Folk etymology definition

Scot LaFaive scotlafaive at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 7 18:14:34 UTC 2008

>From Wiki

1) "A commonly held misunderstanding of the origin of a particular word, a
false etymology."
2) "The popular perversion of the form of words in order to render it
apparently significant"; "the process by which a word or phrase, usually one
of seemingly opaque formation, is arbitrarily reshaped so as to yield a form
which is considered to be more transparent."

I read this as meaning for 1) it is a false understanding of the true
origins of a word and for 2) it is the actual changing of word to match the
word to what it refers to. One is a false knowledge and the other is word


On Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 11:48 AM, Dennis Preston <preston at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dennis Preston <preston at MSU.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Folk etymology definition
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> What's the difference between the two (except time depth)?
> dInIs
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> >Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> >Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> >Subject:      Re: Folk etymology definition
> >-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> >"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
> >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 -
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------
> >The American Dialect Society -
> --
> Dennis R. Preston
> University Distinguished Professor
> Department of English
> Morrill Hall 15-C
> Michigan State University
> East Lansing, MI 48864 USA
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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