Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
As I mentioned in an earlier post, a high percentage of Palmer’s entries concern plant names. Most of these entries are big yawns. The plants names that he cites are either defunct or they are so narrowly regional that it’s hard to care about what he has to say.
For a book that attempts to corral the wild speculations of folk etymologies, Palmer’s book is surprisingly full of etymological guesses. Some of his guesses are far-fetched. Just picking an entry at random:
MUG, a vulgar word for a face or mouth (especially an ugly one), stands for murg, Scot. morgue, a solemn face, murgeon, to mock by making mouths (Jamieson), from Fr. morgue, a sour face, a solemn countenance, morguer, to look sourly.
Mug from murg? The OED will have none of this. It derives this sense of mug from the old custom of depicting ugly faces on mugs. I also note that Palmer falls for the contredanse/country danse confusion I described in this post.
I compared several of Palmer’s wilder etymological guesses with the OED entries for the same word. I think I detect in the OED subtle references that, without mentioning Palmer’s name, slight his imagination-driven attempts to find antecedents for English words. My guess would be that James Murray had little use for Palmer’s guesses but for professional reasons he did not want to disparage him in print. Perhaps someone who knows more about the society of scholarship in Murray’s day could enlighten us about the relationship between these two etymologists.
I would suggest that we do not use any of Palmer’s derivations as authoritative without confirmation from another etymological source.
Last edited by kem (2009-08-05 02:34:06)
The occasionally farfetched histories and connections in Palmer are part of its charm, and can lead into more interesting territory if pursued. There are still riches to tap in there, and in Wedgwood. For example, consider the under-our-noses eggcorn that has not been mentioned yet on this forum – female. Palmer points out, correctly, that the word originates in the French femelle, which is derived from a diminutive form of the Latin word for woman, femina. As he puts it, it was changed to female by false analogy to its counterpart, male.
Looking into other versions of this story, I came across another rich vein of eggcorns and related reconstructions, nicely identified: the Folk Etymology page on alphadictionary.com (link). Below is a list of the words and phrases with their colourful histories described on that site. Someone should go through this list and identify all having previous entries on this forum, and those that are not really eggcorns, and I guess that would have to be me, but do check the site out in the meantime.
the birds and the bees
I don’t think there’s anything “under our noses” about “female”—it’s one of the most frequently mentioned of folk etymologies in English and probably well-known to many of the regulars on the forum. But it’s standard and therefore not (or at least no longer) an eggcorn—I suspect that’s the main reason it hasn’t gotten specific airtime. Devoting time to folk etymology is fairly new for us— I’ve been wondering whether we should have a new page to accommodate posts on it.
There’s definitely some good stuff on that Alphadictionary list. But be careful with anything coming from “Alphadictionary” or “Dr. Goodword” (aka “Dr. Language” aka “Robert Beard”). Sometimes he’s right; sometimes he’s amazingly way off. (Language Log and LanguageHat have both discussed him/them—the former multiple times, often with responses from the good doctor himself.) In the case of this particular list, I’m already on my guard. Peter’s brief discussion of “poleax” some weeks ago led me to start a post on “tadpoles” and “pollywogs” that soon got monstrously out of hand as I started more hares than I could chase. So I was particularly interested when I saw those two words included on the list. It turns out Dr. Goodword stole a lot of my fire, but his account of the later steps in the evolution of “pollywog” looks like craziness to me—I worry he may have made it up out of “holey cloth” (6 hits). He thinks the final form of the word was influenced by the racist slur “wog,” but both “wog” and “golliwog” (which may or may not be related) are first cited long after “pollywog.” And in fact, one of the many theories about “wog” is that it’s derived from “pollywog.” None of this is mentioned in his discussion of the origins of the term.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2009-07-10 00:55:46)
it’s standard and therefore not (or at least no longer) an eggcorn.
Eggcorns have stale dates?
Eggcorns have stale dates?
Well, “stale” may be too harsh. Think of cute little oak-chicks breaking out of their eggcorns and growing into stately members of our lexical forest.
Think of cute little oak-chicks breaking out of their eggcorns and growing into stately members of our lexical forest.
An image worthy of Dali. You’ve been pickin’ those poppies along the road again, haven’t you?
I suppose we could still argue that “female” was a hidden eggcorn for modern users who imagine that it has something to do with “male.” That might make it worth noting in this forum.
Last edited by kem (2009-07-10 05:03:10)
I always liked what Shane MacGowan of the Pogues did to “male/female” in the lyrics to “Old Main Drag” (off their best album—Rum, Sodomy & the Lash):
There the he-males and the she-males paraded in style
And the old man with the money would flash you a smile
In the dark of an alley youd work for a fiver
For a swift one off the wrist down on the old main drag
Given the lyrical context (and the pun that might be lurking in the song’s title), I was never sure whether she-males were females or transvestites. But either works brilliantly. MacGowan at his best is one of rock’s great lyricists.
I was reminded of MacGowan’s wordplay when I was working on learning Icelandic. The word “maður” (accusative form “mann”) can mean “man” in modern Icelandic, but it can also mean “a person, somebody.” If you need to be absolutely clear about gender, you can use “karlmann” and “kvenmann”—which, with English cognates, would come out as “carl-man” and “quean-man” (or even “queen-man”; “quean” and “queen” make a maddening etymological tangle). It doesn’t sound as weird in Icelandic.
A more famous student of Icelandic seems also to have been struck by this pairing. Here’s a sentence from Chapter 25 of the novel Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair by William Morris:
But to each one of these knots as they entered, someone, carle or quean, spake a word or two, and straightway the new-comers went up to the dais and greeted Christopher pleasantly, and made obeisance to Goldilind.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/ … pter25.htm
Last edited by patschwieterman (2009-07-10 05:51:47)
Raising the subject of queans is very pertinent to Palmer. I was struck by his treatment of the word “cot-quean”, which was applied to either a strong woman or an effeminate man, who is quean of the kitchen. He says it is a recasting of the French word “coquine”, the feminine version of coquin. “Coquine” means mischievous, even malign, or racy, or raunchy. The word coquin was apparently originally applied to pilgrims (on the the way to Compostela?) who abused the hospitality of dwellers along the route, who felt obliged to offer sustenance. In modern times, it is a seafood dish – “coquilles Saint-Jacques”. Venus stands on the same half-shell.
The coquine connection seems weak to me. Be that as it may, the name cot-quean applied to an effeminate man, going all the way back to Shakespeare’s plays, seemed like a possible origin for drag queen. However, The Online Etymological Dictionary indicates that the queen/homosexual link did not appear until 1924, so who knows.
Opening at ‘cot-quean’ my copy of Palmer (1882, 1st edition, good condition and open to offers I can’t refuse) I find:
“COT-QUEAN (an effeminate man), probably for cock-quean, and that perhaps a corruption of the French coquine...”
A Victorian curate and gentleman-scholar can be forgiven for such delicacy or squeamishness or ignorance – I’m not sure which it is – and, unlike me, he wasn’t able to google ‘cock-quean’ – here goes…
Well, it took a while and as you can imagine it hasn’t been easy finding a path through the inevitable forest of bristling dicks but I did find a ‘sexual dictionary’ called sex-lexis.com which gave this definition:
Since the 1830s, a male homosexual , one who acts the wife .
Etymology: Derives from cotquean , a 16 th century Scottish term for a peasant housewife, later applied to: a) an emasculated male; b) a masculine or shrewish woman , especially one who dominates her husband .
Quean/queen and homosexuality may go back much further, it would seem, than the Online Etymological Dictionary at least would have us believe. I wonder, then, whether the ‘cot’ of cot-quean, which we know refers to ‘cottage’, had anything to do with the naming of the homosexual activity of cottaging? It would be nice to have a full OED at hand.
rustycusak—you must be thinking of Heart of Stone. It only came out in 2008 (the latest volume in the Long Tall Texan series), but it’s unsurprising that you’ve already forgotten the title since it’s supposed to be as disappointing as most of Diana Palmer’s recent books. (A better bet might be one of the early books in the series—say, Calhoun or Tyler.)
But you know, rustycusak, I’m worried you’re a spambot. Your posts are weirdly off-topic, and yet this latest post isn’t quite typically spambottish—and at least you’re asking about books, even if they’re late-period DP. But please avoid any more wildly off-topic posts and don’t post any gratuitous commercial links….
“Spambottish” currently gets 23 ughits, but I betcha that one will be visibly rising month to month.
Later edit: I located the source of spambot rustycusak’s query; it’s over at the Romantic Times book review forums:
I’m looking for a Diana Palmer book. All I can remember about it is the heroin is at the hero’s ranch and he kicks her out. She’s walking home and gets bit by a rattler. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
http://www.romantictimes.com/forum/view … 0b80ee518c
Of course, tricialen—who asked the question at RT—might be rustycusak. But I doubt that since the correct answer was offered almost two weeks ago over there. So the spambots are getting more sophisticated—they’re able to pull a reference to a “Palmer book” from anywhere on the Web, rather than having to reformulate some other poster’s text here on the Eggcorns Forum.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2010-01-21 00:56:30)
I always liked what Shane MacGowan of the Pogues did to “male/female” in the lyrics to “Old Main Drag” (off their best album—Rum, Sodomy & the Lash)
My vote for best Pogues album (and one of the best albums by anybody) is “If I Should Fall from Grace with God”, though admittedly I’ve only heard “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash” a couple of times, so maybe it will grow on me.
I was never sure whether she-males were females or transvestites.
Judging from the increasing appearances of “she-males” (with or without the hyphen) on porn sites, the term usually seems to refer to so-called “chicks with dicks”, i.e., people who look female, often complete with large breasts, but with male genitalia. In some cases these may be hermaphrodites, but it seems to me that most of them are probably born physically male, then feminized by artifice. Many (most?) may be pre-op transsexuals, but some may have no intention of ever removing the male organ. I suppose transvestites may also be referred to as she-males in some cases. Maybe we should ask Shane what he meant—though he probably won’t remember!
MacGowan at his best is one of rock’s great lyricists.
I’m with you on that, and one of the great singers, too. And when I saw the Pogues, he was even sober enough to perform. Although he was unsteady on his feet, his singing was great.
A local record store here in Santa Rosa has an amusing sign on the wall: “Unfortunately, Shane MacGowan is unable to perform this evening”.