hoot(er) (was: foutre)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Aug 30 18:11:12 UTC 2000

At 12:11 PM 8/30/00 +0800, you wrote:
>At 11:37 AM -0400 8/30/00, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>Then is there any reason to doubt that 'hoot[er]' is an alteration
>>of 'foutre'?
>>Cf. "I don't give a f*ck.", "I don't know f*ck all about it.", etc.
>>But is this speculative connection presented in the conventional
>>references? I haven't seen it myself AFAIK.
>No reason to doubt it, and no particular reason to believe it,
>without further evidence.  As I mentioned in my last note, there are
>hundreds of nouns that occur or have occurred in the frame
>"X doesn't care/give a ___"
>and their semantic and phonological range is impressively wide.
>"Fout(re)" isn't particularly closer phonologically to "hoot" than,
>say, "jot" is, and obscenities like 'fuck', 'shit', and 'damn'
>constitute just one of many sources of such minima.  I'm not saying
>your derivation is impossible, I'm just saying that there are
>alternate explanations and, as far as I know, no particular evidence
>for yours.  (Incidentally, the "fuck all" construction you cite isn't
>relevant, unless you can find "I don't know {hoot(er) all/   foutre
>all} about it" as well.)

Well, it's only a speculation off the top of my head, and I am not trying
to sell it too strongly. However ...

(1) "I don't give ...": In my own experience, the likely choices include "a
damn" (plus euphemisms "a darn" etc.), "a shit", "two shits", "a f*ck", "a
rat's ass", "a hoot", "two hoots", etc. All rude, except for "hoot" .... I
don't hear "a jot", "a tittle", "a peep", "a squeak", etc., in this
expression. I think there's some tendency to want a rude expression here,
rather than a diminutive or an animal sound.

[Incidentally, "not give a damn" is thought by some to derive from "not
give a dam", a dam being a small unit of currency in India. Is this
derivation legitimate, or is it an elevated type of 'folk etymology'?]

(2) I think "fout[re]" is closer to "hoot[er]" than other things such as
"jot" are. [But perhaps I'm influenced by Japanese, where 'fu' and 'hu' are
absolutely identical (with bilabial 'f') ... Does bilabial 'f' occur in
some varieties of French, BTW?]

(3) "F*ck all" is not analogous word-for-word, but it's another example of
the popular desire for a rude word in a certain context. "He doesn't know
..." (intensive) is filled (in my experience) by "shit" ("diddly",
"doodly", "squat", "beans" euphemisms for this, I think), "f*ck all"
(occasionally "f*ck" alone), "bugger all", etc. Perhaps "zilch", "zip" are
exceptions, perhaps partly euphemisms.

For those sensitive individuals who object not only to rude words but also
to their transparent euphemisms, 'hoot' might be the only polite way to
fill "I don't give a ..." -- perhaps because 'foutre' is no longer
recognizable to the average English-speaker, so that 'hoot' is no longer
recognized as its alteration or euphemism.

Next time I get over to the big library, I'll see if I can find any
convincing substantiation or refutation of my tentative hypothesis!

-- Doug

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