Archive for the ‘Etymythology’ Category

Bring out your lukewarm etymythologies

October 26, 2016

The instructions said to use lukewarm water, and Kim, being a linguist, wondered about the luke of lukewarm; we don’t, after all, have luke + anything else, even lukecool, lukecold, or lukehot.  I said that she wasn’t going to be satisfied with the standard story, and she wasn’t. A brief version, from NOAD2:

(of liquid or food that should be hot) only moderately warm; tepid. ORIGIN late Middle English: from dialect luke (probably from dialect lew ‘lukewarm’ and related to lee [‘shelter from wind or weather’]) + warm

This account is suppositious, and unclear on many points (what dialects, how, and why? and is lukewarm really etymologically ‘lukewarm’ + warm?). So it occurred to us to just invent more satisfying etymologies — or, better, to invite others to invent them, to devise etymythologies. This is that invitation: to suggest better stories than the truth (as far as we know the truth), IN A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG (I will disregard e-mail to me or Kim and comments on Facebook or Google+ or ADS-L or wherever else; I cannot possibly spend time amalgamating suggestions from half a dozen sources). But before you jump in, read the rest of what I have to say about lukewarm and about etymythology. And, eventually, some suggestions as to what you might use to play with for ideas about lukewarm etymythologies.

(more…)

More Black Friday etymythology

November 28, 2014

On the 26th I posted an etymythology for the expression to pass for/as, as in a black person passing for white. And from Bonnie Taylor-Blake on ADS-L the same day:

I see that a recently offered explanation for where the “Black” in “Black Friday” comes from has become quite popular, at least on Twitter and Facebook.

This version holds that “Black Friday” stems from the selling of (black) slaves the day after Thanksgiving.

David Mikkelson, of snopes.com, addressed this last year when it first arrived to his inbox.

This piece of etymythology seems to have gained considerable traction this year (at least on Twitter and Facebook), its credibility perhaps aided by outrage toward recent grand-jury findings in Ferguson, Missouri.

It’s been interesting to read conversations on Twitter where someone repeats this particular explanation and is corrected, so to speak, by someone offering the (also false) “red ink to black ink” accounting origin story.

Bonnie is the go-to person on the formula Black Friday; she did the meticulous research discounting the “red ink to black ink” story — retold in detail by Ben Zimmer in his Word Routes column on 11/25/11. I’m going to reproduce Ben’s column in full here, because so many readers have found Bonnie’s story unconvincing: people love stories — this is narratophilia — but they like etymological stories (like the black-ink story) that give a sense of deep explanation, while Bonnie’s account, despite the considerable, detailed evidence for it, seems too pedestrian and, well, fortuitous, having its roots in a local phrasing (in Philadelphia) used by a small number of people (police officers) at one moment in time (the early 1960s).

(more…)

Annals of etymythology: to pass for

November 26, 2014

In a Harper’s Magazine review (Dec. 2014, pp. 84-6) of Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life (Harvard) by Joshua Cohen, we read about the sad history of “black” people passing as “white”, with a story about the origin of the usage:

The term “passing” seems to come from the passes that slaves had to carry, which allowed them to visit their relatives on other plantations or when they were rented out for day labor.

Lexicographers and linguists will immediately smell a rat: the story is detailed and grounded in a very specific piece of history (and so is attractive to many people). But it’s only too specific: in fact, the usage is quite general, not restricted to blacks passing for whites, or to situations where some sort of pass is involved. Cohen’s account looks like an etymythology (aka mythetymology).

(more…)