1 of 2
1
Vagina
Posted: 17 May 2014 02:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2312
Joined  2007-01-30

Coincidentally (as we were speaking of cunnus in another thread) I’ve just read a very silly sentence by Germaine Greer anent vagina. It’s from a New Statesman book review.

“Vagina” is a vile name for any female orifice, because it means “scabbard”.

No, Ms Greer, it does not mean scabbard nor has it at any time been used to mean scabbard in English. It did mean scabbard in Latin but, as you may have noticed, we don’t speak Latin in this country.

Isn’t there a name for this error, dragging up the etymology as if it’s somehow relevant to the way we use a word now? It’s certainly common enough.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 02:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4690
Joined  2007-01-03

It’s called “the etymological fallacy.”

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  649
Joined  2011-04-10

A rant from 1885:

SUPERFINE ENGLISH

It is the Nemesis of pedantry to be always wrong. Your true prig of a pedant goes immensely out of his way to be vastly more correct than other people, and succeeds in the end in being vastly more ungrammatical, or vastly more illogical, or both at once. The common pronunciation, the common idiom, the common meaning attached to a word, are not nearly good enough or fine enough for him; he must try to get at the original sound, at the strict construction, at the true sense—and he always manages to blunder upon something far worse than the slight error, if error it be, whioh he attempts to avoid in his superfine correctness. There are people so fastidious that instead of saying ‘camelia,’ the form practically sanctified by usage and by Dumas Fils (for even Dumas Fils can sanctify), they must needs say ‘camella,’ a monstrous hybrid, the true but now somewhat pedantic ‘Latin’ name being really ‘camellia.’ There are people so learned that instead of talking about Alfred the Great, like all the rest of us, they must needs talk about Ælfred, and then pronounce the word as though the first half of it had something or other to do with eels, whereas the true Anglo-Saxon sound thus clumsily expressed is simply and solely the common Alfred. There are people so grammatical that they must needs dispute ‘against’ their opponent instead of disputing with him, in complete ignorance of the fact that the word ‘with’ itself means ‘against’ in the early forms of the English language, and still retains that meaning even now in ‘withstand,’’ withhold,’ ‘ withdraw,’ and half-a-dozen other familiar expressions. To such good people one is tempted to answer, in the immortal words of Dr. Parr to the inquirer who asked that great scholar whether the right pronunciation was Samaria or Samareia, ‘ You may thay Thamareia if you like, but Thamaria ith quite good enough for me.’…

...And this leads us on to a second habit of the microscopic critic, which I venture to describe as the Etymological Fallacy. Your critic happens to know well some one particular language, let us say Greek or Latin; and so far as the words derived from that language are concerned (and so far only) he insists upon every word being rigidly applied in its strict original etymological meaning. He makes no allowance for the natural and beautiful growth of metaphor, and the transference of signification, which must necessarily affect the usage of all words in the course of time; he is aware that the root of ‘mutual’ in Latin implies reciprocal action, and so he objects to the harmless English colloquial expression ‘Our Mutual Friend,’ which the genius of Dickens has stamped so indelibly upon the English language that all the ink of all the pedants will never suffice to wash out the hall-mark. I use the mixed metaphor quite intentionally, because it exactly expresses the utter hopelessness of the efforts of banded pedantry....

The Cornhill Magazine, July--December, 1885, pp. 626-630

LINK: https://encrypted.google.com/books?id=jGEJAAAAQAAJ&dq="etymological%20fallacy"&pg=PA626#v=onepage&q="etymological%20fallacy"&f=false

EDITED to include link, repair date error and scanning errors as pointed out by Languagehat below.

[ Edited: 18 May 2014 08:09 AM by sobiest ]
Image Attachments
superfine_en2.jpg
Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 07:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2312
Joined  2007-01-30

Thanks, Dave, that’s the fellow.

And sobiest,what an interesting find. I wonder who the author is and whether this is the first use of “etymological fallacy”. It certainly sounds like it. As for those pronunciations I’ve often wondered myself how names like Aelfric and Aethelred would have sounded. I don’t think my first choice would have been ‘eel’ though.

With, of course, can still mean against in Modern English, and not only as an element of a longer word, eg he fought with his bitterest enemy that day and defeated him.

I seem to recall Fowler taking Dickens to task for Our Mutual Friend, which I thought a little extreme even then when I practically venerated Fowler. OK, venerate is too strong a term but I was prepared to take his word as the law and it was only later that I found him to be mistaken in many of his judgments. (Although I was using an edition corrected and amended by Sir Ernest Gowers, who caught several Fowler errors, but not all.)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4690
Joined  2007-01-03

As for those pronunciations I’ve often wondered myself how names like Aelfric and Aethelred would have sounded. I don’t think my first choice would have been ‘eel’ though.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a scholar of Old English pronounce it as / eel /, although I can’t attest to how scholars were pronouncing it some 130 years ago.

The usual pronunciation of the ash is / eh /. With the / l / following, Ælfric might come out something like / AIL-frich /. Alfred is almost always pronounced like the modern name, and it’s usually spelled in the modern manner too, not as Ælfred.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1990
Joined  2007-02-19

It’s called “the etymological fallacy.”

Ms. Greer is entitled to her fallacies, surely. After all, many of us nurse them:

Young girls who frequent picture palaces
Have no use for psycho-analysis;
And though Dr. Freud
Gets very annoyed,
They cling to their long-standing fallacies

(anon., attrib. Noel Coward)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  649
Joined  2011-04-10
aldiboronti - 17 May 2014 07:54 AM

Thanks, Dave, that’s the fellow.

And sobiest,what an interesting find. I wonder who the author is and whether this is the first use of “etymological fallacy”. It certainly sounds like it. ...

I’ve seen earlier. For instance, From The Cambro-Briton, Vol. II,, September, 1820—June, 1821, p. 127:

...The whole of the passage, relating to the early colonization of Britain, may be beneficially consulted; and the following judicious remarks on etymology deserve to be here transcribed:—
“Etymology may be rendered very serviceable in prosecuting our researches into-ancient history; but, by placing too great a dependance on verbal criticisms, we are bewildered rather than assisted in our pursuits. The etymology of names may easily prove fallacious, if not grounded on certain general principles, and made to appear consistent with the general truth of history. Linguists and antiquaries, of no mean note, such as Camden, Baxter, and Whitaker, have fallen into very whimsical theories, grounded upon etymological fallacies. Mr. E. Llwyd and Mr. Owen are generally happy in their conjectures: but men of the greatest skill in those studies are not seldom betrayed into erroneous conclusions, by a misapplication of names and appellative terms, and adhering loo rigidly to the literal import of them...."…

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2312
Joined  2007-01-30

I’d say that’s a different usage, not the very specific fallacy in question.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  649
Joined  2011-04-10
aldiboronti - 17 May 2014 11:52 AM

I’d say that’s a different usage, not the very specific fallacy in question.

That may be. But I thought it was close enough to merit consideration for the evolution of “the etymological fallacy”.

I also located a candidate from the late 1700’s but it’s inaccessible due to paywall.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 May 2014 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3056
Joined  2007-02-26

I long assumed that cunt must be related to cunnus in some way, but I assume the experts know what they are doing. OED’s entry on the former word says:

Further etymology.

It has been argued that the Germanic base of this word is ultimately < the same Indo-European base as classical Latin cunnus (see cunnilingus n.), but the -t- of forms in the Germanic languages would not be easy to explain.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 May 2014 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3468
Joined  2007-01-29

A rant from 1885

Thanks for that splendid piece of forcefully stated good sense, which I would be proud to have written; I wonder who did write it?  Punch suggests it was the editor of the magazine, which would have been James Payn at this time.

Edit: That Punch link doesn’t get you to p. 289, but if you search on “Superfine English” within the volume you should get there.

Further edit: That’s the December 1885 issue of Cornhill Mag, not July.

Yet another edit: In the block quote, “they must needs say ‘camelia,’” should read “they must needs say ‘camella,’” and “they must needs talk about Alfred” should read “they must needs talk about Ælfred”—both scanning errors render the text incomprehensible.

[ Edited: 18 May 2014 06:09 AM by languagehat ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 May 2014 08:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  649
Joined  2011-04-10
languagehat - 18 May 2014 05:36 AM

A rant from 1885



Edit: That Punch link doesn’t get you to p. 289, but if you search on “Superfine English” within the volume you should get there.

Further edit: That’s the December 1885 issue of Cornhill Mag, not July.

Yet another edit: In the block quote, “they must needs say ‘camelia,’” should read “they must needs say ‘camella,’” and “they must needs talk about Alfred” should read “they must needs talk about Ælfred”—both scanning errors render the text incomprehensible.

Thanks. Fixed above.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 May 2014 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3468
Joined  2007-01-29

I posted about the rant, and in the thread Jan Freeman pointed out that the author seems to have been Grant Allen.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 May 2014 06:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1990
Joined  2007-02-19

Thanks for that reference, lh. I’d not previously heard of Grant Allen (neither, it appears, had Jan Freeman, who refers to him as “one Grant Allen"), and am at present enjoying reading “The Woman Who Did” at the Gutenberg Project.  The style may seem a bit stilted, to a modern reader, but the ideas are refreshingly “modern”. I can see how they may have been very disturbing to a conventional Victorian mind.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 May 2014 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3056
Joined  2007-02-26
Dave Wilton - 17 May 2014 09:49 AM

As for those pronunciations I’ve often wondered myself how names like Aelfric and Aethelred would have sounded. I don’t think my first choice would have been ‘eel’ though.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a scholar of Old English pronounce it as / eel /, although I can’t attest to how scholars were pronouncing it some 130 years ago.

The usual pronunciation of the ash is / eh /. With the / l / following, Ælfric might come out something like / AIL-frich /. Alfred is almost always pronounced like the modern name, and it’s usually spelled in the modern manner too, not as Ælfred.

Dave, I am not familiar with the use of slashes with spaces as you have used them here. I am familiar with slashes to encase the phoneme names derived from IPA.
Here, you appear to have used slashes with spaces to encase some other kind of non-IPA-related phonemic transcription? Is this a convention? Could you tell me more about it, please?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 May 2014 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3468
Joined  2007-01-29

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a scholar of Old English pronounce it as / eel /, although I can’t attest to how scholars were pronouncing it some 130 years ago.

I’m pretty sure the author wasn’t talking about scholars of Old English but people who pride themselves on being more knowing than thou, and having seen the form Ælfred assume the first letter is to be read as in Æschylus; I can well believe such people existed and pronounced it thus (having seen their ilk today using similarly mistaken pronunciations), and I find it hilarious.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1