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Encyclopedia > Folk etymology

Folk etymology is a term used in two distinct ways:

  • A commonly held misunderstanding of the origin of a particular word, a false etymology.
  • "The popular perversion of the form of words in order to render it apparently significant"[1]; "the process by which a word or phrase, usually one of seemingly opaque formation, is arbitrarily reshaped so as to yield a form which is considered to be more transparent."[2]

The term "folk etymology", as referring both to erroneous beliefs about derivation and the consequent changes to words, is derived from the German Volksetymologie. Similar terms are found in other languages, e.g. Volksetymologie itself in Danish and Dutch, Afrikaans Volksetimologie, Swedish Folketymologi, and full parallels in non-Germanic languages, e.g. French Étymologie populaire, Hungarian Népetimológia; an example of an alternative name is Italian Pseudoetimologia. A false etymology is an assumed or postulated etymology which is incorrect from the perspective of modern scholarly work in historical linguistics. ...

Contents

Folk etymology as a productive force

Folk etymology is particularly important because it can result in the modification of a word or phrase by analogy with the erroneous etymology which is popularly believed to be true and supposed to be thus 'restored'. In such cases, 'folk etymology' is the trigger which causes the process of linguistic analogy by which a word or phrase changes because of a popularly-held etymology, or misunderstanding of the history of a word or phrase. Here the term 'folk etymology' is also used (originally as a shorthand) to refer to the change itself, and knowledge of the popular etymology is indispensable for the (more complex) true etymology of the resulting 'hybridized' word. 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. ... Not to be confused with Entomology, the scientific study of insects. ... 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. ...


Other misconceptions which leave the word unchanged may of course be ignored, but are generally not called popular etymology. The question of whether the resulting usage is "correct" or "incorrect" depends on one's notion of correctness and is in any case distinct from the question of whether a given etymology is correct.


Until academic linguistics developed the comparative study of philology and the development of the laws underlying sound changes, the derivation of words was a matter mostly of guess-work, sometimes right but more often wrong, based on superficial resemblances of form and the like. This popular etymology has had a powerful influence on the forms which words take (e.g. crawfish or crayfish, from the French crevis, modern crevisse, or sand-blind, from samblind, i.e. semi-, half-blind), and has frequently been the occasion of homonyms resulting from different etymologies for what appears a single word, with the original meaning(s) reflecting the true etymology and the new meaning(s) reflecting the 'incorrect' popular etymology. Philology, etymologically, is the love of words. ... Note: This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ... Look up homonym in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...


Examples of words modified by folk etymology

In linguistic change caused by folk etymology, the form of a word changes so that it better matches its popular rationalisation. For example:

  • Old English sam-blind ("semi-blind" or "half-blind") became sand-blind (as if "blinded by the sand") when people were no longer able to make sense of the element sam ("half").
  • Old English bryd-guma ("bride-man") became bridegroom after the Old English word guma fell out of use and made the compound semantically obscure.
  • The silent s in island is a result of folk etymology. This native Anglo-Saxon word, at one time spelled iland, derives from an Old English compound of īeg or īg + land, but was erroneously believed to be related to "isle", which had come to English via Old French from Latin insula ("island"; cf. Modern Spanish isla). Old English īeg, īg derives from Germanic *aujō = "object on the water", from earlier Germanic *agwjō, and is akin to Old English ēa = "water", "river", from prehistoric Germanic *ahwō. Hence through *ahwō, island is related, not to Latin insula, but rather to Latin aqua ("water"). (For a use of ēa, see Eton, Berkshire, Origin of the Name.). The silent s comes from the language spoken by the conii people, they say the term ilha.. as latin, Spaniards and others dont have the portuguese sound lh. The same for water in portuguese you say água not aqua. The portuguese sounds for lh and g are not find in other languages.

More recent examples: 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. ... In general, semantics (from the Greek semantikos, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... 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. ... Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories corresponding roughly to the northern half of modern France and parts of Belgium and Switzerland from around 1000 to 1300 A.D. It was known at the time as the langue doïl to distinguish it from the langue... Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in Latium, the region immediately surrounding Rome. ... Eton is a town in Berkshire, England, lying on the opposite bank of the River Thames to Windsor and connected to it by Windsor Bridge. ... Ancient map of the Golf of Cadis, showing part of the Roman Provinces of Lusitania and Betica. ...

Other changes due to folk etymology include:

  • buttonhole from buttonhold (originally a loop of string that held a button down)
  • Charterhouse from Chartreuse, the feminine of Chartreux
  • hangnail from agnail
  • penthouse from pentice
  • shamefaced from shamefast ("caught in shame")
  • chaise lounge from chaise longue ("long chair")
  • petty bourgeois from petit bourgeois
  • A slug of liquor from the Irish word slog, meaning to swallow

When a back-formation rests on a misunderstanding of the morphology of the original word, it may be regarded as a kind of folk etymology. The Chartreux is an internationally recognized breed of domestic cat from France. ... Petit-bourgeois (or petty bourgeois through folk etymology) is a French term that originally referred to the members of the lower middle social-classes in the 18th and early 19th centuries. ... 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. ...


In heraldry, a rebus coat-of-arms (which expresses a name by one or more elements only significant by virtue of the supposed etymology) may reinforce a folk etymology for a noun proper, usually of a place. Queen Mothers funerary hatchment, showing the canting bows and lions of Bowes-Lyon Canting arms is a technique used in European heraldry whereby the name of the individual or community represented in a coat of arms is translated into a visual pun. ...


The same process sometimes influences the spelling of proper names. The name Antony/Anthony is often spelled with an "h" because of the Elizabethan belief that it is derived from Greek ανθος (flower). In fact it is a Roman family name, probably meaning something like "ancient".


Further examples

See the following articles that discuss folk etymologies for their subjects:

Belfry of Bruges A belfry is a building (also known as a bell tower) - or a part of a building - in which bells are hung. ... An English flintlock blunderbuss A blunderbuss is a muzzle-loading firearm with a flared, trumpet-like barrel and is the predecessor to the shotgun. ... The phrase cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey is sometimes used by English speakers. ... Binomial name Branta bernicla (Linnaeus, 1758) The Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) is a goose of the genus Branta, known in North America as Brant. ... A caesarean section (AE cesarean section), or c-section, is a form of childbirth in which a surgical incision is made through a mothers abdomen (laparotomy) and uterus (hysterotomy) to deliver one or more babies. ... A chaise lounge (French long chair) is an upholstered couch in the shape of a chair that is long enough to support the legs. ... This article needs cleanup. ... Look up Dork in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Subfamilies and Genera Graphiurinae Graphiurus Leithiinae Dryomys Eliomys Hypnomys Myomimus Selevinia Myoxinae Glirulus Muscardinus Glis Dormice are Old World mammals in the family Gliridae, part of the rodent (Rodentia) order. ... Punishing a common scold in the ducking stool. ... An American woman reads the Gringo Gazette in Cabo San Lucas. ... Binomial name Helianthus tuberosus L. The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus L.), also called the sunroot or sunchoke or topinambur, is a flowering plant native to North America grown throughout the temperate world for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable. ... This phishing attempt, disguised as an official email from a (fictional) bank, attempts to trick the banks members into giving away their account information by confirming it at the phishers linked website. ... A poll tax, head tax, or capitation is a tax of a uniform, fixed amount per individual (as opposed to a percentage of income). ... The Tavern Scene from A Rakes Progress by William Hogarth. ... Species About 25; see text The Serviceberry (Amelanchier), also known as juneberry, saskatoon, mespilus, sarvis, shad-blossom and shadbush, is a genus of about 25 species of small deciduous trees and large shrubs in the family Rosaceae. ... Look up sic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In the modern world, sincerity is the rare and often-admired virtue of speaking truly about ones feelings, thoughts, desires. ... Welsh rabbit – or rarebit – is a traditional British snack dish, also known as toasted cheese. ...

Other languages

The French verb savoir (to know) was formerly spelled sçavoir, in order to link it with the Latin scire (to know). In fact it is derived from sapere (to be wise).


The spelling of the English word posthumous reflects a belief that it is derived from Latin post humum, literally "after the earth", in other words after burial. In fact the Latin postumus is an old superlative of post (after), formed in the same way as optimus and ultimus.


The spelling of the English word lethal reflects a belief that it is derived from Lethe, the river in the mythological kingdom of the dead. In fact it comes from the unconnected Latin word letum, meaning death. In Classical Greek, Lethe (LEE-thee) literally means forgetfulness or concealment. The Greek word for truth is a-lethe-ia, meaning un-forgetfulness or un-concealment. In Greek mythology, Lethe is one of the several rivers of Hades. ...


In British English, aubergines are sometimes called "mad apples". The Italian word for the aubergine is melanzana, which was misheard as mela insana. Binomial name L. The aubergine, eggplant or brinjal (Solanum melongena) is a solanaceous plant bearing a fruit of the same name, commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. ...


Medieval Latin has a word, bachelarius (bachelor), of uncertain origin, referring to a junior knight, and by extension to the holder of a University degree inferior to Master or Doctor. This was later re-spelled baccalaureus to reflect a false derivation from bacca laurea (laurel berry), alluding to the possible laurel crown of a poet or conqueror. A bachelor is a man above the age of majority who has never been married (see single). ...


Olisipona (Lisbon) was explained as deriving from the city's supposed foundation by Ulysses (Odysseus), though the settlement certainly antedates any Greek presence. Location    - Country Portugal    - Region Lisboa  - Subregion Grande Lisboa  - District or A.R. Lisbon Mayor Carmona Rodrigues  - Party PSD Area 84. ... Head of Odysseus from a Greek 2nd century BC marble group representing Odysseus blinding Polyphemus, found at the villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga Odysseus or Ulysses (Greek Odysseus; Latin: Ulixes or, less commonly, Ulysses), pronounced , is the main hero in Homers epic poem, the Odyssey, and plays a key...


In Southern Italy in the Greek period there was a city Maloeis (gen. Maloentos), meaning "fruitful". This was rendered in Latin as Maleventum, "ill come" or "ill wind", and renamed Beneventum ("well come" or "good wind") after the Roman conquest. Benevento is a town and comune of Campania, Italy, capital of the province of Benevento, 50 km northeast of Naples. ...


In the Alexandrian period, and in the Renaissance, many (wrongly) explained the name of the god Kronos as being derived from chronos (time), and interpreted the myth of his swallowing his children as an allegory meaning that Time consumes all things. The Renaissance (French for rebirth, or Rinascimento in Italian), was a cultural movement in Italy (and in Europe in general) that began in the late Middle Ages, and spanned roughly the 14th through the 17th century. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ...


The American Grizzly bear is so named because its hair is grizzled or silver-tipped, but its name was later mistakenly derived from grisly meaning “horrible”. This error has been perpetuated in the grizzly bear's scientific trinomial name: Ursus arctos horribilis. This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... In zoology, a trinomen, or trinominal name, refers to the name of a subspecies. ...


Acceptability of resulting forms

The question of whether the resulting usage is "correct" or "incorrect" depends on one's notion of correctness; at any rate it is a separate issue from the question of whether the assumed etymology is correct. When a confused understanding of etymology produces a new form today, there is typically resistance to it on the part of those who see through the confusion, but there is no question of long-established words being considered wrong because folk etymology has affected them. Chaise lounge and Welsh rarebit are disparaged by many, but shamefaced and buttonhole are universally accepted. See prescription and description. In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for the use of a language. ...


See also

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. ... In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speakers dialect. ... A false etymology is an assumed or postulated etymology which is incorrect from the perspective of modern scholarly work in historical linguistics. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ...

References

  • Anatoly Liberman (2005). Word Origins ... and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195161472.
  • Adrian Room (1986). Dictionary of True Etymologies. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7102-0340-3.
  • David Wilton (2004). Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517284-1.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. Encyclopædia Britannica, the eleventh edition The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) is perhaps the most famous edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. ... The public domain comprises the body of all creative works and other knowledge—writing, artwork, music, science, inventions, and others—in which no person or organization has any proprietary interest. ...


External links

Notes

  1. ^ OED, second edition, 1989.
  2. ^ R.L. Trask (1996). A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology. London; New York: Routledge.

  Results from FactBites:
 
Folk etymology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (949 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.
Folk etymology is particularly important because it can result in the modification of a word or phrase by analogy with the erroneous etymology which is popularly believed to be true and supposed to be thus 'restored'.
In such cases, 'folk etymology' is the trigger which causes the process of linguistic analogy by which a word or phrase changes because of a popularly-held etymology, or misunderstanding of the history of a word or phrase.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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