Folk etymology

related topics
{language, word, form}
{god, call, give}
{theory, work, human}
{specie, animal, plant}
{son, year, death}
{land, century, early}
{food, make, wine}
{rate, high, increase}
{city, population, household}

Folk etymology is change in a word or phrase over time resulting from the replacement of an unfamiliar form by a more familiar one.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Unanalyzable borrowings from foreign languages, like asparagus, or old compounds such as samblind which have lost their iconic motivation (since one or more of the morphemes making them up, like sam-, which meant 'semi-', has become obscure) are reanalyzed in a more or less semantically plausible way, yielding, in these examples, sparrow grass and sandblind.[7]

The term folk etymology, a loan translation from the 19th Century academic German Volksetymologie,[8] is a technical one in philology and historical linguistics, referring to the change of form in the word itself, not to any actual explicit popular analysis.[9]

Contents

Folk etymology as a productive force

The technical term "folk etymology", a translation of the German Volksetymologie from Ernst Förstemann's essay Ueber Deutsche Volksetymologie in the 1852 work Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete des Deutschen, Griechischen und Lateinischen (Journal of Comparative Linguistic Research in the Areas of German, Greek and Latin), is used in the science of historical linguistics to refer a change in the form of a word caused by erroneous popular beliefs about its derivation.

Erroneous etymologies can exist for many reasons. Some are reasonable interpretations of the evidence that happen to be false. For a given word there may often have been many serious attempts by scholars to propose etymologies based on the best information available at the time, and these can be later modified or rejected as linguistic scholarship advances. The results of medieval etymology, for example, were plausible given the insights available at the time, but have mostly been rejected by modern linguists. The etymologies of humanist scholars in the early modern period began to produce more reliable results, but many of their hypotheses have been superseded. Until academic linguistics developed the comparative study of philology and the development of the laws underlying sound changes, the derivation of words was a matter mostly of guess-work.

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