Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
The English word “human” comes to us from the Latin “homo” via Norman French. It is, perhaps, a hidden eggcorn: in contrast to what many English speakers assume, there is no “man” in “human” (unlike, say, “woman,” whose formation does depend on the Germanic “man”).
For those who see “man” in the word, “human” can become the acorn of an unhidden eggcorn. Certain English speakers think that the first syllable is not “hu’ but “you.” A person is a “you-man.” See the examples at the end of this post.
The substitution of “youman” for “human” would be easier for an h-dropper, of course. Which is why I find it odd when I encounter the pronunciation “uman” in Canada, where English speakers never drop their hs. I’ve heard this odd intonation several times from Canadians who speak with an otherwise perfect Canadian English accent. The explanation for this phenomenon resides, I suspect, in the multilingual backgrounds of Canadians. The word “human” in Romance languages has lost its initial fricative-compare “humain” (French), “humano” (Spanish) and “umano” (Italian), all sounded without the “h.” A large number of Canadians have French backgrounds (obviously) and Italian backgrounds (not so obvious, but true-one out of every ten Canadians is of Italian descent). Even those who come up through the Canadian English school system and pick up a faultless accent from their peers can acquire this Romance-language peculiarity. “Human” and “humanity” are words that a cradle-English speaker might be pick up later in life from people in the older generation–teachers, priests, parents–who have learned their English as a second language.
Examples of “youman:”
Forum post “I think it is a good idea when there is something the lonely people can be part of, where they can phone in and get in contact with some youman being.”
A 1687 will “Janary the thirtieth daye And Acording to the Computation of the Church of England 1687 I Benjamine Hockin of the parish of Gwithian in the Countie of Cornwall youman being att this time Sick And weake in body yet of perfect memory praised be god for It doe here ordaine my last will & testament”
Strange blog entry “I want you. I want you. I want a youman being. ”
Myspace bio “A MAN ONCE SAID TO ME SAM ITS NOT WHAT YOU DO IN LIFE THAT MAKES YOU A YOUMAN ITS WHAT LEAVE BEHIND THAT MAKES YOU ONE”
Post to a chat forum “Sex equality dear lady – plus youman rights”
Posted response to a Guardian piece “In fact the security officer can now take his employers to court under the youman rights act”
Last edited by kem (2009-06-13 23:08:58)