Folk etymology definition

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Fri Mar 7 16:30:51 UTC 2008

"Folk etymology" can be a confusing term because there are two distinct
senses of the term.

The sense that M-W defines is the more technical one. It's the sense you'll
find more often in the work produced by linguists and lexicographers. The
word need not be borrowed from another language to be subject to folk
etymology, only unfamiliar to a particular group of speakers. "Bridegroom"
is a good example of a folk etymology that is not borrowed. As the Old
English "gome" or "guma" (man) fell out of use, it was transformed into
"groom" in the specific sense of a man to be married.

The other sense is that of a popular etymology, a commonly held belief,
often but not necessarily untrue, about the origin of a word or phrase.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Scot LaFaive
Sent: Friday, March 07, 2008 6:55 AM
Subject: Folk etymology definition

Reading through the "Did you know?" section of the MW word of the day email,
I came across this:

"...a process called folk etymology, in which a word of another language is
transformed to a more familiar-sounding term..."

I've never heard folk etymology defined as such and it seems completely
wrong from what I've always been taught and read. Is there some hidden
definition that I've never heard of before or is Merriam Webster shoveling


BTW, here's the full section:

"The Chinook of the Pacific Northwest were avid traders, and in the course
of their history a trade language developed that came to be known as Chinook
jargon, based on a combination of Chinook and other American Indian
languages with English and French. The Chinook jargon term "hayo makamak"
meant "plenty to eat." By a process called folk etymology, in which a word
of another language is transformed to a more familiar-sounding term, "hayo"
was identified with "high" and the spelling and meaning of the entire phrase
was transformed. Beginning in the 19th century, the term "high-muck-a-muck"
referred to a self-important person. Since then, the expression has taken on
several variations, including "high mucky-muck" and "high-muckety-muck," and
nowadays the "high" is often dispensed with entirely."

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