provide us with any information when you registered, we will never know that (unless, of course, you choose to blow your stealth cover and reveal that fact).

As to your question, it is not likely that the origin of this type of expression can be nailed down exactly – though Dennis looked to be a strong contender (<:) – but I can tell you that it did exist by the 1880s.
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The Oxford English Dictionary tells us:

MENACE means: “A phenomenon, person, etc., that threatens danger or catastrophe. Also, in weakened sense: something which constitutes an inconvenience, annoyance, or irritation. Frequently with TO." The earliest recorded use (at least in the OED) of A MENACE TO (without the 'society') was in 1855:
<1855 “Each wind that comes from the Apennine Is A MENACE TO her tender youth.”— in ‘Men & Women,’ Statue & Bust by R. Browning> I. 163>

<1857 “It was an insult to the republicans, . . . .it was A MENACE TO the aristocracy of Turin.”—‘Italy’ by L. Mariotti, page 373>
A MENACE TO SOCIETY is an expression that would have most likely been quickly picked up by newspapers and that is where I found the earliest examples. Previous to 1884 the New York Times archives, for example, which dates back to 1851, didn’t record a single incidence of A MENACE TO SOCIETY. However, starting in that year and up to the present there were 457, with 25 between 1884 and 1900. The first appearance in the Chicago Tribune was in 1890 and for the Wall Street Journal in 1903.
<1884 “No doubt the habitual commission of murder is a blemish in the moral character of whoever indulges himself in the practice, and it must be owned that the Italian colony [[Italian neighborhood in NYC]] commits murders quite beyond its numerical quota. But it does not seem to be true that these murders constitute A MENACE TO SOCIETY.—‘N.Y. Times,’ ”Italian Murders”) [[Wow! That’s mighty liberal of them!]]

<1887 “The man or women who succumbs to the appetite for amateur theatricals becomes A MENACE TO SOCIETY.”—in ‘Milwaukee Sentinel,’ “Amateur Theatricals,’ 21 January>

<1887 There is a universal belief on the part of those acquainted with the case that the prisoner’s reformation is complete, and that in no circumstance could this broken down man, whose mind is fast giving way with his body, be A MENACE TO SOCIETY if liberated.”—‘N.Y. Times,’ ‘A King of Counterfeiters – Pardoned After a Long Imprisonment – The President Sets Thomas Ballard Free Convinced That He is a Reformed and Broken Man,’ 30 June>
The above evidence strongly suggests that the expression probably first appeared sometime in the second half of the 19th century (possibly in the 1880s), but exactly where and when – only the Shadow knows for sure?
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Ken G – May 26, 2005
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menace to society

Post by russcable » Thu May 26, 2005 9:08 pm

Just adding for the sake of completeness, the movie in question is actually called "Menace II Society" (Roman numeral 2).

I'll also mention again that if you are using IE, Google Toolbar now has a web form spell checker built in to the released version (see toolbar.google.com ) so you can spell-check this text box you're typing in before you hit "Submit Reply". (Oddly, it thinks the only misspelling here is toolbar.google.com)
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri May 27, 2005 1:01 am

Russ, Ang, and other posters, Thanks for mentioning the Google Toolbar spell checker. It’s an invaluable tool, it’s free, and I have been using it in addition to my Microsoft Word spell checker, ever since you first mentioned it, and I also highly recommend it. And Ang, I went into your posting and, sure enough, it found the two misspellings ‘originas’ and ‘orignated’ and offered‘ origins’ and ‘originated’ as possible replacements.
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Ken G – May 26, 2005
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