Query About Etymological Discoveries

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Sep 22 00:30:41 UTC 2009

Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> 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.

It's a lot easier to disprove a purported etymology than to prove one!

E.g., "hooker" isn't from Gen. Hooker's name but AFAIK it's still an
open question where it DID come from.

Similarly, I think we can say "chad" is NOT from an acronym referring to
punched cards, as we've shown in this list.

As for new 'positive' discoveries (aside from mere speculations [even
really really plausible and/or amusing ones]):

I think "[say] 'uncle'" has been explained well enough, as mentioned a
while back in this list. And who woulda guessed it?

Same with "jinx", etymologized in this list in 2004: an example of how
even a blind chicken can find the occasional kernel.

There are probably several other good examples just from this list which
slip my mind right now.

-- Doug Wilson

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

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