Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 09:24:27 EDT


Subject: Re: Etymology of _Hoosier_

I've been enjoying the Dennis/Greg debate about the meaning of folk etymology

(and I appreciate Greg's references to the 19th century literature), but I

think there are a couple of issues to sort out. It's certainly important to

recognize the motivation that leads speaker/hearers to seek out motivation,

i.e. to render opaque formations transparent even when the transparency has to

be invented, as in that wonderful catalogue of mondegreens/pullet surprises we

kick around every couple of years here (from the four-stair furnaces to the

sick-as-hell anemia, from Prince Charles's power-mower to CCR's bathroom on the

right). All these examples, whether disingenuous (remember the monokini?) or, "bonified", reveal a lot about our linguistic capacity--every man and

woman and especially child their own derivational morphologist, and

productivity is its own reward. But at some level what we're doing is, in

effect, pseudo-science; there's no more reason to expect the "folk" to be

right about "fuck" REALLY being an acronym for "for unlawful carnal knowledge"

or "fornication under consent of the king" or "hoosier" REALLY being "whose

ear" than to try to find that Neiman-Marcus in the sky where they really do

charge $250 for a chocolate chip recipe. These are more in the line of the

isn't-it-pretty-to-think-so etymologies than are the actual on-line mishearings

that affect linguistic form and that may in some cases turn out to reflect

the actual history a la folk medicine. (For an example of the latter, I've

proposed here on another occasion that today's spittin' image was yesterday's

(dial.) spitten image rather than the standardly reconstructed spit and