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Words that misled in youth
Posted: 22 March 2007 02:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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By Jove, I think you’re right.

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Posted: 22 March 2007 04:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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:)

By the way, although I know aldi and some others here are fans of the site, this seems like a good time to point out why I don’t think much of Etymology Online.

1) All they do is crib from other references, mostly but not always reliable.

2) Even when they crib from a reliable source (such as the OED, in this example) they sometimes muddle the information. (We’ve seen other examples besides the current one, though I couldn’t recite them off the top of my head.)

3) How much trust can you put in etymologies from people who don’t know a ν (nu) from an υ (upsilon), and write things like apheliou?

I can understand that second-hand, occasionally muddled etymologies are better than no etymologies at all, but given that AHD is free online, I can’t see much reason to cite etymonline.

[ Edited: 22 March 2007 04:21 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 22 March 2007 09:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Etymonline is handy, and often useful. Of course one should not take it as authoritative.

AHD is not too bad, but again one should not take the etymologies too seriously. In particular, AHD has little “word history” summaries which present etymology stories: you would think that—with so many words to choose from—these could have been restricted to etymologies which were pretty well established ... but in fact several of the stories are very dubious: e.g., “mutt” from “muttonhead” is explicitly disputed by HDAS, and not supported by available textual history according to my own investigation.

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Posted: 22 March 2007 11:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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Your points are well taken, Doc. I’ve certainly become more aware of the site’s shortcomings lately. Now that I have access to OED Online all my future citations will be taken from there.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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No reference work is infallible, of course, but I don’t think etymonline is even close to being in the same league as AHD when it comes to reliability.  With the AHD you at least know that you’re looking at the work of professional lexicographers; with etymonline you hope that some guy or guys who clearly don’t know that much about languages have chosen a good source to crib from and have managed to copy or paraphrase accurately.  Both are available at the click of a mouse, so I don’t see how etymonline beats AHD on being “handy”.

And as for “mutt” coming from “muttonhead”, you may well be right, but the OED, as of their June 2003 revision of the entry, agrees with the AHD, so I personally wouldn’t be too quick to fault them on this point.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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I have found the AHD quite reliable, and their IE and Semitic indexes are extremely useful.  Any more examples of dubious etymologies?

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Posted: 23 March 2007 02:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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The other one which comes to my mind immediately is “ofay”. I have to admit the AHD doesn’t claim that their story here is definitely true ... but again I think a relatively implausible tale with *zero* supporting evidence should not even have been mentioned under “Word History”.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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I have to admit the AHD doesn’t claim that their story here is definitely true

That’s a little disingenuous; in point of fact, they say it is less likely than an African origin.  There’s something to be said for mentioning a common, even if implausible, idea in order to debunk it.  The OED2 took a similar approach to “ofay: “Orig. unknown: the balance of probability is that it is a word of African origin.... The suggestion that it is Pig Latin for foe seems no more than an implausible guess.”

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Posted: 23 March 2007 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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// Both are available at the click of a mouse, so I don’t see how etymonline beats AHD on being “handy”.

I did not mean to suggest that one is handier than the other. Both of them are handy (as is MW; there is also material immediately available from RHUD last I knew). The curious person can easily review all of these ... and other things (such as this site).

// And as for “mutt” coming from “muttonhead”, you may well be right, but the OED, as of their June 2003 revision of the entry, agrees with the AHD, so I personally wouldn’t be too quick to fault them on this point.

Some of these notions are passed from dictionary to dictionary, and who has time/staff for regular re-examination of hundreds of thousands of word histories? Nothing wrong with provisionally accepting some reasonable guess, but if you want to write essays on word histories I think you should choose ones which are substantiated ... OR clearly indicate that you’re just speculating or fantasizing.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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// That’s a little disingenuous; in point of fact, they say it is less likely than an African origin.

My remark has been completely misunderstood. By “their story” I do not mean the pig-Latin story, I mean the African-origin story. And note that I do not claim that an African origin is absolutely impossible, only that there is *zero* evidence for it AFAIK.

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Posted: 24 March 2007 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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D Wilson: Are you an etymologist?  Just curious.

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Posted: 24 March 2007 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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languagehat - 24 March 2007 06:21 AM

D Wilson: Are you an etymologist?  Just curious.

I presume that he is the same “Douglas G Wilson” who’s been on the ADS List for about 7 or 8 years.  He’s been cited by Languagelog, Quinion and others.  He was a member of the EZboard incarnation as Douglas Wilson.  If I’m right about Douglas G. Wilson being our D. Wilson, he has written for Verbatim, the Language Quarterly edited by the venerable Erin McKean (the fun title of “Bacronymic Etymythologies” June 2004).

edit: spelling

[ Edited: 24 March 2007 09:12 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 24 March 2007 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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Ah, thanks—I thought the name was vaguely familiar, but hadn’t made the connection.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 12:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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Back on the subject of youthful misreading…
Remember that famous TV series where a man saw a one-armed man leaving the house where his wife was murdered, but ended up being chased by a detective on the assumption he had murdered his wife?  I spent < long time wondering what this fuggy-tiv was.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 12:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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Up until sometime in my thirties, I thought “painstaking” had something to do with pain being at stake.

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