Query About Etymological Discoveries

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Sep 22 03:31:41 UTC 2009

Laurence Horn wrote:
>> E.g., "hooker" isn't from Gen. Hooker's name but AFAIK it's still an
>> open question where it DID come from.
> The null hypothesis deriving "hooker" as an agentive from the verb
> "to hook" has always seemed pretty reasonable to me.  Is there some
> reason to disbelieve it?

I guess this hypothesis would be my favorite too, but it's still just a
hypothesis lacking textual support AFAIK. I would consider at least two
other hypotheses superficially plausible: (1) the published derivation
from the toponym "Corlear's Hook", (2) a derivation from a surname
(e.g., "Hook", "Hooker"), maybe that of a celebrated madam or whatever.
And then of course there are other possibilities, including very
possibly the true one which nobody's thought of lately.

I have searched a little for expressions along the line of "hooked [in]
by [a prostitute etc.]" from the appropriate era and there don't seem to
be much (but I do find [1847] <<hooked in [to marriage] by knowing
widows or other female adventurers>>). I also don't find any real
support for any other hypothesis.

I can generate a peculiar alternative hypothesis, maybe a little bit
amusing if nothing else. Some years ago in this list I think I
speculated that /hu/ might could be the occasional standard English
reflex of /Pu/ (where /P/ is a bilabial "f") (cf. "hu"="fu" in Japanese)
and thus could be derived from /fu/ in dialects (e.g., Ulster Scots)
where bilabial "f" was prevalent ... and that "hooter" (probable
ancestor of "[don't give a] hoot") might therefore have been derived
from "fouter", which is a sort-of-sort-of partial euphemism (apparently
prevalent in Scots) for the good old F-word. The same 'reasoning' can be
applied to /hU/, thus deriving "hooker" /hUk at r/ from Scots /fUk at r/, with
the same old F-word. Our knowledge of the full spectrum of
early-19th-century usage of the F-word is probably incomplete, but I
suppose a woman who "fooked" for a living might have been called a
"fooker" by some persons with (say) Ulster Scots accents and that the
word might have been recorded in print for posterity _only_ where it was
misheard or mutated beyond recognition. Just a notion.

-- Doug Wilson

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

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