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Old topic - Acronym
Posted: 06 April 2009 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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While the fact that they are backronyms with known true etymologies doesn’t change that fact that if they had reputed acronymic origins in the good old days that would imply that acronyms were known at the time.

Not at all.  You have to remember that our modern idea of etymology was completely unknown until the 19th century; people thought words were handed down from the heavens, or expressed logical ideas via their sounds, or all came from Egyptian or Hebrew or Dutch or something.  Looking at the letters as representing other words was just another form of this.

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Posted: 06 April 2009 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I don’t think anyone has said acronyms did not exist pre-20th century. There are lots of 19th century (and earlier) examples of backronyms and wordplay that used acronymic abbreviation.

What did not exist was acronyms as a productive form of etymology. We’ve got one or two examples of this from the late-19th century and the method of word formation did not pick up steam until WWI.

Doug Wilson’s observation that people in the 19th century believed acronyms to be a productive form of word formation is interesting in that it shows the myth preceding reality. I had always thought it was the other way around; people, aware of the modern practice, extended it back in time anachronistically.

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Posted: 06 April 2009 12:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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It seems odd, though, that initialisms, which presumably date back at least as far as the Romans and SPQR, were around for so long before acronyms, that is. initialisms deliberately conceived as words, became popular.

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Posted: 06 April 2009 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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I agree.
But where would we be without oddity?

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Posted: 08 April 2009 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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D Wilson - 04 April 2009 05:34 PM

German ‘hep’ [anti-Semitic rallying cry] < Latin ‘Hierosolyma est perdita’ (1845)

I was under the impression that one was genuine. At any rate it was used as an anti-Semitic rallying cry in the early part of the 20th century, and presumably earlier. If it doesn’t come from that, it seems rather meaningless, though that may not be necessarily a barrier. Nor would I assume it has any connection with the English word.

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Posted: 08 April 2009 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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As for “hep”: I doubt the acronym etymology for several reasons although I cannot refute it decisively.

Here are several (but not all) proposed etymologies:

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hep-Hep-Unruhen

(under “Begriff"). I can’t find an equivalent summary in English right away, but maybe somebody can: I can make some sort of incompetent translation if necessary, I suppose.

“Hep” = “Heb’” < “Hebräer” seems plausible to me, as does “Hep[p]” as originally a call to an animal. But I can’t claim much of a ‘feel’ for early-19th-century German ... much less for medieval Latin.

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Posted: 08 April 2009 07:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Here is the corresponding English-language Wikipedia article, though of course the content is not completely equivalent

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Posted: 09 April 2009 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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If it doesn’t come from that, it seems rather meaningless

This is why bad etymologies are so commonly believed—people have a hard time accepting the lack of an etymology.  Many words do not have satisfactory explanations, and many will never get one, but that’s just the way it is.  I don’t know why acronym explanations are so attractive, but they’re almost always wrong, as I’m sure this one is.

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Posted: 09 April 2009 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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More on the herders’ cry from The Jewish Question by Alex Bein, ‘noted scholar and chief librarian of the Israeli National Library’

After listing the proposed Hebraer and Crusader etymologies he goes on to that which he considers the soundest.

3. A call to billy goats in Franconia that was derogatorily applied to Jews on account of their goatees; this explanation may be found in Grimm. Other explanations in early reports make little sense. ............... “In some parts of Southern Germany where, as in England, every profession had its specific form of beard, the so-called goatee was the sign of a rabbi or a teacher.” ............ It is etymologically absurd to assume that a popular term of abuse could have been an abbreviation of a Latin sentence that was completely unknown in such a context. .......... Why this explanation nevertheless was disseminated by the press and in the literature almost instantly and was even adopted by historians bears investigating.

More at the link on Google Books where the relevant pages may be read in their entirety.

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Posted: 11 April 2009 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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aldi, you use the term “The Israeli National Library” (I think it’s a quote), thus providing me with an opportunity to pick a nit. “Israeli” strictly speaking, refers to a person from Israel, not to an object or an institution, and was so used until fairly recently. The official title of the library you mention is “The Israel National Library”. Nowadays, the word “Israeli” is widely used as an adjective, to qualify anything from Israel; Israelis themselves often do this (there are several million of my countrymen who more or less speak English, which is one of Israel’s three official languages). This is probably because in modern Hebrew there is no such distinction: the Hebrew word ”yisraeli” can mean either “an Israeli” or “of Israel”.

(edited to correct spelling)

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Posted: 11 April 2009 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Memorial nit pick in honor of a distinction that no longer exists aside, isn’t the quote from Google Book Search wrong any way you slice it?

“This monumental work of Alex Bein, noted scholar and chief librarian of the Israeli National Library, is the most authoritative survey of Jewish culture and Jewish problems in the Diaspora.”

Shouldn’t it be either “chief librarian of the Israeli national library” or “chief librarian of The Israel National Library”?

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Posted: 12 April 2009 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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lionello - 11 April 2009 12:09 PM

the Hebrew word ”yisraeli” can mean either “an Israeli” or “of Israel”.

Digressing wildly, is that “-i” ending indicating belonging a general Semitic thing, as in Saudi Arabia, “Arabia belonging to the House of Saud”? English seems to have borrowed it for certain Middle Eastern demonyms, eg Israelis, Iraquis, Kuwaitis but not for others, eg Syrians, Lebanese - which looks to me to be more to do with euphony than logic. And does it have anything to do with the “-i-” in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan (but not in Kazakhstan -why not?)?

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Posted: 12 April 2009 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Nowadays, the word “Israeli” is widely used as an adjective, to qualify anything from Israel; Israelis themselves often do this

Therefore, it is an adjective.

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Posted: 13 April 2009 04:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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The general adjectival use (of or pertaining to Israel, “the Israeli Navy") is in fact the first example for “Israeli” cited in the OED, and is listed without comment in MWO and AHD as well.

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Posted: 14 April 2009 10:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Thank you all for reminding me that custom and usage determine the way words are used. I didn’t really need reminding --- anyone who participates in wordorigins.org gets this lesson repeatedly hammered home.  Even if one deplores the use of terms that have become customary and acceptable, there’s no use railing against them*. Nevertheless, the Israel National Library is The Israel National Library and none other; call it what you will, that is its name.

*Oh, how I loathe thee, “normalcy”. I shouldn’t be surprised, before I die, to hear someone talking about “abnormalcy”. Hope I’d have the fortitude simply to shudder momentarily, shrug, and stumble on, wearing a haggard smile.

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