Date: Sat, 21 Feb 1998 21:45:19 -0600
Subject: Re: "poor" for "pore" etc.

On Feb. 17 Peter McGraw presented the following interesting information:

My aunt once told me about a woman of her acquaintance who would "poor"
water out of a pitcher. My aunt said she asked her once what she
called people who didn't have any money, and she said, "Oh, you mean
pore people?" I have no information as to where this was.

-Gerald Cohen wrote on Feb 21:

At one point I had been under the impression that sound changes go in
only one direction at a time.. A double switch of the type "poor" to
"pore" and "pore" to "poor" (in different words) seems to present some sort
of an anomaly in this picture.

pore 'to study carefully' == Middle English pouren
pore 'opening in tissue' == ME pore == OF == L porus == G poros
pour 'to make x flow' == ME pouren ==? Old North French purer == L purare
poor 'with little money' == ME poure == OF povre == L pauper

With etymologies such as these, it shouldn't be surprising that
considerable variation can be found in pronunciations from early Modern
English through contemporary British and American English. The vowels in
all of these words were potential candidates for "Great Vowel Shifting"
upward or alternatively for "shortening" in lects in which the -r led to
checked (closed) syllables. Rather than 'poor' shifting downward, as Jerry
suggests, in some lects it never raised from the French [o], whereas the
vowel in 'pour' was a high vowel that shiftend down in some lects, whether
by some analogical or phonological means. I'm offering hypothetical
historical scenarios here, not something based on empirical research.