Folk etymology definition

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Mar 7 16:47:18 UTC 2008


At 9:56 AM -0600 3/7/08, Matthew Gordon wrote:
>It doesn't sound wrong to me, just incomplete, since, e.g., not all folk
>etymologies involve borrowed words.

Yes, this is an *instance* of folk etymology 
(classic analogous cases include "cockroach", 
"rosemary", "mushroom", and "johnny cake" 
[assuming the "jonakin" derivation is right]), 
but as a *definition*, the "in which" clause is 
too narrow.  AHD4's definition seems adequate; 
note that one of its illustrations satisfies the 
borrowing condition and the other doesn't.
===============
Change in the form of a word or phrase resulting 
from a mistaken assumption about its composition 
or meaning, as in shamefaced for earlier 
shamfast, "bound by shame," or cutlet from French 
cĂ´telette, "little rib."
===============

LH

>
>
>On 3/7/08 8:54 AM, "Scot LaFaive" <scotlafaive at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>
>>  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
>>  shit?
>>
>>  Scot
>>
>>  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."
>>
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>
>------------------------------------------------------------
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

------------------------------------------------------------
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org



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