[Ads-l] bully & buol/bol/bul

Z Sohna zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 1 22:21:13 UTC 2022

I’m curious about the etymologies provided by the major dictionaries and
Etymonline.com for the English *bully* ‘oppressor’, ‘persecutor’,
‘torture(r)’. Merriam-Webster provides the following etymology for the
English *bully*:

     “Probably from Middle Dutch *boele* lover; akin to Middle Low German
*bōle* lover,

     Middle High German *buole”*


The etymology provided by Oxford seems to be identical to that of

     “Mid 16th century probably from Middle Dutch *boele* ‘lover’. Original
use was

     as a term of endearment applied to either sex; it later became a
familiar form

     of address to a male friend. The current sense dates from the late
17th century.”


Etymonline.com states:

     1530s, "sweetheart," a term of endearment applied to either sex, of
uncertain origin;

     perhaps from Dutch *boel* "lover; brother," which probably is a
diminutive of

     Middle Dutch *broeder* "brother" (compare Middle High German
*buole* "brother,"

     source of German *Buhle* "lover;" […] Meaning deteriorated 17c.
through "fine fellow"

     and "blusterer" to "harasser of the weak" (1680s, from *bully-ruffian*,

     LINK: https://archive.is/iu1NM

Though my area of specialization is Native Black American Language, I’ve
long been curious about etymology of the English *bully*. The etymologies
proffered by Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and Etymonline.com seem strange to
me, as I find it odd that a word meaning “lover” or “friend” would come to
mean something so markedly different and flat out violent.

On that note, there is the Dutch *beul* ‘executioner’, ‘hangman’, ‘one who
mistreats, torments, or oppresses’.  This seems like a more likely
etymology than the markedly different English *bully* 'oppressor' < Dutch
*boele* ‘lover’ etymology provided by the aforementioned sources.

I’m also keenly aware of the French *bourreau* ‘executioner’, ‘tormenter’.
The Dutch *beul* ‘executioner’, ‘one who mistreats, torments, oppresses’
and the French *bourreau* ‘executioner’, ‘tormente(r)’ predate the English
*bully* ‘tyrant’, ‘oppressor’. Why is the Dutch *boele* ‘lover’ the
preferred etymology for the English *bully*?

I think the Dutch *boele* – as well as the English *bully* usage cited by
Etymonline.com, i.e.  “a familiar form of address to a male friend” – would
be more appropriate as the etymology for the Native Black American *boul*
(also frequently rendered *bul*, *bol*) ‘dude’, ‘bruh’. It occurs
frequently among speakers from Philadelphia, though it is often explained
as a “bastardization” of the English *boy* – this despite the fact that 1)
Native Black Americans in the Philadelphia region do not pronounce the [oi]
diphthong as that which is found in *boul*; and 2) the two are not
necessarily synonymous. One can give birth to a “baby boy” but never a
“baby boul”.

Nevertheless, the creation myth is posited rather publicly here:

Best regards,

Zola Sohna

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

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