"troll" and other words with two mommies?

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Sat Oct 5 17:57:57 UTC 2013

From: Geoffrey Nunberg <nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu>
Subject: Re: "troll" and other words with two mommies?
Message-Id: <B1630E2E-56D4-4E71-B687-52037D8F6C52 at ischool.berkeley.edu>
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2013 10:12:37 -0700
To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>

I probably didn't explain myself clearly. I don't think any of these examples exhibit the same phenomenon as 'troll'. There are no end of words to which people assign distinct or conflicting etymologies. The point with 'troll' is that both etyma are simultaneously present to the contemporary speaker's mind and that each figures centrally in shaping its meaning as a "thick term," in  Bernard Williams term, which both categorizes and judges--the one supplying the descriptive content ("using baited lines to catch someone" and the other its evaluative content ("a reprehensible activity conducted by a misshapen and hidden figure"). So neither could be the "right" etymology by itself in the speaker's reconstruction. Whereas no new insight is gained by imagining that 'duck/t tape" simultaneously owes part of its meaning to each of the supposed sources. And while 'ass' can be regarded as deriving from either donkeys or buttocks, and may shift its use accordingly, there's no argument!
  to be made that it must simultaneously be derived from both in order to mean what it does.


> W Brewer=20
> Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2013 17:21:03 +0800
> =20
> GN: <<How many other words ... that have two (or more?) distinct etyma
> simultaneously present to speakers, each of which actively influences =
> meaning. >>
> WB: For a punster, more than for a non-punster. Formal similarity =
> semantic association to varying degrees in different people.
> =20
> ass 'donkey, fool' (Latin asinus) <=3D ass 'buttocks' (Old English =
> duct tape <=3D duck tape.
> cache 'stash' [cash, cash-SHAY] <=3D cachet [cash-SHAY].
> =20
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> =20
> =20
> From: Charles C Doyle=20
> Sat, 5 Oct 2013 14:12:11 +0000
> =20
> =20
> Yes, there exists a fairly extensive category of words that, =
> historically, have uncertain, confused, multiple, folk, facetious, or =
> otherwise recoverable or reanalyzable etymologies, available for the =
> enrichment of their signification by poets and wits and (sometimes =
> unconsciously) ordinary speakers.  Besides "ass" and "duct/duck tape" =
> (as WB points out), there's "island."  And we may think of Milton's =
> narrator's use of "astonished"/"astounded"/"stunned" in reference to the =
> devils in _Paradise Lost_--recently hurled from heaven by the Almighty's =
> thunderbolts.
>> =20
>> --Charlie

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