Folk etymology definition

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Mar 7 23:35:33 UTC 2008

At 4:25 PM -0500 3/7/08, Charles Doyle wrote:
>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.

Those are the typical sources of what I've been calling
etymythologies, once they're no longer recognized as 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."
>The American Dialect Society -

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