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  #1  
Old 04-27-2012, 08:27 AM
scamartistry scamartistry is offline
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Your favourite etymology trivia!

I love etymology on a pure layman basis. Sometimes the origin of common words can be very fascinating and at best give a good insight into history.

I kick it off with the word "trivia" (how apropos):

Trivia is from the latin word trivium, tri=triple and via=way.
As far as I understand, back in the days (sometime, somewhere) the city's three way street was a common meeting place for the working class/unemployed and other unprivileged people. From there the word trivia was used to denote something unimportant/vulgar and on to vernacular of today: information of little value.

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  #2  
Old 04-27-2012, 08:35 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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1.) item


"Item is latin for "also". On lists of household items, bills of lading, lists of items in a will, etc., which used to be written in Latin, they used to precede each thing with "also". In English, it would look like gthis:


One bed
ALSO three chairs
ALSO one table
ALSO four lamps
...


People started calling everything listed after the word I have translated "ALSO" as an "ITEM", for obvious reasons.


2.) oscillate

Romans used to hang masks in their gardens and vinyards. Originally lightweight items (ha!) made of bark or cloth, these eventually gave way to more durable and massive ones made of stone. These were called "little faces", or "oscilla" (from latin "os", which can mean "face"). Because they rocked back and forth in the wind, the motion became, in English, "oscillation"
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:47 AM
scamartistry scamartistry is offline
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Vomitorium

From the decadent days of Rome: these were actual rooms constructed for upper class people where they could go puke after binge eating.

Actually it's just latin for "entrance to the amphitheatre".
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  #4  
Old 04-27-2012, 10:51 AM
twickster twickster is online now
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twickster, who tweets a #WOTD etymology tidbit.
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Old 04-27-2012, 10:59 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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The English words "travail" and "travel" are closely related to the Spanish "trabajo" and French "travail", which both mean "work".

"Travail" makes sense -- onerous, difficult work, sort of. "Travel" is a bit further afield (semantically), but not too odd, considering how much of a burden it used to be to ride a carriage or whatever over rough medieval roads.

But take this further back, and things really get weird. The words all derive from a Latin word for a torture device!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Online Etymological Dictionary
*tripaliare "to torture," from *tripalium (in L.L. trepalium) "instrument of torture," probably from L. tripalis "having three stakes" (from tria, tres "three" + palus "stake")
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Old 04-27-2012, 11:06 AM
septimus septimus is online now
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I found this one amusing:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Online Etymological Dictionary
cretin
1779, from Fr. crétin (18c.), from Alpine dialect crestin, "a dwarfed and deformed idiot" of a type formerly found in families in the Alpine lands ... from V.L. *christianus "a Christian," a generic term for "anyone," but often with a sense of "poor fellow."
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Old 04-27-2012, 11:42 AM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is offline
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The verb "escalate", in the sense of “to increase in extent, volume, number, amount, intensity or scope" (along with escalation) is a fairly recent addition to English. It's a back formation from "escalator", originally a trade name that has become generic like "cellophane" and "aspirin". One of the early non-trademark uses was an "escalation" provision in naval treaties.

"Escalator" is said to come from "scala" (Latin for "step") and "elevator".
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Old 04-27-2012, 11:54 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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..

Last edited by CalMeacham; 04-27-2012 at 11:55 AM..
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Old 04-27-2012, 12:37 PM
suranyi suranyi is offline
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"cosmetics" -- that is, lipstick, etc. -- comes from the same root as "cosmos" -- that is, the universe. They both come from the Greek word for order and arrangement.
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Old 04-27-2012, 12:51 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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1. Bird

Etymologists aren't really sure where the word "bird" comes from.

The Old English common term was "fowle," and "bird" appears to come from "briddas," but that only applied to the young (i.e., "chick"). The word has no relatives in any Germanic language ("brood" was a candidate, but there's no connection). It was also originally "brid," and it's very unusual for a word to spoonerize letters like that.

2. Turtle

The word originally referred to a type of bird, so named because of the sound of its call. The name for the reptile was "tortoise." After the Norman invasion, the French word for the reptile was "tortue," which didn't make sense to English speakers. Through folk etymology* "tortue" became "turtle." To avoid confusion, the bird was renamed "turtle dove."


*A phrase that's often misunderstood: it means people substituting familiar sounds or words for unfamiliar ones, not an urban legend about the word's origin.
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  #11  
Old 04-27-2012, 12:56 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post

I kick it off with the word "trivia" (how apropos):

Trivia is from the latin word trivium, tri=triple and via=way.
As far as I understand, back in the days (sometime, somewhere) the city's three way street was a common meeting place for the working class/unemployed and other unprivileged people. From there the word trivia was used to denote something unimportant/vulgar and on to vernacular of today: information of little value.
Not much evidence exists to support that theory.
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Old 04-27-2012, 01:05 PM
Mahaloth Mahaloth is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post
I love etymology on a pure layman basis. Sometimes the origin of common words can be very fascinating and at best give a good insight into history.

I kick it off with the word "trivia" (how apropos):

Trivia is from the latin word trivium, tri=triple and via=way.
As far as I understand, back in the days (sometime, somewhere) the city's three way street was a common meeting place for the working class/unemployed and other unprivileged people. From there the word trivia was used to denote something unimportant/vulgar and on to vernacular of today: information of little value.

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Do you have a cite for this?
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  #13  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:02 PM
scamartistry scamartistry is offline
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sorry no. I read it in a Bill Bryson book. Might be complete nonsense.
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Old 04-27-2012, 05:51 PM
pullin pullin is offline
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The word "Taser" is taken from a 1911 young adult adventure story. It is volume 10 of the Tom Swift series, and in it he has an "electric rifle" (they're hunting elephants in Africa).

Jack Cover, the inventor of the actual taser took the initials from the book: Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle. TASER.
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Old 04-27-2012, 05:58 PM
Filbert Filbert is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
1. Bird
2. Turtle

The word originally referred to a type of bird, so named because of the sound of its call. The name for the reptile was "tortoise." After the Norman invasion, the French word for the reptile was "tortue," which didn't make sense to English speakers. Through folk etymology* "tortue" became "turtle." To avoid confusion, the bird was renamed "turtle dove."
After the Norman invasion? It's taking a while then, because in England, a land-dwelling chelonian is still a tortoise.

Those which are semi-aquatic are known as terrapins, though marine chelonians are called turtles.
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Old 04-27-2012, 05:59 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post
sorry no. I read it in a Bill Bryson book. Might be complete nonsense.
Ah! There's the problem. While a great, entertaining writer, Mr. Bryson is only an amateur etymologist. He makes more than a few mistakes.
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  #17  
Old 04-27-2012, 06:18 PM
california jobcase california jobcase is offline
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In metamorphosis, meta- means change and morph- means form. Therefore, people saying something "morphs" or is "morphing" meaning to change or changing are using the wrong part of the word.

Cite: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=metamorphosis

Last edited by california jobcase; 04-27-2012 at 06:18 PM..
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  #18  
Old 04-27-2012, 06:27 PM
Pitchmeister Pitchmeister is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by california jobcase View Post
In metamorphosis, meta- means change and morph- means form. Therefore, people saying something "morphs" or is "morphing" meaning to change or changing are using the wrong part of the word.

Cite: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=metamorphosis
That's true of many things. Maitre d' is another good example.
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Old 04-27-2012, 07:19 PM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Though it's French, I think one of the most fascinating examples of this is the French word for "not", becaus it's so commonplace.

It's the same word as "step", because it originally was part of a phrase that was parsed as "not [even one] step" ("non passum", in Latin). But they kept the wrong part, and threw the "ne"away (though it's still written when the full phrase is used.)
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Old 04-27-2012, 07:28 PM
troubledwater troubledwater is offline
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That the word "journal" is fairly straightforwardly derived from the Latin dies (day) without sharing any letters between the origin and the result.
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  #21  
Old 04-27-2012, 08:11 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pullin View Post
The word "Taser" is taken from a 1911 young adult adventure story. It is volume 10 of the Tom Swift series, and in it he has an "electric rifle" (they're hunting elephants in Africa).

Jack Cover, the inventor of the actual taser took the initials from the book: Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle. TASER.
I just researched this myself after a co-worker told me about it. It's true, I'm surprised to find. Except that he had to cheat a litle -- the books never gave Tom Swift's middle name or initial, so he assumedp the "A" in order to get TASER
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:40 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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Originally Posted by Filbert View Post
After the Norman invasion? It's taking a while then, because in England, a land-dwelling chelonian is still a tortoise.

Those which are semi-aquatic are known as terrapins, though marine chelonians are called turtles.
"Tortoise" referred to all three originally; "turtle" was the name of the bird.
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:51 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
Though it's French, I think one of the most fascinating examples of this is the French word for "not", becaus it's so commonplace.

It's the same word as "step", because it originally was part of a phrase that was parsed as "not [even one] step" ("non passum", in Latin). But they kept the wrong part, and threw the "ne"away (though it's still written when the full phrase is used.)
The same thing obtains with various the French negatives: ne... rien "nothing" (from Latin res "thing"), ne... personne "nobody," ne... aucun "none, no" (from Vulgar Latin aliquunum "some one thing"), ne... plus "no more". In fact, in colloquial speech where "ne" is dropped, plus has developed different, disambiguating pronunciations in the positive and negative in Quebec: /pløs/ for positive and /py/ for negative (so y'en a plusse "there is more," y'en a pu "there is no more").

There are other, now archaic words for "not" similar in origin to pas: ne... goutte ("not a drop"), ne... mie ("not a crumb"), ne... point ("not a dot") -- the last one is still sometimes used, though for an archaic effect. There are also archaic constructions where ne is the only negative, such as Qui ne dit mot consent ("who does not say a word, consents" -- if you keep silent, you agree).
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:59 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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I like the fact that, unlike most languages, the English word queen is not just the feminine form of the word king, but a separate root, originally "woman" and hence "wife" and then "wife of the king," and related to such words for "woman" as Swedish kvinna, Greek gune (whence gynecologist), and Persian zen (whence zenana).

Another one that fascinates me is that the common English word thing originally meant "parliament," of all things, and still does in several languages (Icelandic þing , Norwegian ting, Manx Tynwald.) The root started off as meaning "appointed time," thence "business," thence "discussion of business," "council," "item for discussion at council," "subject at hand," and finally "thing."

Amazingly, a similar semantic development happened with Romance cosa/chose/coisa "thing" -- originally from Latin causa "lawsuit" and hence "subject at hand" (causa/cause still mean "lawsuit").
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Old 04-27-2012, 09:19 PM
IvoryTowerDenizen IvoryTowerDenizen is offline
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Tom= cut (Greek)
Sect = cut (Latin)

So you have:

insect (because it is cut into three parts, head, abdomen and thorax) and entomology.

Dissection (cut apart) and anatomy (discrete parts of the body).

Last edited by IvoryTowerDenizen; 04-27-2012 at 09:19 PM..
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Old 04-27-2012, 09:36 PM
AnalogSignal AnalogSignal is offline
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When the telegraph was invented, they needed a device to amplify or repeat the signal so messages could travel greater distances. Instead of inventing a new word, they called it a relay based on this existing meaning of the word:

relay: A fresh team, of horses or dogs, to relieve weary animals in a hunt, task, or journey.

It's as if the electrical signal was carried a distance by horse which got tired and was replaced by a fresh horse to continue carrying the signal.


This post is extremely appropriate for my user name.
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Old 04-28-2012, 05:16 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IvoryTowerDenizen View Post
Tom= cut (Greek)
Sect = cut (Latin)

So you have:

insect (because it is cut into three parts, head, abdomen and thorax) and entomology.

Dissection (cut apart) and anatomy (discrete parts of the body).
And you have "shit". No kidding. It's probably from the same root as "sec" (which gives us "scissors", etc.), and refers to a "little piece of the body that is cut from the rest (when you defecate)".

P.S. Merci, matt_mcl....fascinating!
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Old 04-28-2012, 11:38 AM
njtt njtt is online now
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Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post
I love etymology on a pure layman basis. Sometimes the origin of common words can be very fascinating and at best give a good insight into history.

I kick it off with the word "trivia" (how apropos):

Trivia is from the latin word trivium, tri=triple and via=way.
As far as I understand, back in the days (sometime, somewhere) the city's three way street was a common meeting place for the working class/unemployed and other unprivileged people. From there the word trivia was used to denote something unimportant/vulgar and on to vernacular of today: information of little value.

Got more?
The Trivium was a division of the standard medieval university curriculum, so named because it consisted of three parts, grammar, rhetoric and logic. It was foundational for (and thus less advanced and perhaps considered more trivial than) the four subjects of the Quadrivium: geometry, astronomy, arithmetic and music.
Quote:
Originally posted by Wikipedia:
the contrast between the simpler trivium and more difficult quadrivium gave rise to the word "trivial".
What you have given us is one of those folk etymologies that somebody dreamed up one day because it sounded good, I think.
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Old 04-28-2012, 11:59 AM
njtt njtt is online now
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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
Through folk etymology* "tortue" became "turtle." To avoid confusion, the bird was renamed "turtle dove."


*A phrase that's often misunderstood: it means people substituting familiar sounds or words for unfamiliar ones, not an urban legend about the word's origin.
As "people substituting familiar sounds or words for unfamiliar ones" is not etymology at all (as opposed to a process of interest to etymologists), I very much doubt that this is the (or even a) "correct" definition of "folk etymology". On the other hand, the phrase's use to mean "an urban legend about the word's origin" is both appropriate, transparent, and useful (and certainly more appropriate than "urban legend").

Also, as already pointed out, the word "tortoise" is still in general use in Britain. Furthermore, "turtle" (without "dove") to refer to the bird still seems to have been current in Shakespeare's time, long after the Norman conquest.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:02 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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In Canada, the common term for a federal or provincial electoral district is riding, and in French, comté (the official terms are electoral district, at least federally, and circonscription). Basically, the original electoral districts were indeed the counties, hence the French term.

But as more and more English-speaking settlers moved to what's now Ontario, they began to agitate for representation by population, so counties with sufficient population were subdivided into smaller electoral districts.

Now, riding is from Old English thriding, "a third part" (compare farthing, "a fourth part, a quarter of a penny"). The county of Yorkshire in England, owing to its large size, was historically divided into three parts, accordingly called thridings, or later ridings; so this came to mean "subdivision of a county." So this word was transferred to the new electoral divisions that were smaller than a county.

Both comté and riding stuck long after electoral divisions ceased to have any necessary relation to counties (which are of variable administrative importance today -- generally they are substantially less powerful than U.S. counties). But the names still reflect the fact that in French Canada electoral divisions were counties and in English Canada they were smaller than counties.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:04 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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Originally Posted by njtt View Post
As "people substituting familiar sounds or words for unfamiliar ones" is not etymology at all (as opposed to a process of interest to etymologists), I very much doubt that this is the (or even a) "correct" definition of "folk etymology". On the other hand, the phrase's use to mean "an urban legend about the word's origin" is both appropriate, transparent, and useful (and certainly more appropriate than "urban legend").
No, the definition of "folk etymology" is as given. Another example is belfry -- it was originally berfrey, but the first syllable was modified by association with the unrelated bell. The term "folk etymology" refers to how the modification arises through the assumption that it must be derived from the transparent "bell" instead of its actual, opaque origins.

Last edited by matt_mcl; 04-28-2012 at 12:04 PM..
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:09 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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Cite: Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, p. 415:

Quote:
Process of word formation based on a reinterpretation of meaning and a reformation of an archaic, foreign word modeled after a similar-sounding known word with a similar meaning. Through this diachronic linguistic process, incomprehensible words are (secondarily) motivated, i.e. their meanings are made transparent through a seemingly plausible interpretation. [Examples given are sparrowgrass for asparagus, French choucroute "cabbage-crust" for Sauerkraut, and German Hängematte "hang-mat" for Arawak hamaka "hammock".]
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Old 04-28-2012, 01:18 PM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Originally Posted by matt_mcl View Post
Both comté and riding stuck long after electoral divisions ceased to have any necessary relation to counties (which are of variable administrative importance today -- generally they are substantially less powerful than U.S. counties). But the names still reflect the fact that in French Canada electoral divisions were counties and in English Canada they were smaller than counties.
Cool! While we're doing political geographic units, the stan in the "-stans" (Pakistan, Aghanistan...) is from an Old Persian word related to Englisg state -- all goes back to an Indo-European root basically meaning "to stand".

And...the "-pore" in, say, Singapore is cousin to the "-polis" in, for example, Indianapolis. Both refer to a city-sized group of people (one's Sanskrit, the other Greek).

Last edited by JKellyMap; 04-28-2012 at 01:20 PM..
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Old 04-28-2012, 03:45 PM
njtt njtt is online now
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Originally Posted by matt_mcl View Post
No, the definition of "folk etymology" is as given. Another example is belfry -- it was originally berfrey, but the first syllable was modified by association with the unrelated bell. The term "folk etymology" refers to how the modification arises through the assumption that it must be derived from the transparent "bell" instead of its actual, opaque origins.
So the phrase "folk etymology" has now undergone "folk etymology" (as you define it) and achieved a more transparent meaning. And a good thing too.
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Old 04-28-2012, 05:14 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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So the phrase "folk etymology" has now undergone "folk etymology" (as you define it) and achieved a more transparent meaning. And a good thing too.
No, that's an opposite process. You're talking about misinterpreting its meaning according to its form. Folk etymology is altering the form to go with the meaning.
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Old 04-28-2012, 07:49 PM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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The word "OK" comes from the phrase "oll korrect", which was a humorous misspelling of "all correct" due to a meme from the first half of the 1800s. This was helped along by Martin Van Buren's 1840 presidential campaign; being from Kinderhook, NY, he took the nickname Old Kinderhook and used "OK" in his campaign material.

I'm sure this demonstrates that the English language was in dire straits at the time and completely gone by the succeeding decade.
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Old 04-30-2012, 11:10 AM
scamartistry scamartistry is offline
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Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
The word "OK" comes from the phrase "oll korrect", which was a humorous misspelling of "all correct" due to a meme from the first half of the 1800s. This was helped along by Martin Van Buren's 1840 presidential campaign; being from Kinderhook, NY, he took the nickname Old Kinderhook and used "OK" in his campaign material.

I'm sure this demonstrates that the English language was in dire straits at the time and completely gone by the succeeding decade.
pretty sure this is urban legend/myth/bill-brysonish. do you have a convincing cite?
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Old 04-30-2012, 11:32 AM
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Originally Posted by california jobcase View Post
In metamorphosis, meta- means change and morph- means form. Therefore, people saying something "morphs" or is "morphing" meaning to change or changing are using the wrong part of the word.

Cite: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=metamorphosis
I like it! Just like when people refer Leonardo da Vinci as simply da Vinci - they really aren't saying anything.

His name literally means: Leonardo from Venice.

Leonardo makes sense. Leonardo da Vinci makes sense. da Vinci doesn't.
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  #39  
Old 04-30-2012, 02:24 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Huh, I always figured that a "riding" was an area of land which could easily be covered by a man on horseback. You learn something new every day.

My contribution: "Negotiate", from the Latin "negotium", for work or business to be conducted. Which in turn comes from "neg", not, plus "otium", leisure time. So negotiating is what you're doing when you're not relaxing.
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Old 04-30-2012, 03:03 PM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post
pretty sure this is urban legend/myth/bill-brysonish. do you have a convincing cite?
Pretty much every reputable etymological dictionary at this point, but Cecil Adams does a pretty good job of it, too.
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  #41  
Old 04-30-2012, 03:09 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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One leading theory (I HOPE it's true, though I can't vouch that it is) is that the butterfly gets its name because one of its favorite foods is pollen... which means its poop comes out looking like tiny pieces of butter.
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Old 04-30-2012, 03:13 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
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Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post
Trivia is from the latin word trivium, tri=triple and via=way.
I'd never consider a 3way as trivial.
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Old 04-30-2012, 03:14 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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This isn't etymology, strictly speaking, but it's interesting anyway.

In the English language, almost all the names of common farm animals (pig, cow, chicken, sheep) are of Germanic original. However, almost all of the names for the meats that come from these animals (pork, beef, poultry, mutton) are of French origin.

Which sort of makes sense... you have to figure that, in medieval England, it was peasants of German descent who raised the animals and it was rich noblemen of French descent who ate the meat.
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Old 04-30-2012, 09:44 PM
ioioio ioioio is offline
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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
1. Bird
Etymologists aren't really sure where the word "bird" comes from.
I've always assumed that the word bird came from the song of the cardinal birdee birdee birdee.
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Old 04-30-2012, 09:59 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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The distress call Mayday comes from the French m'aidez (help me)
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Old 05-01-2012, 01:33 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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"Coach" is one of the few words in English that derives from Hungarian roots. It ultimately derives from the town of Kocs, about a third of the way from Budapest to Vienna, where a type of horse-drawn carriage was made popular throughout Europe.
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Old 05-01-2012, 05:24 AM
scamartistry scamartistry is offline
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The brand name Adidas

Originally a shoe company started by two German brothers Rudolf and Adi Dassler. The name came from putting ADI+DASsler.
The two brothers later had a fall out and Rudolf went on to start his own shoe company: Puma.
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Old 05-01-2012, 05:51 AM
Dave Hartwick Dave Hartwick is offline
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Spaghetti means little strings, vermicelli means little worms, linguine means little tongues.
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Old 05-01-2012, 06:47 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scamartistry View Post
pretty sure this is urban legend/myth/bill-brysonish. do you have a convincing cite?
Richard Shenkman includes this in his book Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History, which is copiously referenced and footnoted, including all claims. I don't have my copy here, but if you look in there you'll find references to respectable history journals on this (and his other topics). It seems to be legit.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 05-01-2012 at 06:48 AM..
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Old 05-01-2012, 07:31 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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The word Miniature is unrelated to words like minimum, minute, minuscule, minor (which come from Latin minimus= small), but derives instead from the Latin minium - red lead - a pigment used to outline illuminated illustrations (of any size, later, small because books got smaller) in manuscripts.
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