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Chris -- 2015-05-30

#1 2008-09-30 11:48:30

Registered: 2007-03-21
Posts: 291

renig << renege

The other day I heard a radio announcer say that lawmakers had reneged on an agreement; she pronounced the word renege as /rinɪg/ – that is, the second syllable featured the vowel in pit rather than the vowel in pet or in Pete.

I thought (and think) that this may be a simple case of vowel merger: some American English speakers do not pronounce the vowels in pin and pen differently. There is some possibility, however, that some speakers who say /rinɪg/ understand the word to be related to English niggard, ‘stingy’, rather than Latin renegare, ‘to deny’. There may be an even better chance that those who write <renig> do.

There are about 7,400 raw Google hits for {renig deal} without quotation marks. The first ten hits all seem to intend renege; two of them point out that renig is a misspelling of renege.

Can A Auto Dealer Renig On A Signed Contract If He Cant Get My Loan Bought or Financed? … 713AA8SsKH

Can an employer renig a job offer?
... She went into work today and they told her that due to budget cuts she is no longer offered her new position. I told her I am pretty sure that’s illegal.

1. renig To back out of a deal or a promise.
2. renig a common misspelling of renege.

I always heard that word came from slavery..
Renig? For example, playing spades or hearts, if you don’t put down a card or back away from an earlier promise, that you RENIG.
I heard John Kerry use the word last night in the debate, and my mouth fell open. “Dang boy, did you just use a RACIAL SLUR??”
I came to find out that as for the etymological origin, it comes ultimately from the Latin ‘negare’, a verb that means ‘to deny’ (the same root that gives us ‘negative’ and ‘renegade’). … 046,-1.php

Before anyone suggests otherwise, of course I don’t expect that English speakers reflect on or even know the etymology of most words they use. I do think, however, that people have some sense of words “going together,” which we might think of as a folk understanding of cognate relation.

As an aside, there is also a common misconception that niggard is related to the racist term nigger. (I hope no one will be offended that I mention that word.) I wonder if there could be some odd cross-polinization with another somewhat racist phrase, “Indian giver”? Note particularly the fourth example, in relation to the “racist discourse” etymology.



#2 2008-09-30 23:55:26

From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: renig << renege

A really interesting possibility. I’ve often puzzled over both the spelling and pronunciation(s) of “renege,” but it never occurred to me to see something eggcornish in it. If that kind of thinking really has reshaped the word’s form, I suspect that the racial epithet is more likely to be the source than “niggardly.”

Interestingly, MW offers “renig” as the last of three (well, 6, actually) different pronunciations of “renege”:

Pronunciation: \ri-ˈneg also -ˈnāg, -ˈnig; rē-\

If I’d written their entry, I’d’ve listed the same three in the same order. All 3 seem fairly common and familiar to me. I think that I use both the first and third versions, though never the second. All of which doesn’t say that your secret history of the word’s pronunciation is wrong, but rather that—if you’re right—“renege” has now escaped beyond any eggcornish precincts that might once have given berth/birth to it.

I was surprised by the suggestion that the pen/pin merger might be relevant here. Isn’t the merger usually found just before nasals—m and n? Or is it sometimes generalized to non-nasal environments?

Just an aside—and speaking as a person whose speech seems to be riddled with merged vowels—I always find linguists’ habit of referring to people like me as “merged speakers” a little creepy. It’s as if my saying “jinnilmin” for “gentlemen” were the result of some kind of demonic possession—or at least of cohabitation with another consciousness inside this same skull.

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-09-30 23:56:23)



#3 2008-10-01 14:29:55

Registered: 2007-03-21
Posts: 291

Re: renig << renege

patschwieterman wrote:

I was surprised by the suggestion that the pen/pin merger might be relevant here. Isn’t the merger usually found just before nasals—m and n? Or is it sometimes generalized to non-nasal environments?

Quite right, the pin/pen merger occurs before nasals. There are other mergers that are not conditioned by nasals, but I don’t know if any dialects merge nig/neg. I suppose I went a bit far out on a speculative sociophonetic limb.

FWIW, Wikipedia suggests that there is a bit/bet merger in Newfoundland (and cites Wells’s Accents of English), and a mitt/meet merger in Malaysia/Singapore (with no citation).



#4 2008-10-11 04:49:00

Dixon Wragg
From: Cotati, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 1068

Re: renig << renege

While I doubt that most of those who say or write “renig” would be consciously thinking about the etymological implications, I wouldn’t be surprised if, for some of them at least, there was an unconscious association of the presumed negative traits of those deemed “niggers” with the negativity of the action called “renigging”.

It’s even possible that, for those who are aware that “nigger” is derived from “negro” (black), there’s a vague notion of associating “renigging” with blackness in the sense of evil.




#5 2008-10-12 12:34:51

Registered: 2007-03-21
Posts: 291

Re: renig << renege

I’ve been thinking about this one. There are (at least) two possibilities: blackness as a generally negative sign (as Dixon notes), and the racial association (as Pat and Dixon each note).

In the former case, though, I don’t see why negro::bad would be spelled (or pronounced) <nig> rather than <neg> or <nege>.

It seems to me that <nig> is more likely derived from nigger meaning a dark-skinned person, than from negro/nero/noir meaning the color black as such.

And although I’ve not heard African Americans specifically described as niggardly, I have been keeping a mental list of ethnic slurs connoting cheapness or selfishness.

Dutch treat / Dutch auction
to go Dutch
to Gyp
to Welsh (on)
to Jew (down)



#6 2013-01-19 16:28:44

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2445

Re: renig << renege

“Renick” for “renege” is a possible eggcorn. Someone who goes back on their promise steals (“nicks”) the promise back (“re-”). Fairly common. Three examples.

Gaming forum: “The beta access was part of the package that you paid for before Champions was released and they renicked on it”

Twitterish blog: “then there’s this stupid idiot who almost renicked on the deal. ”

Game console forum: “ He obviously renicked on his promise, given this and the fact he had a 30 minute ad before the Phillies game.”

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



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