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#1 2015-11-24 19:44:08

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2632

three folk etymologies from Campbell book

Lyle Campbell, in his book Historical Linguistics, cites a number of folk etymologies. Here are a few I found interesting. Perhaps those on the forum with some experience in the mentioned languages have a different perspective on one or more of these.

Jocular Spanish has created indiosingracia, “idiosyncrasy” (for idiosincrasia ), based on indio “Indian” + sin “without” + gracia “grace.”

The original name of the city of Cuernavaca in Mexico was kwawnawak in Nahuatl, but it was folk-etymologized by the Spanish as cuernavaca, based on cuerno “horn” + vaca “cow,” though the place had no connection with either “horns” or “cows.” Its true etymology is Nahuatl kwaw- “trees” + nawak “near, adjacent to,” that is, “near the trees.”

Old Spanish tiniebras “darkness” changed to Modern Spanish tinieblas thorugh the folk-etymological assumption that it had something to do with niebla “fog” (cf. Spanish tenebroso “dark, gloomy” < Latin tenebrosus ).


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#2 2015-11-24 20:35:15

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2185
Website

Re: three folk etymologies from Campbell book

The first one certainly and the second one probably are/were advertent, which is more like Joe K (and me and others) repeating possible eggcorns because they tickle our fancy, than like sincere individuals (aka perps) coining sincere eggcorns in the first place. Spanish speakers knew perfectly well that Nahuatl speakers were not saying “cow horn” but the word sounded a bit like that, so what the heck.
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If this kind of structure is accepted generally as folk-etymology (which is reasonable enough), then the definition of eggcorns as incipient folk etymologies becomes less acceptable to me.
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The third one was more plausibly an eggcorn in its infancy. Wiktionary says tenebrae came via ‘progressive assimilation (t-m > t-n) from *temabrāi, nominalized feminine plural from Proto-Italic *temazros ‎(“dark”), from Proto-Indo-European *temH-(e)s-ro-, from *temH-’). My guess is that by the time it switched to tinieblas it had effectively jettisoned all the stem-formation morphology and was tenébr-FEM-PL. The r>l (and l>r) switch is all over the place, independently of it making any sense. (E.g. you get the switch both ways at once in somewhat Spooneristic fashion in milagro < miraculum ‘miracle’, which destroys the morphological link with mirar ‘look/wonder at’). The é > ie switch is also all over the place, and the -ae > -as change is also perfectly regular. This gives teniebl-FEM-PL which is just one small step (e>i) from the modern form.
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The connection with niebla (< Lat. nebula cf. Gk. nephelē , not likely related to anything in the proto-language morphology above) was then probably serendipitous; the pronunciation switches may have prompted the meaning/analysis shift rather than resulting from it. We’ve tended (reasonably, I think) to accept both types within the eggcorn fold.
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The existence of tenebroso (with the unchanged e and r ) is interesting and relevant, but does not prove or even very strongly suggest, at least to me, that eggcorning with niebla drove the pronunciation shifts in tinieblas . Spanish has many double borrowings from Latin, one via the vulgar language with more shifts reflected in the pronunciation and another via later erudite borrowing, with fewer shifts. E.g. hierro < ferrum ‘iron’, contrasted with fierro ‘tool, instrument’ or ferre(tería ) ‘hardware (ironmonger’s) store’.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2015-11-24 21:45:47)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#3 2015-11-25 17:18:21

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2632

Re: three folk etymologies from Campbell book

Your explanation of tinieblas feels right, David. I’m not qualified to say much about Spanish derivations, but it did seem to me to be a large leap.

I’m in agreement with you about the first two. One problem with the term “folk etymology,” I’ve noticed, is that it is a pointer to two different referents. On the one side, it is a term for a word: a folk etymology is a word that has sneaked, on a pretense, through the back door of most of our vocabularies. On the other side, it is a term for a kind of definition: a folk etymology is the pretense itself, a mistaken explanation of how the word came into existence. We could make things clearer, it seems to me, if we distinguished the two senses by talking about “being a folk etymology” and “having a folk etymology” and by annotating the terms as “folk etymology (word)” and “folk etymology (explanation).” It would also be helpful if we kept in mind how they relate logically. Behind every folk etymology (word) there are one or more folk etymologies (explanations). It is not the case, however, that every example of a folk etymology (explanation) gives rise to a folk etymology (word).

When we say that an eggcorn is an incipient folk etymology, we mean folk etymology in the first sense, the word sense. When we call “cuernavaca” a folk etymology, however, it is mostly in the second sense. “Cuernavaca” has a widely-believed just-so story about where the word came from, a folk etymology (explanation), but the belief seems to have played almost no role in the birth of the term.

The other example, “indiosingracia,” has the potential to be a folk etymology (word). It is a term whose form is derived directly from a misinterpretation and it has the requisite folk etymology (explanation). I’m not convinced, however, that it really is a folk etymology (word). For one thing, it has not displaced its eggcorn. Another issue is the problem you note, the question of intentionality. As the word “Jocular” in Cambpell’s description suggests, it isn’t clear that those who say “indiosingracia” are unaware of the word’s actual etymology.


Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.

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#4 2015-11-25 19:22:23

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2185
Website

Re: three folk etymologies from Campbell book

it isn’t clear that those who say “indiosingracia” are unaware of the word’s actual etymology.

Are you talking of the acorn’s actual etymology, or the putative eggcorn/folk-etymology’s? I would think the acorn’s etymology (i.e. the fact that idio- meant ‘private, peculiar to a particular person’ and that synkrasis meant whatever it meant, ‘mixture’, ainit?) is largely irrelevant. As far as the perp is concerned, it might as well be monomorphemic: just a complicated word built of who-knows-what unrecoverable pieces.
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To me the issue is that those who say indiosingracia are clearly not unaware, to the contrary they are highly aware, of the etymology (rather say the inescapable synchronic analysis) of that phrase/word. That is a separate question from their awareness of the non-standardness of both the new pronunciation and the new etymology/analysis. I can’t imagine any self-respecting Spanish speaker failing to understand indiosingracia as “graceless Indian”. I am also quite sure the majority of them will know that it is a really odd, non-standard structure, most probably a joke (whether they would consider it to be in bad taste or not, and whether or not they know the putative acorn, idiosincrasia , at all well.)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#5 2015-11-27 12:08:11

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2632

Re: three folk etymologies from Campbell book

I meant the actual etymology of the acorn, “idiosincrasia.” I don’t mean speakers understand the etymology in the detail found in a lexicon. I just mean that they are aware that “indiosingracia” is artificial, thus making it a pun.


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#6 2015-11-27 12:18:07

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2185
Website

Re: three folk etymologies from Campbell book

OK, so the “etymology” in question is essentially the existence of a more standard form and the discrepancy between the two. Yes, I agree that they are unlikely to be unaware of that, especially to the extent that the form is jocular.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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