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Encyclopedia > False etymology

A false etymology is an assumed or postulated etymology which is incorrect from the perspective of modern scholarly work in historical linguistics. Not to be confused with Entomology, the study of insects. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time. ...

Erroneous etymologies can exist for many reasons. Some are simply outdated. For a given word there may often have been many serious attempts by scholars to propose etymologies based on the best information available at the time, and these can be later modified or rejected as linguistic scholarship advances. The results of medieval etymology, for example, were plausible given the insights available at the time, but have mostly been rejected by modern linguists. The etymologies of humanist scholars in the early modern period began to produce more reliable results, but many of their hypotheses have been superseded. Even today, knowledge in the field advances so rapidly that many of the etymologies in contemporary dictionaries are outdated. Medieval etymology is the study of the history of words as conducted by scholars in the European Middle Ages. ...

Incorrect etymologies have sometimes been created for purposes of propaganda. The opponents of the medieval Dominicans joked that Dominicani was derived from domini canes (“God’s dogs”). A more malicious example was the derivation of Slav from slave, which was used by the Nazis as a pseudo-linguistic justification for some of their atrocities against Slavs.[citation needed] The association of the two words did not originate with the Nazis, however. Although there is some dispute on the matter, most authorities (e.g., the OED, Duden, Merriam-Webster) derive slave from Slav, an etymology that reflects the predominance of Slavic victims in the medieval slave-trade. The use of Wealh in Old English to mean both 'Welshman' and 'serf' is similar. [1] Distribution of Slavic people by language The Slavic peoples are a linguistic and ethnic branch of Indo-European peoples, living mainly in Europe, where they constitute roughly a third of the population. ... The Nazi party used a right-facing swastika as their symbol and the red and black colors were said to represent Blut und Boden (blood and soil). ... The Oxford English Dictionary print set The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a dictionary published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), and is generally regarded as the most comprehensive and scholarly dictionary of the English language. ... The Duden () is a German dictionary, first published by Konrad Duden in 1880. ... brass replica of the Tjurkö Bracteate showing the attestation of the name Walha Walha is an ancient Germanic word, meaning foreigner or stranger (welsh). It is attested in the Roman Iron Age Tjurkö Bracteate inscription as walhakurne, probably welsh crown for Roman coin, i. ...

People sometimes create etymologies to make a political point. The feminist who “etymologised” history as his story and proposed herstory as an antidote was not serious about the linguistics of the matter, but she was entirely serious about the gender-political point (male domination of history). The term womanipulate for manipulate as man-ipulate (actually Latin manipulare, “to handle”, from manus, “hand”) was created in the same way. History studies the past in human terms. ... Herstory is a term which originated as a neologism. ...

Some etymologies are part of urban legends, many of which allege a scandalous origin for a common and innocent word. One common example has to do with the phrase rule of thumb, meaning a rough measurement; the width of adult male thumb is roughly one inch. An urban legend has it that the phrase refers to an old English law under which a man could legally beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb (though no such law ever existed). [2] Interestingly, the phrase "rule of thumb" is known in Finland (which is a Metric country) as "nyrkkisääntö" (rule of fist); the width of an adult male's fist is roughly ten centimeters.[citation needed] An urban legend or urban myth is a kind of modern folklore consisting of stories often thought to be factual by those circulating them. ... A rule of thumb is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination. ...

In the United States, many of these scandalous legends have had to do with racism and slavery. Common words such as picnic [3], buck [4], and crowbar [5] have been alleged to stem from derogatory terms or racist practices. The 'discovery' of these alleged etymologies is often believed by those who circulate them to draw attention to racist attitudes embedded in ordinary discourse. On one occasion the use of the word niggardly led to the resignation of a US public official because it sounded similar to the word nigger, despite the two words being unrelated etymologically.[6] Manifestations Slavery · Racial profiling · Lynching Hate speech · Hate crime · Hate groups Genocide · The Holocaust · Armenian Genocide · Pogrom Ethnocide · Ethnic cleansing · Race war Religious persecution · Gay bashing Blood libel · Black Legend Pedophobia · Ephebiphobia Movements Discriminatory Aryanism · Neo-Nazism · Ku Klux Klan National Party (South Africa) American Nazi Party Kahanism · Supremacism Anti... Slave redirects here. ... This article is being considered for deletion for the 2nd time in accordance with Wikipedias deletion policy. ... // Nigger is a racial slur used to refer to dark-skinned people, especially those of African ancestry. ...

Another false etymology claims that the term cracker dates back to slavery in the antebellum South. This is based on tales of overseers using bullwhips to discipline African slaves, with the sound of the whip described as “cracking.” However, there is no evidence of this usage prior to the 20th-century, suggesting this is a neologism created through cultural assumptions. The term actually has much older origins in the British Isles, based on a term for braggarts. [1] [2] [3] Georgia Cracker refers to the original American pioneer settlers of the State of Georgia, and their descendants. ... A bullwhip is a single-tailed whip, usually made of braided leather, which was originally used as a farmers tool for working with livestock. ... This article cites very few or no references or sources. ...


Folk etymology

Main article: Folk etymology

“Folk etymology” or “popular etymology” is an established term for a false etymology which grows up anonymously in popular lore. A modern folk etymology may be thought of as a linguistic urban legend, but folk etymologies can be very old and even establish themselves as accepted fact among scholars. Folk etymology or popular etymology is a linguistic term for a category of false etymology which has grown up in popular lore, as opposed to one which arose in scholarly usage. ...

Folk etymology becomes interesting when it feeds back into the development of the word and thus becomes a part of the true etymology. Because a population wrongly believes a word to have a certain origin, they begin to pronounce or use the word in a manner appropriate to that perceived origin, in a kind of misplaced pedantry. Thus a new standard form of the word appears which has been influenced by the misconception. In such cases it is often said that the form of the word has been “altered by folk etymology”. (Less commonly, but found in the etymological sections of the OED, one might read that the word was altered by pseudo-etymology, or false etymology.) It should be noted, however, that strictly the term “folk etymology” refers to the misconception which triggered the change, not to the process of change itself, which is best thought of as an example of linguistic analogy. Most examples can be classified as acronyms, anecdotes, or auditory. For the medical term see rigor (medicine) Rigour (American English: rigor) has a number of meanings in relation to intellectual life and discourse. ... The Oxford English Dictionary print set The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a dictionary published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), and is generally regarded as the most comprehensive and scholarly dictionary of the English language. ... Analogy is both the cognitive process of transferring information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target), and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process. ... Acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations formed from the initial letter or letters of words, such as NATO and XHTML, and are pronounced in a way that is distinct from the full pronunciation of what the letters stand for. ... An anecdote is a short tale told about an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident. ... This article is about compression waves. ...

Influence on spelling

Over the course of time, many words have been altered in order to better reflect false Latin or Greek etymologies. Island (previously iland) and ptarmigan (previously tarmigan) are two such words. See Spelling reform - successes in spelling complication. For more examples see Folk etymology. Spelling reform generally attempts to introduce a logical structure connecting the spelling and pronunciation of words. ... Folk etymology or popular etymology is a linguistic term for a category of false etymology which has grown up in popular lore, as opposed to one which arose in scholarly usage. ...


  • F.U.C.K. (for fuck). There is an urban legend which states that the term "fuck" originated as an acronym, standing for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge". According to this etymology, adulterers in medieval England would be charged with the crime of unlawful carnal knowledge. After a while the charge was shortened on the charge sheet to "F.U.C.K.", and so the term came to mean the act of adultery. There are a number of variations on this theme - the same acronym, it is claimed, was posted on stocks where adulterers were publicly humiliated. Another variation suggests that F.U.C.K stands for "Fornication Under Consent of the King", a phrase supposedly posted on the doors of those persons permitted to reproduce at a time of medieval population control or to indicate that a brothel had paid its tax and was licensed to operate. These etymologies can be shown to be false for a number of reasons, not least historical inaccuracy: the "population control" theory neglects the fact that at the time in question, fornication referred only to the sin of sex outside marriage, and would not have been used to refer to acts between married partners. Moreover, the practice of adopting acronyms and the like into everyday language (such as yuppie, nimbyism, scuba, radar and sonar) was not common practice until the 20th century. "Fuck" in fact entered Middle English from another Germanic source, most likely Scandinavian.
  • "Fuck you/V sign" This folk etymology centers on archers who had their middle fingers removed in medieval times to keep them from properly aiming their arrows. English longbow archers caught by the enemy at Agincourt supposedly had their bow fingers amputated, since at that time the longbow was a devastating weapon and would have given a great advantage to the English. The unaffected archers could taunt the enemy by raising their index and middle fingers to show they were still intact and that the archers could still effectively "pluck yew." However, this story is untrue.
    (See the origins of the V sign for further discussion.)
  • "Pom" or "Pommy", an Australian English, New Zealand English and South African English term for a person of British descent or origin. The exact origins of the term remain obscure (see here for further information.). A legend persists that the term arises from the acronym P.O.M.E., for "Prisoner of Mother England" (or P.O.H.M, "Prisoners Of His/Her Majesty") although there is no evidence to support this fact.
  • Lanzarote. A popular story claims that the conqueror Jean de Bethencourt was so impressed with the peaceful nature of the island's inhabitants that he broke his lance in half. The name supposedly derives from lanza rota (broken lance). This story is unlikely. In reality the island is probably named after the 13th century trader Lancilloto Maloxelo.
  • "Hiccough", a spelling still occasionally encountered for hiccup, originates in an assumption that the second syllable was originally cough. The word is in fact onomatopoeic in origin.
  • The word news has been claimed to be an acronym of the four cardinal directions: (North, East, West, and South). However, old spellings of the word varied widely (e.g. newesse, newis, nevis, neus, newys, niewes, newis, nues, etc.). It is simply a plural form of new.
  • "Welsh Rarebit" has been claimed to be the original spelling of the British cheese-on-toast snack, 'Welsh rabbit'. Both forms now have currency, though the form with rabbit is in fact the original.
  • T.I.P. for "tip" (in the sense of a gratuity for a waiter), alleged to stand for "to insure promptness". In fact, it is originally from thieves' cant.
  • the cacophemism "wog", for a foreigner or coloured person, is sometimes believed to be an acronym for "wily Oriental gentleman". It is more likely to be a shortening of "golliwog".
  • "scissors": the spelling reflects a belief that the word comes from Latin scindere (to tear); in fact the word is derived from Old French cisors (current French ciseaux), which comes from Latin caedere (to cut)
  • "innocent": often wrongly believed to have the original meaning of "not knowing", as if it came from Latin noscere (to know); in fact it comes from nocere (to harm), so the primary sense is "harmless"
  • "marmalade": there is an apocryphal story that Mary Queen of Scots ate it when she had a headache, and that the name is derived from her maids' whisper of "Marie est malade" (Mary is ill). In fact it is derived from Portuguese marmelo, a quince, and then expanded from quince jam to orange mermalada (Spanish), all kinds of jam (in German) and to citrus or ginger jam (in English).
  • "sirloin": an equally apocryphal story features an English king (usually identified as Charles II) conferring knighthood on a beef roast, saying "Rise, Sir Loin!" Alas, the name merely means the top of the loin (from French sur, on or above).
  • "average": a term used for damage sustained at sea (the arithmetical meaning came later). Popularly believed to be derived from a tax on goods (Law French "avers", goods, plus the -age ending). In fact it is derived, via French avarie, from Arabic awar, meaning marine damage.
  • "adamant": often believed to come from Latin adamare, meaning to love to excess. In fact derived from Greek αδαμας, meaning indomitable. There was a further confusion about whether the substance referred to is diamond or lodestone.

This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Backronym and Apronym (Discuss) Acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations, such as NATO, laser, and ABC, written as the initial letter or letters of words, and pronounced on the basis of this abbreviated written form. ... Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse. ... The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three ages: the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. ... Motto (French) God and my right Anthem God Save the King (Queen) England() – on the European continent() – in the United Kingdom() Capital (and largest city) London (de facto) Official languages English (de facto) Unified  -  by Athelstan 967 AD  Area  -  Total 130,395 km²  50,346 sq mi  Population  -  2006 estimate... It has been suggested that Pranger be merged into this article or section. ... A brothel, also known as a bordello or whorehouse, is an establishment specifically dedicated to prostitution, providing the prostitutes a place to meet and to have sex with the clients. ... Acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations formed from the initial letter or letters of words, such as NATO and XHTML, and are pronounced in a way that is distinct from the full pronunciation of what the letters stand for. ... Yuppies (or young urban professionals and young upwardly mobile professionals[1]) is a market segment whose consumers are characterized as self-reliant, financially secure individualists who do not exhibit or aspire to traditional American values. ... NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is an acronym for the opposition by local residents to construction of intrusive facilities, which are often intended primarily to serve people living far away: such as new roads or rail lines, power plants, waste storage facilities or the like, or intended to serve... may refer to: Scuba diving, the use of a self-contained breathing set to stay underwater for periods of time. ... This long range radar antenna, known as ALTAIR, is used to detect and track space objects in conjunction with ABM testing at the Ronald Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein atoll. ... The F70 type frigates (here, La Motte-Picquet) are fitted with VDS (Variable Depth Sonar) type DUBV43 or DUBV43C towed sonars SONAR (SOund Navigation And Ranging) â€” or sonar â€” is a technique that uses sound propagation under water (primarily) to navigate, communicate or to detect other vessels. ... The V sign is a hand gesture in which the first and second fingers are raised and parted, whilst the remaining fingers are clenched. ... Lemonwood, purpleheart and hickory longbow, 45 lbf draw force. ... Combatants Kingdom of England Kingdom of France Commanders Henry V of England Charles dAlbret Strength About 6,000 (but see Modern re-assessment). ... The V sign is a hand gesture in which the first and second fingers are raised and parted, whilst the remaining fingers are clenched. ... Australian English (AuE, en-AU) is the form of the English language used in Australia. ... This article or section cites very few or no references or sources. ... South African English is a dialect of English spoken in South Africa and in neighbouring countries with a large number of Anglo-Africans living in them, such as Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. ... There are many alternative ways to describe the people of the United Kingdom (UK), though the official designated nationality is British. ... Lanzarote is also the title of a novella by Michel Houellebecq, translated into English by Frank Wynne. ... A hiccup or hiccough (normally pronounced HICK-up (IPA: ) regardless of spelling) is an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm; typically this repeats several times a minute. ... Look up onomatopoeia in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... For other uses, see News (disambiguation). ... A compass rose showing the cardinal directions Cardinal directions or cardinal points are the four principal directions or points of the compass in plane. ... {{Otheruses4|north the direction}} [[Image:CompassRose16_N.png|thumb|250px|right|[[Compass rose]] with north highlighted and at top]] {{wiktionary}} <nowiki>North is o<nowiki>ne of the [[4 (numbe</nowiki> Block quote r)|four]] cardinal directions, specifically the direction that, in Western culture, is treated as the primary direction: north... The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST, internally called HT-7U) is a project being undertaken to construct an experimental superconducting tokamak magnetic fusion energy reactor in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui Province, in eastern China. ... A compass rose with west highlighted This article refers to the cardinal direction; for other uses see West (disambiguation). ... A compass rose with South highlighted South is most commonly a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography. ... Welsh rabbit – or rarebit – is a traditional British snack dish, also known as toasted cheese. ... Thieves cant was a secret language (or cryptolect) formerly used by thieves, beggars and hustlers of various kinds in Great Britain and to a lesser extent in other English-speaking countries. ... In language, both dysphemism (from the Greek dys &#948;&#965;&#962;= non and pheme &#966;&#942;&#956;&#951; = speech) and cacophemism (in Greek caco &#954;&#945;&#954;&#972; = bad) are rough opposites of euphemism, meaning the usage of an intentionally harsh word or expression instead of a polite one. ... Look up Wog in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... The Golliwog or Golliwogg is a blackfaced African American caricature created in the late 19th century. ... Innocence is a term that describes the lack of guilt of an individual, with respect to a crime. ... Marmalade spread on a slice of bread Marmalade is a sweet preserve with a bitter tang made from citrus fruit, sugar, water, and (in some commercial brands) a gelling agent. ... Mary I (popularly known as Mary, Queen of Scots: French: ); (December 8, 1542 – February 8, 1587) was Queen of Scots (the monarch of the Kingdom of Scotland) from December 14, 1542, to July 24, 1567. ... The sirloin steak is beef steak cut from the lower portion of the ribs, continuing off of the tenderloin from which filet mignon is cut. ... Charles II (29 May 1630 – 6 February 1685) was the King of England, King of Scots, and King of Ireland from 30 January 1649 (de jure) or 29 May 1660 (de facto) until his death. ... In mathematics, an average or central tendency of a set (list) of data refers to a measure of the middle of the data set. ... Law French is an archaic language based on Norman and Anglo-Norman. ... Look up Adamant in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... This article is about the gemstone. ... Magnetite Lodestone or loadstone refers to either: Magnetite, a magnetic mineral form of iron(II), iron(III) oxide Fe3O4, one of several iron oxides. ...


Here are some words which are commonly thought to be eponyms, but are not: An eponym is a person (real or fictitious) whose name has become identified with a particular object or activity. ...

  • The word crap, after Earl (or Thomas) Crapper. The flush toilet was indeed popularised to a large extent and improved — though not invented — by an Englishman named Thomas Crapper, but the coincidence of his surname is only that — a coincidence. The slang term crap meaning faeces or defecate was in common use long before his time and can be traced back to Old English crappe meaning residue from rendered fat, and can even be traced as far back as Middle Latin to crappa.
  • The word nasty, after Thomas Nast and his biting, vitriolic cartoons. The word predates Nast by several centuries and may be related to the Dutch word nestig, or "dirty".[4].
  • The supposed connection of the phrase Caesarean section with Julius Caesar. The legend exists in various forms.
    • The operation was supposedly named after Caesar because he was born via Caesarean section. It is highly unlikely that Julius Caesar was so born, as his mother survived his birth by many years, which would be virtually impossible had she suffered a Caesarean without anaesthetic or aseptic techniques. Nevertheless, it is possible that the operation derived its name from a belief that Julius Caesar was so born, even if the belief itself is erroneous. (The original form of the story, found in Pliny, is that it was not Julius Caesar, but "the first of the Caesars", who was born by section.)
    • Another version of this explanation refers to a law he supposedly enacted ordering Caesarean sections to be done on dead or dying pregnant women. In fact there is no evidence of any such law.
    • The third form of the legend is that the term "Caesarean section" was derived from Latin caedere, to cut, and that Julius Caesar was so called because he was born via Caesarean section. Whether or not the etymology itself is correct, this last claim is certainly untrue: the cognomen Caesar had been used in the Julii family for centuries before Julius Caesar's birth.[5] The Historia Augusta cites three possible sources for the name Caesar, none of which have to do with Caesarean sections or the root word caedere.

Thomas Crapper. ... Rabbit feces are usually 0. ... Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon[1], Old English: ) is an early form of the English language that was spoken in parts of what is now England and southern Scotland between the mid-fifth century and the mid-twelfth century. ... Medieval Latin refers to the Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. ... Thomas Nast (September 27, 1840 – December 7, 1902) was a famous German-American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist in the 19th century and is considered to be the father of American political cartooning. ... // There can be many baby defects within a baby C section. ... Gaius Julius Caesar [1] (Latin pronunciation ; English pronunciation ; July 12 or July 13, 100 BC or 102 BC – March 15, 44 BC), was a Roman military and political leader and one of the most influential men in classical antiquity. ... There are two famous persons named Pliny: Pliny the Elder, a Roman nobleman, scientist and historian who died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD The great-nephew of the former, Pliny the Younger, a statesman, orator, and writer who lived between 62 AD and 113 AD. This... The cognomen (name known by in English) was originally the third name of a Roman in the Roman naming convention. ...

See also

A backronym or bacronym is a portmanteau of backward and acronym[1] coined in 1983. ... In etymology, the process of back-formation is the creation of a neologism by reinterpreting an earlier word as a compound and removing the spuriously supposed affixes. ... While there is ambiguity present in any translation, the translation of the Mandarin word weiji (危機) has proven particularly controversial. ... Johannes Goropius Becanus (1519-1572), Dutch physician, linguist, and humanist. ... Look up okay in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ...

Further reading

Oxford University Press (OUP) is a highly-respected publishing house and a department of the University of Oxford in England. ...


  1. ^ [http://www.websters-dictionary-online.org/definition/english/we/wealas.html Webster's Dictionary online.
  2. ^ World Wide Words etymology of "rule of thumb"
  3. ^ Urban Legends reference pages on supposed etymology of picnic
  4. ^ Urban Legends reference pages on supposed etymology of buck
  5. ^ Urban Legends reference pages on supposed origin of crowbar
  6. ^ Article on the etymology of the word niggardly

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Etymology - definition of Etymology in Encyclopedia (690 words)
Etymology is the study of the origins of words.
The word etymology itself comes from the Greek ἔτυμον (étymon, the true meaning of a word) and λόγος (lógos, science).
For an example of the etymology of an English irregular verb of Germanic origin, see the etymology of the word Go.
Encyclopedia: Etymology (933 words)
The word etymology itself comes from the Greek ἔτυμον (étymon, true meaning, from 'etymos' true) and λόγος (lógos, word).
Etymologies are not definitions; they're explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.
The dates beside a word indicate the earliest year for which there is a surviving written record of that word (in English, unless otherwise indicated).
  More results at FactBites »



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