Query About Etymological Discoveries

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 22 01:25:05 UTC 2009

In general, I'm down with this list, though I'm going to miss old Tom
Crapper, though I didn't come across his name and purported history till I
was nearly fifty and, even as a child, I wasn't under the impression that
_fagot_ "stick of firewood" and _faggot_ "male homosexual" had anything to
do with each other. As any fool could plainly see - back in the day, at
least - they were spelled differently. (Yes, I realize that spelling is a
secondary phenomenon *now*, but, when I was a pre-adolescent, that was good
enough for government work.) As for _fag_ "cigarette," well, that was
probably related to "fagot," somehow. The other _fag_ is clearly a clip of
_faggot_. No need to give that a second thought.
The hip-hop _phat_ is a trivially-different problem for me. Having long
since aged out of the game before there was hip-hop, I can't hazard a guess
about its origin. (Yes, I *do* recall that I once went so far as to assert
that I actually *knew* the word's origin in an acronym, beyond a shadow of a
doubt. I regret the error. Sadly, it cost me tenure. ;-) ) I've never heard
"phat" in the wild, though I've seen it used in print and even discussed in
print, without a whisper of a hint that it was any kind of acronym, except
when it was being argued that it was *not* any kind of acronym. Indeed, has
anyone, other than I in error, even claimed to know what _phat_ is an
acronym for?

Nevertheless, for what it's worth, I remain fully persuaded that, in The
Bronx, in 1950, there was a slang term, _PHATT_, that *was* an acronym.


On Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 1:00 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at wilton.net> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Query About Etymological Discoveries
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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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