onomatopoeic in OED etymologies
Posted: 22 May 2017 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Several times, I’ve encountered the term “onomatopoeic” in the OED’s etymologies in cases where it does not seem to apply. I’m not sure whether it is because the compilers are highly imaginative or the term is being used strangely.

Some examples:

gig, n.1 “something that whirls”
Etymology: Perhaps onomatopoeic; the identity of the word in all senses is very doubtful.

jag, n.1
Etymology: Jag noun and verb are found from c1400. From the uncertain date of the Morte Arthur (MS. c1440) in which the verb first occurs, it does not appear whether the noun or the verb is the primary word. The noun, with the adjective jagged , but not the verb, is in the Promptorium c1440. The formation appears to be onomatopoeic; in some senses it coincides with dag n.1, dag n.3, dag v.1, dag v.2, and in some approaches tag and rag.

jumble, v.
Etymology: Known only from 16th cent., and without cognate words. Probably onomatopoeic: compare bumble, fumble, mumble, rumble, stumble, tumble

bum, n.1
Etymology: Probably onomatopoeic, to be compared with other words of similar sound and with the general sense of ‘protuberance, swelling’, e.g. bump n.1, bumb n.

flimsy, adj. and n
Etymology: First recorded in 18th cent.; possibly (as Todd conjectured) an onomatopoeic formation suggested by film n.

I don’t have a question, I’m just making an observation. It makes some kind of sense, if the compilers took onomatopoeic to mean “sounding like other words with similar meaning”, rather than its conventional meaning of “pertaining to words imitative of sounds”.

EDIT: replaced means with to mean

[ Edited: 23 May 2017 05:52 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 23 May 2017 04:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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All of these entries are dated 1888–1901.

I wonder if the editors were trying to make some kind of distinction between onomatopoeic and echoic.

The OED definition of echoic (entry dated 1933, first citation 1880 by Murray) is “of the nature of an echo: a term proposed by J. A. H. Murray and used in this Dictionary to describe formations which echo the sound which they are intended to denote or symbolize.” But nothing in the definition of onomatopoeia suggests that its adjectival form is different than echoic.

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Posted: 23 May 2017 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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A bit more.

There are 395 OED entries where echoic appears in the etymology, compared to 270 for onomatopoeic. So while echoic seems to have been the preferred term, both were commonly used by the editors. (Unfortunately, there’s no way to search/filter on when the entries were written.)

I’m not going to go through them all, but I first one with onomatopoeic that pops up on the alphabetical list is bash, v.2, written in 1885. It uses the term in the familiar sense. So there may not be a deliberate attempt to make a distinction between the two.

I suspect, but have no solid evidence, that the odd use of onomatopoeic may be the idiosyncratic work of a single editor.

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Posted: 23 May 2017 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I suspect, but have no solid evidence, that the odd use of onomatopoeic may be the idiosyncratic work of a single editor.

Sounds plausible to me; I always wondered about that odd usage.

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