Query About Etymological Discoveries

Mon Sep 21 17:02:40 UTC 2009

        "Windy city" and "hot dog" come immediately to mind. A perusal
of Barry Popik's blog would probably produce additional examples.
Another would be the supposed association of Friday the 13th with
ancient historical dates, although it clearly is a conflation of two
separate superstitions and dates back only to the 19th century, not
becoming popular until the 20th.  "Jazz" may be a special case, since
it's easy to understand why people would suppose it originated in New
Orleans rather than California.  Also, while it's starting to look
increasingly like "jasm" is the etymon, there is still dispute on the
actual origin, even though the historical record is sufficient to
disprove origins that are dependent on New Orleans.

        Note that ridiculous information in the public domain is by no
means restricted to etymologies.  See, for example, pretty much any page
of snopes.com.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 12:43 PM
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

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

Fred Shapiro

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list