Iota > Hooter [was: Fout(re) > Hoot(er)]

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Oct 23 05:27:23 UTC 2000

At 6:01 AM -0400 10/23/00, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>As for 'hooter', it officially is [orig.unkn.], but the RHHDAS does
>>contain a reference to a Bartlett's of 1859 that takes it to be 'probably
>>a corruption of IOTA', which is of course the alternate form of the
>>minimizer JOT I brought up earlier.
>I checked various references, including the Bartlett book which presents
>the conjecture 'hooter' < 'iota'. Didn't find much.
>I am unhappy with /aiout@/ > /hut@(r)/. Perhaps we can admit the variant
>pronunciation 'iota' /jout@/ and the related 'jot' /dZAt/, but I'm still
>unhappy with the initial consonant particularly. Is /j/ > /h/ or /dZ/ > /h/
>a natural progression in English? No more natural than /f/ > /h/, I think!
>As for /aiou/ > /hu/, well ... anybody familiar with 'hudine' as a variant
>of 'iodine', or 'iope' as a variant of 'hoop'?
>It would be a lot more plausible phonetically if 'hooter' were derived from
>the Spanish 'jota' /hota/. Note that in Spanish 'jota' = '[letter] J' and
>also = 'jot'/'iota'. It is used like 'jot'/'iota' is in English: 'sin
>faltar una jota', 'no sabio una jota', etc. [Here I ignore any difference
>between /h/ and /x/ in Spanish.]

The scenario I would construct is one in which "iota" /iota/, the
letter which was the easiest to write and the most negligible one in
appearance, had been used since classical times as a minimizer (the
alphabetic avatar of the general pattern of small, worthless items of
their kinds serving in this capacity in expressions like 'not
worth/know/do a ____', as we've discussed).  Now what happened is
that the palatal glide or semivowel "i", appearing in pre-vocalic
contexts, began to be reanalyzed as a separate phoneme with its
specialized spelling "j" beginning (I think) in the post-Classical
Latin period (parallel to the differentiation of "w" from "u").
Eventually, this palatal glide evolved into a palatal fricative in
French ("j" as in "Jean"), a palatal affricate in Italian and
English, and for some reason a velar [x] fricative or glottal [h] in
Spanish; thus Lat. Iesus, later Jesus [yesus], is pronounced with an
initial [dzh] affricate in English (cf. Ital. G├Ęsu), [x] or [h] in
Spanish, and [zh] in French, and similarly with "iota"/"jota".
"Iota" and "jot" are doublets, and there are intermediate variants
(the OED cites Scot. "ioit, ioyt"), as well as the related "iod" or
spelling of Heb. yod, the name of the letter  (y, i), the smallest
letter of the square Hebrew
alphabet = iota 2, jot

C. 1629 Donne Serm. IV. cx. 515 No Iod in the Scripture shall perish,
therefore no Iod is superfluous.
None of this explains "hoot"/"hooter", and I don't know enough to
choose between the derivation directly from "iota" (probably often
pronounced "yota", like the Star Wars guy with the funny ears and
syntax) and the one you suggest below, mediated by the [hota]
pronunciation of Sp. "jota".
(I assume the last syllable of "hooter" is just a variant of that of
"iota", as in "yeller", "feller", "tater", or JFK's "Cuber" and

>In the U. Chicago "Dictionary of Americanisms" (Mathews) another 'hooter'
>appears ('rare', cited from 1845), meaning a (certain) dance. Both words
>'hooter' are without stated origin.
>Of course there is another Spanish word 'jota', referring to an Aragonese

I find neither of these particularly plausible as relatives of our prey.

>Just a coincidence? I can see Spanish 'jota' in either sense, perceived as
>'hota'/'hoter' /hout@(r)/ in English, changing to the more natural 'hooter'
>(compare [casually] the variation in pronunciation of 'whore', /hou(r)/ vs.
>/hUr/, or of 'poor', /pou(r)/ vs. /pUr/ -- or the Middle English 'hoten'
>vs. 'huten' > 'hoot'). But why would the word 'hooter' = 'jot' have come
>from Spanish? Bartlett says it was common in New York, and all kinds of
>things come into New York; but could it have come out of the West or

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