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#1 2010-12-04 20:28:21

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2116

jejune

We have seen, and sometimes named, several odd varieties of eggcorns on this forum. One that hasn’t received much attention is the cross-language hypercorrection, an eggcorn that arises from “improving” an English word by bringing it closer in semantics and/or orthography to its supposed source in another language. We discussed some Latin-based examples in a thread from last year. If we had more forum contributors from lands where English was a popular second language, we would probably be hearing more about these oddities. The opposite move–changing a borrowed foreign word into something that looks more like familiar English–is much more common, of course, and we have seen numerous examples of these (searching the forum for “beadwof” will turn up several examples.)

We may have one of these cross-language hypercorrection eggcorns in the English word “jejune.” The term made its English debut in the seventeenth century, deriving itself from jejunus, the Latin word for “fasting.” Once settled into the language, the meaning of “jejune” evolved in a logical way from “fasting” into “meagre, scant, unsatisfying.” In the nineteenth century, however, the word began to take on an unusual role, struting its stuff as a direct synonym for “childish” or “naive.” This new meaning became so popular in the twentieth century that it now threatens to banish the older, more etymologically sound senses of the word.

While we could make a case for the evolution of the modern meaning from the older senses, another possibility presents itself. The modern “naive” sense of “jejune,” the OED speculates, “may owe its origin to the mistaken belief that the word is connected with Latin juvenis, young (compar. junior), or French jeune, young.”

In support of the semantic influence of the French jeune, we might note that the misspelling “jejeune” is common. This pernicious error, the Corpus of Contemporary American English says, has even managed to slip past the editors of the distinguished Kenyon Review. Google Books suggests that “jejeune” began to appear in print, as the spelling for both for the older1 and newer senses of the word, in the nineteenth century. In twentieth century publications it is so common that a reasonable case could be made for “jejeune” as an alternate spelling of “jejune.”

Kingsley Amis called the substitution of “jejeune” for “jejune” his “favourite solecism of all time.” In a passage from his book The King’s English, Amis gives a fictional reconstruction of the life history of this unusual eggcorn, positing three English speakers, A, B, and C:

Stage 1: A writes: “His arguments are unoriginal and jejune” (A knows that ‘jejune’ means ‘thin, unsatisfying’, a rare word, admittedly, but one with a nice ring to it).

Stage 2: B notices the nice ring. He doesn’t know what the word means and, of course, wouldn’t dream of consulting a dictionary even if he possessed one. There is something vaguely French as well as nice about the ring to ‘jejune’; in fact, now he comes to think of it, it reminds him of ‘jeune’, which he knows means ‘young’. Peering at the context, he sees that ‘jejune’ could mean, if not exactly ‘young’, then something like ‘un-grown-up, immature, callow’. Hooray! – he’s always needing words for that, and here’s a new one, one of superior quality, too.

Stage 3: B starts writing stuff like “much of the dialogue is jejune, in fact downright childish.” With the latest edition of OED giving ‘peurile’ as a sense of ‘jejune’, the story might be thought to be over, but there is one further stage.

Stage 4: Having ‘jeune’ in their heads, people who have never seen the word in print start pronouncing ‘jejune’ not as ‘djiJOON’ but ‘zherZHERN’, in the apparent belief that French people always give a tiny stutter when they say ‘jeune’. (I have heard ‘zherZHERN’ several times in the last few years). Finally C takes the inevitable step of writing ‘jejeune’ (I have seen several examples) or even, just that much better: “Although the actual arguments are a little jéjeune, the staging of the mass scenes are {sic} impressive.” Italics in original! – which, with the newly acquired acute accent in place set the seal on the deportation of an English word into French, surely a unique event.

———————————
1 “Jejeune” as a replacement for the “meagre” sense of “jejune” may seem to run counter to the French influence argument for the “naive” sense. Recall, however, that the French word for “fast” is jeûne, spelled the same way as the French word for “young” except for the circumflex, so it is possible that literate nineteenth centuries writers may have hypercorrected the spelling of both the older and the new meanings of the word to “jejeune.” (Despite the spelling similarity, by the way, the two French words are not etymologically related. The French jeune probably derives from the Latin juvenis for “young,” while the French jeûne comes from the same source as “jejune,” i.e., from the Latin word for “fast.” To déjeuner, then, is to break (dis-) a fast, to breakfast.)

Last edited by kem (2010-12-04 23:42:33)

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#2 2010-12-05 06:53:42

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2116

Re: jejune

I was thinking this evening about another misguided attempt to “frenchify” everyday English. Coup de grace is often pronounced “coo-duh-grah,” as though it were “blow of fat (gras)” instead of “blow of mercy.” Perhaps the widespread use of the French phrase pâté de foie gras leads English speakers to the incorrect conclusion that the French do not pronounce an “s” sound at the end of words.

Anyway, in looking up more information on this error I came across a web page on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypercorre … foreignism ) that gave me a name for the linguistic event I mentioned in my post above: hyperforeignism. “Jejeune” meaning “naive” is a hyperforeign eggcorn.

Last edited by kem (2010-12-05 06:55:49)

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#3 2010-12-05 23:47:06

burred
Eggcornista
From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 937

Re: jejune

Great stuff. In addition to the m-m-moon in j-jejune, I love the hypercorrections link – hurray for Wikipedia.

Speaking of coups de gras, there is the glorious poutine, a gallimaufry of freedom fries, gravy and cheese turds, a mix that will freeze your blood just by looking at it: find it only by its reflection in your fork. Poutine is a borrowing of pudding, from English. It is used straight-faced in Quebec media as a name for the current Prime Minister of Russia. The alternative is unthinkable: Putain, or “prostitute” from a root word meaning “to stink”.

I am waging a patient war on the recent hyperforeignism in ecology of ‘neesh’ for ‘nitch’ (niche). Niche as nitch is a perfectly good English word. All patient wars of this sort are lost causes, that goes without saying.

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#4 2010-12-06 06:47:26

Peter Forster
Eggcornista
From: UK
Registered: 2006-09-06
Posts: 827

Re: jejune

Niche as nitch is a perfectly good English word.

I’m sure it is, but over here it would certainly register as a mispronunciation, along with pastitch and quitch for pastiche and quiche, with all the attendant implications that might trail in the wake…

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#5 2010-12-06 14:45:11

burred
Eggcornista
From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 937

Re: jejune

You have a point that the residents of Lac la Biche in Alberta might endorse. Also, fishing in a microfish exceeds fetching from a microfetch about 5 to 1 on the web.

Wiki answers
What is MICRO FISH?
Answer 1: Its actually ‘Micro-fiche’ and before the advent of computers, important documents and arcticles were copied and reduced onto a sheet of film (similar to xray)
Answer 2:Micro-fische is an old, outdated data/records system

Genealogy site
I have some old microfish and I need to print them or convert them to a file for my computer.

Other roots search
For those with an LDS library near them that they use – it is common holdings in microfetch

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