Östen Dahl oesten.dahl at
Sat Mar 19 19:08:00 UTC 2011

I have some difficulty understanding the arguments around the words "ell" and "elbow". It is rather questionable if "ell" was really ever primarily the name of a bone; in Old English, "eln" seems to have been mainly a unit of measure, with the earlier meaning 'forearm'; likewise, the Latin word "ulna", which is obviously cognate, is translated in dictionaries as 'forearm' and 'arm'; in other IE languages, the meaning 'elbow' also shows up. I do not understand what "massive borrowing" could have helped erasing the morpheme boundary in "elbow"; rather, I assume the meaning became opaque once "ell" was replaced in its concrete sense by the transparent but entirely Germanic "forearm". In Swedish, the cognate of "elbow" has been eggcornified into "armbåge", or 'arm-bow'; hardly anyone makes a connection to the now obsolete measure "aln" 'ell'.

- östen

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