more seat-of-the-pants etymology for our delectation

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Nov 17 20:24:49 UTC 2008

On Mon, Nov 17, 2008 at 2:24 PM, Marc Velasco <marcjvelasco at> wrote:
> trying to understand this argument in its best light...
> its sound patently echoes its meaning
>> or essence, which is how I read Shafer at least, is the claim that
>> the essence is really shared both by the English [vIm] and the Latin
>> [wim] from which it descended?  If so, seems like a rather fuzzy
>> essence for a word as "strong" as _vim_ to bear.  Or maybe [wim]
>> didn't represent its meaning, but providentially it evolved into
>> [vIm], which does?
> so when the Blountian lexo-sensualists argue for words to more or less
> embody (or re-enact) their meanings, how do they try and explain
> cross-lingual (or cross-temporal) differences?  Do words like _vim_ have
> some 'universal' permanent, essence which crosses cultures and ages, or is
> it just some local best fit for different candidate sounds of a language?

If you want a taste of Blount's lexico-sensualism as well as his
respect for etymological authority (and the tension between the two),
you can read the first chapter of his book here:

The rest of the book is an A-Z compendium full of diverting anecdotes,
though he often returns to his main theme of nonarbitrariness.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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