Ruthie and Joe work with what they know

Two recent One Big Happy strips show Ruthie and Joe coping as best they can with unfamiliar words: thoroughfare and boycott:



thoroughfare. In #1, both kids understand the /fer/ part of thoroughfare as fair rather than fare. Joe appears to take the first part of thoroughfare to be thorough in the sense of ‘complete’ (so that a thorough fair is one with everything), while Ruthie guesses, from Joe’s catalogue of all the cool things at a thorough fair, that the first element must be thrower.

Etymological note. Anyone might be brought to a puzzled halt by the fare part of thoroughfare, which seems to occur (in words of any currency) otherwise only in welfare (first element originally the adverb well) and warfare. Original sense (in Germanic) ‘travel’, later (roughly) ‘perform, do’. (The noun fanfare is probably onomatopoetic, in French, and is irrelevant here.)

boycott. In #2, Ruthie and two other girls refuse to do business in a place run by a man who was mean to a dog. Ruthie’s father labels their action a boycott, which Ruthie takes to be boy + a mystery element –cott (while in fact the noun and verb boycott are historically derived from the family name Boycott — which itself probably has a first element cognate with English boy, though that’s irrelevant here).

So since the social action in the strip is undertaken by girls, Ruthie finds the label boycott to be inaccurate, and reshapes it as girlcott.

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