Montagnards & 9 yards proposal

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Tue Jan 20 00:51:20 UTC 2004

> >3. More generally, I'm interested in why some etymologies become
> forgotten or
> >obscured.
> An interesting question. If people care so little as to forget/ignore the
> word origins, why do people trouble to invent etymythologies?

I'm hesitant to use meme theory, but it works well in this case. There are
two distinct memes at work. The meme of the phrase itself is successful. It
is useful, self-contained, and propagates. Knowledge of the origin is not
needed to use or understand the phrase. The meme of the origin of the
phrase, however, serves no purpose and fails to propagate. This holds true
for most etymologies. Knowledge of the origin is simply not needed to use or
understand the word or phrase.

Etymythologies arise because the myth reinforces another, existing theme. We
see various groups claim TWNY for their own, be it Scots and their kilts
(reinforces ethnic identity), WWII buffs and machinegun ammo (reinforces the
importance of their area of interest in our daily lives 50 years later),

I don't think that people deliberately set out to create etymythologies.
They begin as speculation, usually tied to some subject that the speculator
is interested in. If there is a large enough community of interest in that
topic, the speculation is retold and the meme of the false origin is
established. Gradually the speculation gains credibility through repeated
tellings. If you hear something often enough from different quarters, you
begin to believe it.

--Dave Wilton
  dave at

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