Open thread: False Etymology

(By chris the cynic)

“Golf” does not stand for “Gentleman only; ladies forbidden,” the word “fuck” is similarly just a word (not an acronym), Hesiod was wrong about the meaning (and thus, presumably, origin) of the name “Pandora”, “isle” is not now and has never been a short form of the word “island”.

[Though that last one is interesting because the “s” in “island” does come from the otherwise completely unrelated word “isle” because people thought they should be similar.]

Anyway, false etymology.  It’s all around us.  Anyone have anything to say on the matter?

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

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5 thoughts on “Open thread: False Etymology

  1. anamardoll April 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Etymology! Major bugbear for me! Partly because most of the online etymology sites are not very reputable and tend to report urban legends as fact and next thing you know, people are quoting the lie as truth and aaaaaarrrrgh.

    We’ve talked about “brouhaha” before, I think, and how it was probably onomatopoeia made up by Moliere in the 1600s (it’s demonstrably in one of his plays, but he may not be the originator of the word–that’s harder to prove) but that hasn’t stopped an urban legend about it being an anti-Semitic term made up in Germany in the 1800s.

  2. froborr April 8, 2014 at 11:51 am

    I have always assumed that “deontology” comes from adding the “de-” prefix to “ontology,” meaning something like “without reason.” Since deontological moral systems are based on a series of a priori rules rather than being deduced from some initial set of axioms, get it?

    Turns out it appears actually to derive from the Greek “deon,” meaning “duty.”

    It’s a good thing I looked it up, since I was about to post it on my blog. (I figured I’ve criticized pure consequentialism enough, it was deontology’s turn.)

  3. alexseanchai April 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    ‘Pusillanimous’ as the long form of an insult I don’t care to repeat because the insult’s actual etymology is anti-woman.

  4. Firedrake April 8, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    “Posh” has no credible connection with “port out, starboard home”. (It’s not clear where it did come from.) In general, anyone claiming an acronymic etymology for a British English word before about 1940 is probably wrong.

  5. froborr April 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    With the possible exception of “okay.” Though I’m not sure if that was in British usage before 1940, it was definitely in use in the U.S. by then, and originates from “O.K.,” which is of uncertain origin.

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