Posted: 27 January 2019 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  890
Joined  2013-10-14

I just read the introduction to William Dean Howell’s Indian summer; I usually read introductions after I’ve read the book.

In the introduction, by Wendy Lesser, she wrote, “Let me say a brief word about the title. Unlike comparable nineteenth-century terms such as “redskins” and “Indian giving,” the phrase “Indian summer” has not yet been banned from polite conversation. Its etiology is uncertain, and the claims to what is particularly “Indian” about this late-fall phenomenon range from the redness of the autumn leaves to the ceremonial beliefs and planting habits of the country’s original inhabitants.”

I would think that the more accurate word should be, “etymology” because she’s referring to the title of the book and specifically the usage of that phrase. Etiology meaning, “the cause, set of causes, or manner of causation of a disease or condition; a branch of knowledge concerned with causes,” is obviously not the appropriate word. The etymology of the phrase, Indian summer, is what is uncertain, not the causation of the unseasonal weather occurrence.

Perhaps I’m being too punctilious? The publication of the book is from The New York Review of Books, but apparently none of their proofreaders or copy editors detected the erratum.

Bold emphasis added

Posted: 28 January 2019 02:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  1280
Joined  2007-03-01

I’d call this a straight error, too. As far as I know, [a]etiology hasn’t yet made it out of medical terminology into a figurative sense, and there’s nothing about this passage that would make this an appropriate coinage.

Posted: 28 January 2019 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  6658
Joined  2007-01-03

I would call it an error too, but I did find this citation in the OED under etiology:

1935 Baltimore Sun 8 Jan. 10/7 He..said that his old father had frequently used this quaint expression to indicate that the weather was inclement, cold and windy. I then asked him what his notion was as to the etiology of this bit of folklore.

I looked up the article, and it’s from a reader’s letter though, and the article’s writer, John O’Ren, makes fun of the usage, implying it is an error without clearly labeling as being wrong.

The opening of the letter, which is by someone who gives their name as “Scientist,” identifies the term in question and gives the name of the interlocutor, which gave me a chuckle in this present day:

In the interest of advancement of science, I recently asked a venerable Negro named Clarence Thomas whether he had ever heard the expression “Hawkins is outside.”

O’Ren comments (My apologies for the racist nature of O’Ren’s reply, but such things are to be expected in the Sun in 1935, home to the noted racist H.L. Mencken):

I’ll bet he said: “Etiology, Marse Scientist? Etiology? That’s sumpin’ we all just ain’t studyin’ a-tall!”

Given that this particular use would seem to be an error, I’m not sure it was a good choice for the OED to include as a citation.

Note that etiology and etymology, despite the similar spelling in English, have different Greek roots. Αἰτία, the root of etiology, means “guilt, responsibility, blame,” while ἐτεός, the root of etymon, means “true.”

[ Edited: 28 January 2019 06:26 AM by Dave Wilton ]
Posted: 28 January 2019 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Total Posts:  4688
Joined  2007-01-29

I wouldn’t call it an error so much as an unusual and inevitably irritating extension of the use of “etiology” into the territory normally covered by “etymology.” It does, after all, mean something that causes something else, so it’s not an error in the way that using, say, “entomology” would be.  But it was clearly not a good idea.