fout(re) > hoot(er)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Aug 31 13:37:18 UTC 2000

At 08:17 AM 8/31/00 +0800, you wrote:
>At 10:55 PM -0700 8/30/00, Rudolph C Troike wrote:
>>Some plausibility is added to this derivation by the fact that [f] > [h]
>>is a well-known sound change in Romance (filio: hijo, ferrocarril:
>>hierro, to cite Spanish examples). As Chomsky and Halle pointed out, the
>>acoustic similarities of labials and velars makes them subject to
>>interchange (cf. the history of English /x/ in "laugh"). The change could
>>have occurred in a regional variety of French (Norman French?) or in the
>>process of transmission from French to English.
>It is indeed phonetically plausible on general grounds, and if we
>were talking about a Spanish borrowing from French, rather than an
>English one, I would need little convincing.  But can anyone cite a
>single example of a French loan with [f] being borrowed into English
>with [h]?

We know how French 'foutre' appears in English, since about 1585:
'fouter'/'foutre'/'foutra', still in the RH dictionary for example
(although "archaic").

The possibilities here include (1) English 'fouter' /futR/ > 'hooter'
/hutR/ and (2) a re-borrowing in a non-literary (originally vocal) context
(French 'foutre' > English 'hooter'), perhaps ca. 1800.

In the second case the question is whether the French exclamation 'foutre'
could be heard by an English speaker as ''hoot'/'hooter'. I think this is
marginal, but more plausible if bilabial 'f' is employed. (The presence of
the common word 'foot' /fUt/ will perhaps prejudice one against the
adoption of 'foot' /fut/; possibly 'hoot' /hut/ is 2nd choice.) Favoring
this possibility is the coexistence of 'hoot' AND 'hooter' which I think
are exactly the two expected realizations in English of French 'foutre', IF
/f/ > /h/ is permitted.

In the first case, the change might have been deliberate and euphemistic.
It wouldn't be the most likely alteration IMHO, but there are reasons to
reject some of the more likely alterations such as 'futter', 'footer'. In
this case 'hooter' probably > 'hoot' at a later date. There is the possible
analogy of 'phooey'/'hooey'.

Another question would be whether 'houtre' or something like it might occur
in French as a euphemism for 'foutre'.

I'm going over to the library. Maybe I can find Larry Horn's book!

-- Doug

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