Query About Etymological Discoveries

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Sep 21 17:00:22 UTC 2009

Here's a sampling of the ones I run across most frequently. Not all
represent recent etymological discoveries. In some cases dictionaries have
had the correct origins since forever, but the etymythologies persist. In
other cases, the etymythology is the recent creation:

"cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" (not from
nautical/cannonball story)
"crap" (not from Thomas Crapper)
"dead ringer" (not about bells in graveyards)
"devil to pay" (not nautical/devil = ship's keel)
"faggot" (not from burning people at the stake)
"golf" (not an acronym)
"graveyard shift" (not about bells in graveyards)
"handicap" (not from begging)
"jazz" (not from any number of explanations)
"the real McCoy" (not from the boxer)
"mind your Ps and Qs" (not from bar tabs)
"phat" (not an acronym)
"posh" (not an acronym)
"raining cats and dogs" (not from animals in thatched roofs)
"ring around the rosie" (not from the bubonic plague)
"rule of thumb" (not from domestic violence)
"saved by the bell" (not about bells in graveyards)
"tinker's damn" (not from "dam")

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 9:43 AM
Subject: Query About Etymological Discoveries

I am writing an article about etymological discoveries of recent decades,
exploring the question of whether anyone pays any attention to discoveries
that shed factual light on the derivation of a term or whether the media and
the public continue believing in erroneous derivations despite the
discovery.  Some examples of "etymological discoveries" of recent decades
would be _O.K._ deriving from _oll korrect_, _hooker_ not deriving from the
name of a Civil War general, _bug_ 'computer defect' not deriving from the
discovery of a moth inside an early computer, _in like Flynn_ not deriving
from Erroll Flynn's trial, _flack_ not deriving from _flak_.  Can anyone
suggest other examples?

Note that I am not asking for discoveries that push back the earliest date
of usage of a term (the "when") without affecting "why" a term is used.

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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