Talk:False etymology

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The Fuck page mentions the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" explanations as being 'folk etyomlogies'. But these sorts of explanations don't fit the description on the [[[Folk etymology]] page. It appears that the definition here needs to be broader.

It's rather a backronym. Ausir 10:48, 18 Apr 2004 (UTC)
There's a popular misunderstanding of 'folk etymology' to mean "an etymology that is well-known but unsubstantiated", or at least something approximating that; that's what happened on Fuck. This article describes what linguists mean by the term; I'm hesitant to describe what some people erroneously think it means. Best they arrive and find out what it is than arrive and find out what it isn't. I came to folk etymology now to make sure it wasn't that, as a matter of fact! Perhaps instead I'll set about finding the things that link here but shouldn't. mendel 01:32, Nov 5, 2004 (UTC)

More on folk vs fake etymology[edit]

I'm trying to make this terminology consistent wikipedia-wide, so I want to put a bit more emphasis here: A folk etymology is a correct explanation of a word or phrase's history; if it's popular but incorrect, it's fake or popular (which is a redirect to fake here).

Writing something like "an incorrect folk etymology" should be a red flag that something is wrong. A folk etymology which is incorrect needs to not only be incorrect but also reference an incorrect etymology. But at that point it's probably better to emphasize that the etymology being talked about is wrong, and not get into details about what linguistic labels would apply to the wrong etymology were it correct. mendel 02:35, Nov 5, 2004 (UTC)

Ignore all that and read below instead of reading up there! mendel 15:56, Nov 19, 2004 (UTC)

Still more on folk/fake etymology[edit]

I didn't do a great job of making the folk/fake distinction first time around, and a couple of people have pointed that out on my talk page, and I've replied on theirs, and so on, the end result being quite a bit of discussion on the distinction that is on various people's talk pages. To remedy that, I'm pulling out bits from a few of my replies here, so that discussion on the distinction can happen here instead of all over!

Having dug into this further, here's the key distinction, regardless of what I said above:

A fake etymology is an inaccurate account of the history of a word or phrase.

Folk etymology is the process in which a word or phrase's meaning changes because a fake etymology is widely believed to be correct.

Just so you don't think I'm making this all up, here's MWCD13's entry for "folk etymology":

the transformation of words so as to give them an apparent relationship to other better-known or better-understood words (as in the change of Spanish cucaracha to English cockroach)

OED2 doesn't give it a separate entry, but in this usage note in folk the gist is still there:

the popular perversion of the form of words in order to render it apparently significant

Columbia is a bit more liberal, but still clear:

the name given both the processes and their results when, either deliberately or inadvertently, words or meanings are changed to match an incorrect origin.

I personally don't like the "and their results" part (that takes us back to "a folk etymology" again, which is just asking for further confusion), but it's clear there that there has to be a change for folk etymology to occur.

A couple more online references:

I think the reason it gets confusing is that the two terms resemble each other so closely — but they're really using "etymology" in two different senses. In "fake etymology", "etymology" means "an account of the history of a word or phrase"; in "folk etymology", "etymology" means "the way a word or phrase developed over time". To compare that to non-linguistic history, the former is like a book about how a war was won, while the latter was the actual winning of the war.

In other words, to say "cater-corner" refers to the way cats walk is a fake etymology, because, well, it's not true. But to say "kitty-corner" developed from "cater-corner" because many believed "cater-corner" to refer to the way cats walk is a description of an instance where the process called "folk etymology" occurred.

Folk etymology is something that happens to a word or phrase, and the end result is a modification; a fake etymology is a particular description of what happened to a word or phrase, where that description is incorrect but popularly held.

So, to determine whether folk etymology is involved, the first question to ask is "Did the word change?". If there was no change then there was no process by which the change occurred, so it's not folk etymology at work.

On the other hand, if there was change, then the question to ask is "Was the change based on an inaccurate understanding of the history of the word prior to the change?" If it was, then what happened was folk etymology.

As for popular etymology, I'm really not sure. I see references that use it in the "popularly-held belief" sense, and references that use it in the "folk-etymology process" sense. Perhaps it ought to just be avoided outright? mendel 15:39, Nov 19, 2004 (UTC)

Merge Request[edit]

Despite the above, a request was entered to merge Fake into Folk etymology. I have removed the request-- the above reasoning is self-explanatory. Mwanner 21:24, Mar 29, 2005 (UTC)

I put up said request. I am guess I should have verified the Talk page first. I am still not convinced of the need for two pages. It appears that folk etymology is the result fake etymology, but not all fake etymology will result in folk etymology. And the words are quite commonly mixed up.
This passage describing popular usage of folk etymology:
In popular usage, the term has also come to mean an "explanation" of the meaning of a word based on its superficial similarity to other words
Seems to be exactly the same as a fake etymology.
While at fake etymology you find:
While "folk etymology" is occasionally encountered as a synonym for "fake etymology
This is all very confusing. And if the pages are not merged, a better (and consistent) clarification needs to be placed on both pages.
--ZayZayEM 08:31, 30 Mar 2005 (UTC)

it will be even more confusing if the pages are merged. The concepts overlap, but neither is a subset of the other. If a fake etymology evolves into a folk etymology, it will cease to be a fake etymology. So, yes, the articles should be clarified, but no, I do not think merging them will be helpful at this point. dab () 08:42, 30 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Merge request revived[edit]

This IS confusing, and I would support the merge request, because I think the distinction pursued here is not convincing. The article on fake etymology contains the sentence "While "folk etymology" is occasionally encountered as a synonym for "fake etymology", that usage is rare amongst linguists." However, no source is given for this. I doubt very much that most linguists make this distinction; I suspect this distinction is just a cool idea of one Wikipedian, though it may possibly be an ideocyncracy of some rogue linguist, but that will be all. My reason for this (apart from the fact that as a professional linguist I have never encountered it) is that the term "folk etymology" does not sensibly describe the process it is purported to describe. "Etymology" relates to the pre-history; the change in the form RESULTS from the etymology, it is not itself an etymology, neither a folk one nor any other kind. Nor does it does make sense to say that a false etymology ceases to be one when it has consequences for the form: the false etymology is the popular story about the word, and that story remains the same whether it causes change in the word or not. I CAN imagine a linguist saying, as a kind of shorthand, "the form xxx changed to xxy by folk etymology", but he means that the etymology triggered the change, not that the change IS the etymology.
I personally would have used the terms like this:
  • false or erroneous etymology - an error, especially a hypothetical proposition by a linguist which later turns out to be wrong.
  • folk or popular etymology - a false etymology which grew up in the oral tradition of a people; just as a folk song is distinguished from other songs by the fact that no-one "wrote" it in the modern sense. The story of "Ape mountain" in the article (a great anecdote) is to me not "folk" or "popular" because it was just one guy's error, and the "people" never adopted it as their lore.
  • fake etymology - a false etymology which someone made up deliberately, knowing it was false: "faking" implies deceit, or at least cunning. I would use "fake etymology" to describe sensational pseudo-etymologies invented by advertisers, for example.
  • pseudo-etymology - a good general term for all of the above. If we do merge the articles, that would be the best title for the composite one, and all the other terms would then be redirects.
  • I don't know a set term for the phenomenon of folk etymology causing change, though it is very common and deserves to have a term. "Folk etymological analogy" strikes me as a good possibility. At any rate, the change ITSELF cannot be called "folk etymology" - that term can only describe the force which drives the change.
Now I know that off-hand I can't give authoritative references for that, or at least not for all of it, (though the German Wiki's article de:etymologie, defines "Volksetymologie" the way I would define "folk etymology"), but the fact remains that the words "false", "erroneous", "folk", "popular" and "fake" all have meanings, and their application to etymologies have to have some kind of logic. So since none of you have provided authoritative sources and your usages are less logical than mine, I would say they are in question. So the ball's in your court - prove what you're saying or else merge the articles. This would be great as a single article: it could start by talking about different kinds of etymological misconception (scholarly, popular, sensational) and go on to show how the popular ones sometimes result in changes in the form of the words. Hangs together beautifully. --Doric Loon 18:45, 8 May 2005 (UTC)

As there has been no response to my comments of 8 May, can I take it you are all happy for me to move this article to Pseudo-Etymology, incorporate the material from "Fake etymology" and make both "Fake etymology" and "Folk etymology" into redirects? If not, you'd better say so. Silence is my mandate to go ahead. --Doric Loon 19:42, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Don't. Maybe move "Fake etymology" to "Pseudo-etymology"; or better yet (since "pseudo-etymology" is a made-up term nobody uses), make "fake etymology" merely a subsection of Etymology - that is, a section dealing with widely-believed false explanations of word histories. "Folk etymology" is an established and widely-used technical term for a mode of linguistic change; it has nothing to do with false etymologies like "Fuck comes from for unlawful carnal knowledge". There is confusion enough already; there is no need to add to it by combining two unrelated phenomena in one article with an invented title. AJD 20:52, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC)
'Pseudo-etymology' isn't made up. Although it doesn't warrant an entry in the OED, if you do a full-text search, you'll get 7 hits, compared to 21 for 'false etymology' and 99 for 'folk-etymology'. ('Fake etymology' gets 0 hits.) They appear to be completely synonymous in OED useage. Here are some examples:
At a later period the Fr. aloyer and n. aloi, in reference to metals, were explained by false etymology from à loi (reduced) to law, or to legal standard.
The foot soldiers had it fixed on a long pole, whence the name *Pole-hammer. [This is an error, founded on false etymology; the poll-hammer (M.Du. pol-hamer) had its name from poll head, like poll-ax, POLE-AXE.]
taffrail [A 19th c. alteration of TAFFEREL, due to false etymology, the termination -rel being taken as RAIL.]
hoggaster [med.L. hogaster, dim. from Eng. hog; also in AFr. form hogastre. The forms hogsteer, etc., appear to be due to false etymology.]
agnail [A word of which the application (and perhaps the form) has been much perverted by pseudo-etymology.
shaffron [Possibly shafferoon may be the correct form, and the form chaperon, -oon may be due to pseudo-etymology.]
lagan [The spelling ligan seems to be due to pseudo-etymology.]
balti [It is widely suggested that the word is derived < Hindi bālţī pail, bucket (perh. ult. < Portuguese balde), referring to the small, two-handled pan used in balti houses (Urdu karahi), but this is probably a folk etymology.
marasca [It is unclear whether the first element of Italian marasca is < amaro bitter (< classical Latin am{amac}rus: see AMARITUDE n.) with aphesis, or whether the (late attested) form amarasca shows only the influence of a folk etymology.
matchcoat [< Virginia Algonquian matchkore deerskin robe < Proto-Algonquian *mat- (empty root) + *-ixto{theta}- robe, blanket. The oldest recorded form matchcore (see quot. 1612) reflects the etymon; the predominant later form shows assimilation of the final syllable to COAT n. by folk etymology.
That is, all of these terms are used to mean both an incorrect attempt at tracing the history of a word, and also the modification of a word to better fit its supposed provenance. If we use the concepts as ambiguously as the OED, then I suggest that we choose the term in common use, folk-etymology. This is the term that people understand, and the one they're most likely to look up. If we decide to disambiguate, then I suggest using the transparently intuitive term false etymology in the literal sense of and incorrect history of a word, and the commonplace folk-etymology for the motivation in modifying such a word. I don't feel that the terms pseudo-etymology or fake etymology are helpful. —kwami 02:50, 2005 Jun 15 (UTC)
I basically agree with your conclusion: keep Folk etymology for the linguistic-change process commonly referred to by that name, and use "false etymology" for incorrect explanations of word histories. (Note, by the way, that folk etymology doesn't typically involve an explicit false etymology as such anywhere in the process.) However, I don't think it's probably necessary to give "false etymology" its own article; it might better be suited just to be a subsection of the Etymology article. (from AJD)

Making those changes now, then[edit]

OK, we seem to have some degree of consensus here, so I shall make a start. The "to-do list" is 1. Start a new article on False etymology - I'll do that in the next hour; feed-back on the new article's talk page would be great. 2. Adapt THIS article (Folk etymology) along the lines we have discussed; shouldn't be too problematic. 3. Put up a vfd on Fake etymology and move its useful material to the appropriate places in the other two. This last move might be more problematic, since there are people reading there who have not followed the discussion here (despite my encouragement to do so) and may object. So there may be an interim phase where we have a messy compromise. But we'll do our best. --Doric Loon 12:27, 13 July 2005 (UTC)

Bad timing on my wikibreak here! I think this all sounds OK except that I'm not too sure which lines you're going to modify Folk etymology along. Specifically I'm concerned that you expressed doubt originally that linguists use "folk etymology" as a term indicating a process because there were no sources cited. AJD already confirmed it, but in case that's not enough, see also [1], [2], [3] (minor, but explicit), [4], [5], all from a quick Google search.
On the other hand if I'm misreading the order/attribution of the above and we've already settled on "Folk etymology" as linguistic process, just ignore my little citegasm there. Mostly my concern has always been keeping "Folk etymology" technical, because it's one of those things that everyone and their dog misunderstands, and this of all places is somewhere it ought to be right. — mendel 16:47, July 13, 2005 (UTC)
A passing thought, maybe a useful example for one or both articles, but I don't want to go stick it in while Doric is trying to sort everything out: With folk etymology, if the folk-etymological process/explanation did not occur/exist, then the word or phrase in that form would not be in use, while if a fake/pseudo/false etymology of a word did not exist the word would still be in use.
To make that concrete: If no-one had thought that "cater-corner" referred to a cat, then the phrase "kitty-corner" would not have developed from it. But even if no-one had thought that "fuck" was an acronym of "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", the word "fuck" would still be in use. — mendel 17:24, July 13, 2005 (UTC)

Hi Mendel, I was wondering why you hadn't taken part in this discussion, which has been going on for several months now. Looks like you were "away from your desk" or something. Pity, though, if you're going to take issue with me AFTER I made those changes when I did my best to thrash everything out with all interested parties before hand. But good to have your input nonetheless.

I'm all for keeping the term technical, but I don't think that means what you think it means. Stop and think about the word "etymology". Whatever a "xxx etymology" is, it must be a kind of etymology. And an etymology is a theory about the source of a word. An etymology is not a linguistic process. It is an explanation. So from a purely logical point of view, I don't think your opinion makes sense.

However, much more important than that is to look at how linguists are actually using the word. (And it IS contemporary linguists I'm reading, not "everyone and his dog".) Fact is, the phrase is used in two situations. 1. to describe an etymological myth per se (Posh stands for Port Out Starbord Home). And 2. to describe the same thing when it results in a change in the word (Middle English speakers think berfrei has something to do with bells, so they alter it to belfry). The latter is much more interesting for linguists, so you'll hear it more often, but it's just wrong to say that the former is only used by the uneducated.

You want a source for this? Well, You just gave US one. The web links you just offered include the sentence: "Though one could define the linguistic term folk etymology broadly as 'any popular misconception about the origins of a word or phrase, esp. one resulting in modification', it would be best to divide it up into two separate senses." More or less my point, though on balance my instinct is to keep the senses linked.

Given that this is so, there are two possibilities. Either the phrase has two different meanings, which is confusing, or as I would see it, the two meanings are essentially the same. When we say that "berfrei changed to belfry by folk etymology" (the usual wording, also in your web links), I think most of us are understanding "folk etymology" as the trigger, not as the process. That way "folk etymology" means the same in both cases, and the process may follow from it or not. Now, you are welcome to take the other view and say that for you it means the process itself, but then you are going to have to deal both with an irritating confusion of meanings and I don't actually think you're helping anyone that way.

At any rate, the fact that you say your own experience has been that "everyone misunderstands" this and that you want to establish Wikipedia as the one place where your view is clearly presented does suggest that maybe you need to think again. --Doric Loon 18:01, 13 July 2005 (UTC)

Whoa! Apologies if that all came across as a bigger deal than it is. I fully admit that I haven't been around much lately, and don't make any claim that my return should change a thing. Mostly I was having a hard time figuring out from this talk page what the arrived consensus was, although trawling through the page history cleared that up a bit. My primary concern was always to distinguish between the sort of thing that got us "kitty-corner" from the wealth of explanations for "fuck", which the article did not address very well when I first found it. This whole process vs. result business really isn't a sticking point. Back-formation occurs and things are back-formations; folk etymology occurs and things are folk etymologies.
In short, we're in agreement, but from the discussion prior to your comment here earlier today I couldn't tell if we were or not. Seems clear now though. — mendel 19:01, July 13, 2005 (UTC)

Sorry, Mendel, I was born wordy and got wordier. Didn't mean to startle you with my tome! I tend to think things out as I write them, which means that sometimes my humble point of view looks like more of a broadside than it was meant to. It does strike me, though, that on this issue of trigger versus process there may be more variation of useage than I was aware of. I'll pursue it a bit further and possibly add a note to that effect, though it won't be tonight.

What did you think of the new page false etymology? It's meant to be an anchor for these other ones. I would like to write a new piece on mediaeval etymology and possibly humanist etymology, though the latter will have to wait until my own research on the topic has been published, probably at the end of this year, otherwise I'll be done for putting original research on Wiki!

I've changed my mind, btw, about proposing fake etymology for deletion (mentioned above); that article could be very useful if we can focus it more on the political propaganda side of things. --Doric Loon 19:37, 13 July 2005 (UTC)

"Chaise lounge"?[edit]

"Chaise-lounge" isn't folk etymology, it's a typo pure and simple, at least according to the dictionaries I've consulted.

There's an argument from prescriptivism for all terms that developed via folk etymology, because folk etymology is the development of a word based on a (conceptual, not typographic) error, whether it be that cater-corner has to do with cats, or that a chaise lounge is a lounge chair and not a long chair. Large language groups write "chaise lounge" and think it is correct, even if it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. To terrify you further, I suspect average folks around here would think that "chaise longue" was the typo! It's an eggcorn, but a well-established eggcorn gets established by folk etymology.
Dictionaries aren't always the right place to look for phrases, anyhow. Try a Google search to get an idea of how "chaise lounge" is used in American patio furniture catalogs; it's clear that "lounge" is exactly what they intend to say. Or see point 10 in this Language Log post for evidence that "chaise lounge" is part of linguists' standard repertoire of examples. — mendel 17:04, September 2, 2005 (UTC)

"Folk" vs. "Fake" revisited[edit]

I'll add my name to the list of degreed linguists who have heard of "folk etymology", but never heard of "fake etymology". In some ways, this is not a surprise, as so-called "fake etymology" is not really a linguistic phenomenon; at best it is meta-linguistic. Just as astronomers have little to say about astrology, I doubt there is much to be found about "fake etymology" in linguistics sources, save for noting particular incorrect etymologies.

To my best understanding, and from reading the sources cited above, what we have here are two senses of the term "folk etymology": the technical sense that linguists use (corresponding to folk etymology) and its extension to a broader, common, non-technical usage (referring to so-called fake etymology).

To my mind, this situation is rather similar to the technical botanical meaning of fruit vs. its common (culinary) definition. And in the case of "fruit", I think it is handled appropriately -- the different senses of the term are explained in fruit. A new term is not invented for the less technically correct usage.

In line with WP:NOR, I would request that at least one reputable (and not wikipedia-derived) source be given for the usage of "fake etymology", as Wikipedia is not in the business of promulgating new ideas or inventing terms.

I think the fact that this issue has been raised again and again by well-informed editors might be a signal that something is not quite right with fake etymology as a separate article with a neologistic name. --Tabor 18:10, 5 October 2005 (UTC)

I agree. I find it very hard to believe that any linguist uses the term "fake etymology". I could believe "false etymology". I think fake etymology should be merged with folk etymology, or else all the useful content moved to false etymology. Pfalstad 07:12, 14 November 2005 (UTC)
A google print search turns up 4 matches for "fake etymology", 14 for "bogus etymology", and 667 for "false etymology". 7 for "ridiculous etymology". Clearly, fake etymology is not a term that deserves its own article. I'm not even sure "false etymology" deserves one, any more than "false statement" (13500 hits) does. Pfalstad 07:38, 14 November 2005 (UTC)
Speaking as yet another licensed linguist, I agree with Doric Loon's uneasiness about the inevitable and undesirable implications of "fake". As others have pointed out, linguistics as such hasn't had much to say about so-called etymologies of the tip = "to insure promptness" or the "Marie est malade" explanation for marmalade sort (or that silliness about fuck or the chamber of horrors to be seen on the talk page of the gringo entry). As a result there really is no standard term. I myself in teaching have referred to it as "speculative etymology". One of the traits of this sort of thing is that most (or all) of the crucial facts that supposedly "explain" the supposed history have to be made up. Some real etymologies involve some pretty elaborate concatenations of semantic and formal wandering, but it doesn't do to take such accounts as permission to make up what you'd like history of a form to be. Maybe an even better term then would be fictive etymology, though since (as mentioned) linguistics doesn't really have much to say about such epiphenomena—the analogy with astrology is a good one—there probably really isn't a need for any particular term. It can be defined by example, perhaps, with the comment that linguistics doesn't have anything to say about such things.
But that said, DoricLoon's complaint that folk etymology can't be a term for a change in a form (or perhaps merely in its spelling), on the grounds that that's not what etymology means, is too late. There are a lot of terms in linguistics and everywhere else that are, er, etymologically unfortunate. Isogloss is absolutely the wrong word for the concept (but it's been around since the birth of linguistic geography, and it remains to be seen whether the far superior term heterogloss ever takes root). Comparative method is another term that is unfortunate on the grounds objected to by Loon, namely it's not a method. Coronal as far as one can make sense of the early uses of the term referred not to the tongue but to the passive articulators, and until Bloomfield more or less redefined it, it was virtually a synonym of retroflex (a.k.a. domal, cacuminal, inverted, cerebral -- that last probably a calque on the Sanskrit grammatical term murdhana, which one might guess was on the mind of whoever coined the term coronal). In sum: fretting about what a term ought to mean is pointless. A "folk etymology" that was no more than a private guess about a word's history (which is often more exactly a private guess about its relatives) is of no more interest to linguistics than any other private matter. Linguistics can handle things only once they become public. And when people start saying (or writing) spear-grass and sparrow-grass in reference to A. officinalis then the matter acquires linguistic interest. (Incidentally, so far as I know epidemiologists don't waste any ink or breath objecting that the term for the morbid condition known as malaria is all wrong on the grounds that it doesn't have anything to do with "bad air".) Alsihler 22:30, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

It wasn't my intention to propose that linguistics should change its terminology, but rather to establish what actually is the normal use. I stand by the assersion that MY usage and what I THINK I hear most of my colleagues saying is that a folk etymology (= a popular misconception of origins) sometimes causes a word changes its spelling/form/meaning or whatever as a kind of levelling to make the word conform to its supposed origins: the term folk etymology thus refers to the catalist, not the reaction it induces. That is not only the more logical use (which you rightly say is neither here nor there), but it is also what I hear linguists most commonly saying. The above quotes tend to support me on that - the OED certaily uses the phrase as I imagine it. However, if you read the above, you will see that as the discussion progressed (about June 05) I did come to realise that the other way of using the term also has its serious adherents, even if it is not best practice, and I am content to have this page note that there are two ways of using it. --Doric Loon 09:14, 29 January 2007 (UTC)

There are many reasons apart from my own experience (which seems to be different from yours) to doubt that linguistics has, or would have, a standard term for invisible events. People have all sorts of notions, albeit mostly haphazard, about what forms "go together", given that many languages are full of forms that are somewhat similar in sound and meaning for the excellent reason that they are related etymologically. But some such hunches are in error, of course. A special case would be Greeks and Romans (and for that matter the same sort of thing is seen all over the place in the Upaniṣads, and there's some etymological rumination in the Hebrew scriptures) who actually put on paper their speculations about the "true meanings" of words (e.g., that vulpes "fox" has something to do with flying feet, or even that Greek gunḗ "woman" and gonḗ "seed" are etymologically connected). But as I say, that sort of thing is not commonplace nowadays. So: if we insist that the initial misprision is to be called "folk etymology", what then do we call the only visible results of same (e.g., the respelling of hare-brained as hair-brained or the change in pronunciation of rosemarin to rosemary)? I'm unfamiliar with any special term for these events, except for those linguists (like me) who call the event "folk etymology". I suppose one might call hair-brained a "folk-etymological change" (or "innovation"), but since the change is the only evidence that a folk etymology has taken place, why not cut out the middle man?
Upon reflection, I'm wondering whether it's a good idea to call "speculative (or fake or whatever) etymology" "etymology" at all. If we define etymology as the study of the history of the form and function of meaning-bearing forms, then rubbish like "gringo comes from the green coats worn by US soldiers in Mexico" doesn't qualify as etymology at all, any more than flat-earth theorizing qualifies as geophysics. I would consider such, well, rubbish to be qualitatively different from mere errors in analysis, such as explaining the term Sanskrit as coming from saṃs-kṛta- "ornate, worked up, brought to perfection" -- it comes from saṃskṛta-, all right, but in Vedic language, saṃs-kṛta- means "ritually pure, suitable for participation in a rite" -- of language or anything else. (That is, the traditional etymology of Sanskrit has the right form but the wrong function, a very different thing indeed from the sort of "etymology" where you literally make up all the facts necessary to justify the claim.) Alsihler 22:01, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

Well, I would call the process "analogy". But of course what we most commonly hear is a phrase like "this word changed its meaning by folk etymology", in which the syntax does not make it clear whether "folk etymology" refers to process or trigger. I suspect that the term originally referred to the trigger and has come also to refer to the process because of the ambiguity of that construction. But as you say, since linguists are only interested in false etymologies when they produce results in the language itself, it comes to the same thing in the end, in most cases.

I don't think I would use the term folk etymology for classical or medieval attempts at linguistics. We have an article on medieval etymology, and I think that is something far more structured than the vague popular connections which lie behind what we are discussing here. Medieval etymology may not be of much interest to linguists, but it is crucial for many aspects of medieval literature, cultural history, theology... And if Isidor calls it etymology, I doubt if we can deny him the word. --Doric Loon 23:08, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

I took a quick look at the works on the historical linguistics and reasonably complete all-purpose-intro-to-linguistics volumes I have lying around, eight or ten (some other stuff of mine has been packed -- grumble). It was a little surprising. ALL treatments are sketchy and somewhat confused, in the sense that you can't quite tell whether the author is clear in his or her mind about the relationship between the private event (misprision) and the public manifestation of it (change in form or spelling). Even H.H. Hock's monumental Principles of Historical Linguistics is far from clear on the point. (Unusual, for him.) Parenthetically, folk etymology doesn't necessarily involve any change in meaning. Sparrow grass means exactly the same thing as asparagus, no more and no less, and that I think is the case with most F.E. Even something like hair-brained or tow the line doesn't actually change the meaning of the figure of speech, it only changes the point of reference. Real changes in meaning don't necessarily involve changes in form, as when the expression carrot and stick got totally re-understood, likewise there will be the devil to pay --I'm not sure that our worthy ancestors get total ownership of what they thought they were doing. Isidor, pseudo or not, thought he was getting at fundamental truths. We know he wasn't, not even close, and if the term etymology refers to what he was doing, then it can't refer also to what I do in my professional capacity. In a similar way, in an earlier day folks used the terms astronomy and astrology as total synonyms, but that doesn't bind us to agreeing with Dr Dee that what he was doing is properly called astronomy. Or oblige us to refer to what the Hubble Telescope is doing as astrology. Alsihler 21:27, 1 February 2007 (UTC)

What the HELL is the consensus here on the definition of folk etymology[edit]

I saw that the article has changed dramatically this whole time and has swung between different definitions. So I myself tried searching for sources on the internet and basically I see the word used in the two distinct ways, as describing incorrect urban legend like etymologies, and describing words which changed because people didn't understand their etymologies (a much more rare but distinct usage). I think then the article should clearly state that the word is used in two distinct ways, and talk about both, instead of trying to synthesize the two meanings because its confusing that a word can mean two distinct things.


I cannot find any references that make the claim that "sweetheart" is derived from "sweetard", nor can I find any references to "sweetard" being an actual word. All the references that I have found state that "sweetheart" is simply a combination of "sweet" and "heart". In fact, states that is is from ME swete herte.


I have a theory that "eggplant" is derived from a misunderstanding of the Arabic badinjan (aubergine) as meaning bayd-el-jann (egg of the garden), though the word is actually derived from Sanskrit vatinganan (wind-producing). However, I have seen no support for this: has anyone any evidence for or against? --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) 15:50, 9 November 2006 (UTC)

It's called an eggplant because it's round and white. -- Dominus 17:59, 9 November 2006 (UTC)
Exactly. Anyone who's ever seen a white eggplant has no trouble understanding the name. For one thing, they're much more egg-shaped than the familiar semi-pear-shaped purple kind. I think I was in my 30s before I first encountered the Real Deal, and it produced an instantaneous spasm: "Oh, THAT's why they're caled eggplant! Of course! How obvious!" Now as for grapefruit... Alsihler 21:57, 28 January 2007 (UTC)
Because they grow in bunches :) BananaFiend 08:54, 9 August 2007 (UTC)

Good article[edit]

Just thought I'd say:) Hakluyt bean 02:50, 4 February 2007 (UTC)

petty bourgeois[edit]

I removed this entry because petty is in fact derived from petit; if this counts as a folk etymology it is a very marginal case. —Tamfang 20:57, 6 October 2007 (UTC)

Merge again[edit]

There really has been no succesful distinction between folk etymology and false etymology -- at most, it's a kind of venn-diagram thing, and going through Pyles and Algeo, Baugh & Cable, Millward, Partridge, McLaughlin and my own experience (I teach linguistics, but I know that's original research, so I don't put any weight on it) there is NO recognized, systematic distinction between these terms. Therefore, I propose (once again) merging the two topics (I'll cross post at the other). DavidOaks (talk) 14:37, 9 May 2008 (UTC)

My understanding (I don't teach linguistics, but I have two degrees in it) is that folk etymology is a process by which a word's form is reshaped in order to more closely reflect what speakers perceive its meaning/derivation to be, while false etymology is simply any incorrect etymology. That is, folk etymology doesn't really involve any conscious "etymology" at all -- it's a sound change due to unconscious reanalysis by speakers. That's quite different from a made-up (i.e. false), explicitly-stated etymology. This is certainly the way the term "folk etymology" is used in the introductory historical linguistics textbooks I've read (e.g. Trask 1996, Hock & Joseph 1996). I'm not necessarily taking a position on whether or not the two articles should be merged, but I do feel that there's a clear enough distinction between the terms in the literature -- or, at least, a clear definition of "folk etymology" which definitely does not include the other phenomena listed in the "false etymology" article. WillNL (talk) 18:14, 19 May 2008 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the proposal was no consensus to support move. JPG-GR (talk) 03:55, 18 May 2008 (UTC)

Folk etymologyFalse etymology — no distinction in terms, overlap of subject, sources, examples —DavidOaks (talk) 21:16, 13 May 2008 (UTC)


Feel free to state your position on the renaming proposal by beginning a new line in this section with *'''Support''' or *'''Oppose''', then sign your comment with ~~~~. Since polling is not a substitute for discussion, please explain your reasons, taking into account Wikipedia's naming conventions.
  • Support - David has said everything that needs to be said in the section above this one, so redirect to False etymology -- Fullstop (talk) 21:21, 13 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Oppose per Ham Pastrami, below. So... #1) remove content in this article that confuses the two and #2) merge/redirect 'false etymology' to 'etymology', with a sub-subsection there that summarizes 'folk etymology' and links to here as the main article. -- Fullstop (talk) 16:46, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Oppose. "Folk etymology" is the more common term. If anything, false etymology should be redirected here. AJD (talk) 04:47, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
Good point -- "Folk etymology" gets more google hits than "false etymology" (92k:17k). However, "false etymology" is the larger class -- there are false etymologies which are not folk etymologies, but all folk etymologies are false etymologies, and in makes more sense (to me, anyhow) to fold the more specific into the more general, even if the specific will be the largest class within the general. DavidOaks (talk) 12:09, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Oppose. This is a good topic and title as is. If there's enough material to write a separate article on false etymology, which offhand I doubt but there may be, we should have a separate article. Otherwise false etymology should redirect here. Andrewa (talk) 13:44, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Oppose. Folk etymology is a well-defined subject and can be discussed at length independently of other false etymologies. While I appreciate the nom's logic that false etymology is a broader topic and could include folk etymology, there isn't really a mandate to organize articles as such; subjects that can stand alone probably should. If a broader category is comparably thin, consider generalizing that topic, e.g. merge/redirect false etymology to Etymology, after pruning the content that is redundant with this article. Ham Pastrami (talk) 02:51, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Oppose at least until confusion between merging and moving is sorted out. Although I'm not convinced that there is no sufficient material to distinguish between the two. At the very least, Folk etymology is by far the more common term and should be the main article. olderwiser 13:02, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Oppose. per all above, especially Andrewa and Ham Pastrami. Indeterminate (talk) 01:29, 18 May 2008 (UTC)


Any additional comments:
  1. What (I think) DavidOaks is suggesting is a merge of the two articles.
    That David has phrased this as a "move" is unfortunate, but should not I think be taken literally. What he is suggesting is not what (in Wikipedia parlance) constitutes a "move".
    A merger on the other hand can hardly be opposed given that the 'folk etymology' articles is actually (in the main) discussing 'false etymology'.
  2. David is correct in pointing out that technically 'folk etymology' is a kind of 'false etymology'. The argument that "'Folk etymology' is the more common term" is presuming that writers have an option, i.e. one could always choose to say "folk" or "false." This is incorrect. That there are more google hit for 'folk' can be explained by the fact that most false etymologies are folk etymologies, or that many people are using the term incorrectly, assuming again that they are synonymous (this may be in part provoked by an association of "popular" with "folksy").
    That there may not be enough for a 'false etymology' article to stand by itself is valid only if one assumes that the two warrant distinct articles. Were the 'false etymology' article to redirect to 'folk etymology' there would be no scope to develop 'false etymology' at all, and would further only reinforce the notion that the two are synonymous. That any discussion of 'false etymologies' will necessarily discuss mostly 'folk etymology' is true only if the subject continues to dealt with in the same fashion as it presently is. A rewrite that takes a different tack would resolve that -- for instance by getting rid of the 'Examples of words' section in favor of using examples to illustrate kinds of false etymology (not vice-versa).
As such, I suggest DavidOaks give the 'False etymology' page a makeover, i.e. preparing for a merge as it were. Without it, any "move" (i.e. redirect) would be premature anyway. -- Fullstop (talk) 15:57, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
Understood, except that I didn't say that and I have serious doubts that it's true.
But more important, that sounds like a rationale for an oppose, rather than for the support that you indicated above. Is there any reason that you can see for this move proposal to proceed? Andrewa (talk) 19:01, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
A "move" is unsupportable. A "merge" (with subsequent redirect to False etymology) is fine—assuming that a merge actually occurs. Btw, apologies for the misunderstanding. I've redacted. -- Fullstop (talk) 21:43, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
ps: there is no reason why this article could not ultimately exist as a "main" article branching from a subsection in 'False etymology'. At present however, "Folk" is being discussed as synonymous with "False", and thats a no-go. -- Fullstop (talk) 21:47, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

grizzly bear[edit]

"This error has been perpetuated in the grizzly bear's scientific trinomial name: Ursus arctos horribilis" is a false statement made by an individual who clearly has no background in Latin.

In Latin, "horribilis" itself meanse "grizzled," therefore the trinomial nomenclature does in fact reference the bear's original name. I don't know the veracity of the rest of the reference, but I am positive that this one part is clearly wrong. (talk) 06:05, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

Actually, horribilis means "making one's hair stand on end": it has nothing to do with grey hair: I don't know if the grizzly's fur is in fact exceptionally rough and spiky. The question is not what it meant in Classical Latin, but what it meant in the mind of the person giving the species its scientific name. --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) (talk) 10:12, 9 June 2008 (UTC)
Hmm, it's a tough call. I could believe either of the explanations. I reverted the text to the original, and added a Citation Needed template. If it's a true story, there'll hopefully be information available to back it up. Indeterminate (talk) 22:07, 9 June 2008 (UTC)
See now Grizzly bear#Name. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 22:43, 1 October 2011 (UTC)

Suggestion to Do Something[edit]

This is the same article as False etymology, except for that article's enormous introduction; they even contained the same folk etymology about 'lantern' being derived from 'lanthorn', although I have changed that in Folk etymology. Anyway I suggest either the demolition of one of these articles or a furious differentiation; my preference being the first, since I'm more familiar with the term 'folk etymology'.

ClockwerkMao (talk) 19:32, 3 December 2008 (UTC)

Suggested move False etymology > Folk etymology[edit]

Although the discussion here was unanimously against the move, someone went and moved Folk etymology to False etymology. You can comment about returning to the status quo ante on the talk page for the article currently called False etymology.μηδείς (talk) 01:14, 17 October 2010 (UTC)

re expansion[edit]

I have re-expanded this to article status per the unopposed suggestion of Bkonrad in the requested move which made this title a redirect: [6].

The material suffers a lack of reliable sources, and consists of editorial synthesis, and if not rapidly improved, should likely be deleted.μηδείς (talk) 03:38, 18 November 2010 (UTC)

Recreating a content fork because you think it should be deleted is a terrible idea. Either create an article by establishing that it should exist, or else just don't create it. --dab (𒁳) 08:48, 18 November 2010 (UTC)

What a farce. Is is being argued (Talk:Folk etymology) that there should exist just this very article, with this exact material, perhaps expanded, and maybe to be moved under some different name. This material fits under the definition given here. It doesn't fit under the definition given at the other article. And editors are arguing that they should have the right to create this very article. But faced with its existence, the response is to delete it? μηδείς (talk) 18:57, 18 November 2010 (UTC)
David Oaks created this article at Folk etymology (folklore). This was a duplicate. --Taivo (talk) 21:16, 18 November 2010 (UTC)

Article name[edit]

Given that it has been suggested at the talk for Volksetymologie that this article be moved to popular etymology, let me express my opposition. Popular etymologies that happen to be true are simply called etymologies, and there already exists an article for that subject. μηδείς (talk) 16:58, 22 March 2011 (UTC)

The need for references[edit]

According to WP:RS we need sources to back up challenged claims. The claim that someone has attributed a false etymology to 'snob' is such a claim, whether or not the etymology itself is false. Please don't remove tags asking for references. μηδείς (talk) 02:07, 1 October 2012 (UTC)