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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2009-02-09 23:48:49

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2601

Two historical eggcorns: contre-danse and bridegroom

A brace of historical eggcorns for your dining pleasure:

(1) Jan Freeman mentions “bridegroom” ( … f_the_new/) in one of her columns:
“Bridegroom was Old English bridguma, ‘bride-man,’ but when guma fell out of use, the more familiar groom (‘lad’) took its place.”

(2) When the English country dance extended its popularity to the continent in the 1700s, French, Spanish and Italian speakers transformed it into “contre-danse” and “contra danza” on the assumption that it was named after the snaking lines of people that danced opposite (“contre/contra”) each other.

Last week I saw the movie Becoming Jane, supposedly a biopic of Jane Austen. (I say “supposedly” because most of what we think we know about Jane Austen includes large dollops of fantasy. Her personal life is the black hole of nineteenth century English literature.) The writer of the movie, Kevin Hood, put together much of the movie dialogue from Austen’s letters and from her novels. In the play he has Jane say to a would-be suitor, “This, by the way, is called a country dance, after the French, contredanse. Not because it is exhibited at an uncouth rural assembly with glutinous pies, execrable Madeira, and truly anarchic dancing.”

Jane and perhaps the movie’s writer have fallen into the clutches of a folk mythology. The OED explains the confusion:

[N]o trace of [contre-danse] has been found in French before its appearance as an adaptation of the English. But new dances of this type were subsequently brought out in France, and introduced into England with the Frenchified form of the name, which led some Englishmen to the erroneous notion that the French was the original and correct form, and the English a corruption of it. Thus a writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine 1758, p. 174 said, ‘As our dances in general come from France, so does the country-dance, which is a manifest corruption of the French contre-danse, where a number of persons placing themselves opposite one to another, begin a figure’.

Last edited by kem (2009-02-09 23:50:41)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2009-02-10 10:49:04

From: Colorado
Registered: 2007-09-05
Posts: 285

Re: Two historical eggcorns: contre-danse and bridegroom

Thanks, Kem. I love etymology… please keep submitting posts like this one. (I enjoyed Becoming Jane, but you’re right: It was as fictional as an Austen novel.)

Feeling quite combobulated.



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