Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 09:22:15 -0400

From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU

Subject: Re: Etymology of _Hoosier_


What is it that makes what people believe not a fact? What makes what

people believe about language a set of facts not interesting to linguists?

Finally, if you want to stamp some out (and I agree that there are some

viscious folk beliefs about language, or, to be more precise, about

language users), wouldn't you want to know the details, sources, strength,

provenience, and so on of those beliefs before you went a-stompin'?

There is also some caution to be taken in lessons learned from medicine and

other areas (which we all pray are dominated by hard science) where folk

facts have tuned out to be right on.


At 06:55 AM 10/16/97 -0400, you wrote:

Why is folk etymology so much more rewarding than the truth?

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University


Maybe Horne Tooke is a vampire, is undead, and has been out biting others.

Bram Stoker, call your office. Or maybe the answer is that "man is an

etymologizing animal" (Abram Smythe Palmer, _Folk-Etymology_, 1882). A lot

of folk etymologies become quite influential. Perhaps f-e is okay as long as

people don't think it's anything but an ex post facto construct -- but they

often think f-e is the real reason for the word's origin I think. Poll

people, and I bet you'll find 100 who know "who's here?" led to "hoosier"

for every 1 who knows the published reseached history as posted on this list

last week.

Skeat waxed vehement about the need to stamp out f-e over a century ago. For


"If the question were one of chemistry, botany, or any form of science, the

appeal would lie to the facts; and we should be amazed if any one who

asserted that the chief constituents of water are oxygen and nitrogen were

to take offence at contradiction. The whole matter lies in a nutshell; if

etymology is to be scientific, the appeal lies to the facts; and the facts,

in this case, are accurate quotations, with exact references, from all

available authors." (_A Student's Pastime_, 1895, p. lxxv)

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


Office: (517)353-0740

Fax: (517)432-2736