Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Folk Etymology

David's Definitions for June:

Folk Etymology

Etymology is the history of the evolution of words over time. Look up a word in a dictionary, and, in addition to its definition, you'll find a brief version of its etymology - how it changed from a Latin or French or German or other word into the English word we now use. Folk etymology is a popular but mistaken idea about a word's etymology. It often seems to make sense - for example, the origin I gave for bistro a couple of months ago. Or it may be amusing - for example, the story that the sirloin steak got that name when an English king was so delighted with his steak that he knighted it, saying, "I dub thee Sir Loin." (Actually, sirloin comes from the French "sur," above, and "longe," loin, and used to be spelled surloin in English.) In some cases, the folk etymology catches on and the spelling or meaning of a word changes as a result. An example is shamefaced, which didn't start out referring to shame in one's face but rather as shamefast or shamfast, meaning "held fast in shame." Which is sort of how I feel about that bistro definition.

6 comments:

Chris said...

I think you missed a golden opportunity here to make up a folk etymology for "folk etymology"...

David said...

I have to admit that I never even thought of that.

Here's an interesting one I just came across. The Dutch colonists used the name "John Cornelius" to refer to the typical American colonist. They Dutchified that to Jan Kees. Some think that that is where "Yankees" came from.

But that makes too much sense. It seems too logical. So it must be (insert trumpet sound) folk etymology!

Chris said...

If we're Yankees, I want to know who the hell the Yankers are!

David said...

Aren't they the guys who are in control right now?

Chris said...

Funny, I was thinking the same thing.

gary said...

Gasp! And we've yet to see the end of it.