Folk etymology definition

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Fri Mar 7 21:25:23 UTC 2008

FOLK ETYMOLOGY in the second sense of the term is especially interesting to folklorists because it can give rise to legends about the origins of terms. Like legends in general, these narratives (and explanations) aren't necessarily BELIEVED, but they are told AS IF they are believed. Many of them are, in fact, jokes.


---- Original message ----
>Date: Fri, 7 Mar 2008 18:48:11 +0100
>From: Dennis Preston <preston at MSU.EDU>
>What's the difference between the two (except time depth)?
>>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
>>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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