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This week we'll look at some familiar words that were formed by misunderstanding of the start of the word-as-spoken. The misunderstanding "stuck" and became the accepted form of the word.

Our first word arose from not one but two such misunderstandings.

Latin mappa meant a table-napkin. By misunderstanding of the m sound as an n, this came into Old French as nappe tablecloth. The diminutive form napron then was carried from French into English.. (We still see it in today's word napkin.) This napron was clothing worn in front of the body to protect other clothes from dirt or mess. OED gives, at about 1400,
    With hir napron feir..She wypid sofft hir eyen
    [With her napron fair she wiped soft her eyes.]
This was a napron. But then, in the second error, a-napron shifted to become an-apron, giving us the today's familiar word.

apron – a protective garment covering the front of one’s clothes and tied at the back
 
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'Apron' comes from a slippage of the n in a napron. A similar slippage can occur from other languages.

For example, in Spanish legarto means 'lizard' (or, as Johnson said, "an animal resembling a serpent, with legs added to it."). Spaniards in the New World found an animal somewhat like a large lizard or legged-snake, and named it 'the lizard of the Indies,' or el lagarto de Indias.

In pronouncing el lagarto the two adjacent l sounds, at the end of one word and the beginning of the next, would run together. Thus el-legarto was heard as ellargarto and was taken to be the name of the animal. This ellagarto went through various forms and spellings (allagarto, alagarto, alegarto, alligarta) and then added an r at the end, much as 'fellow' would become 'fella' and then 'feller'. So with the r we had alligarter, allegater, and finally the original el lagarto settled down to became the alligator.

alligator – a large New-World amphibian, akin to the crocodile Edit: correction: it's a reptile
alligatoring – the cracking of paint, varnish etc. into a crazed pattern like alligator hide

To remember that the alligator is a New World animal, think of these Ogden Nash lines about a language purist.
    The Purist
    I give you now Professor Twist,
    A conscientious scientist.
    Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
    And sent him off to distant jungles.
    Camped on a tropic riverside,
    One day he missed his loving bride.
    She had, the guide informed him later,
    Been eaten by an alligator.
    Professor Twist could not but smile.
    "You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

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Originally posted by wordcrafter:

alligator – a large New-World amphibian, akin to the crocodile.
[LIST]

I give you now Professor Dunkie,
A true pedantic language junkie.
His friends all say "He's such a nerd,
He'll skewer you upon a word.!"
One day while at his monitor,
A lizard word came to the fore.
Wordcrafter said American
'Gators were amphibian.
Professor Dunc could not but smile.
"I think you mean," he said, "reptile." Wink

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Quite right; reptilian. Corrected. Thanks! Big Grin
 
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Spanish 'el lagarto' shifted its l as it passed into English. 'Napron' changed to apron within English.

A like change occurred within French. A certain stone was believed to cure colic, severe pain in the abdomen, and apparently that pain was identified with the side or kidney area, Latin ilia (plural). So the Spanish called this the 'colic stone' or 'piedra de ijada'. French took the ijada which, with their word for 'the', became l'ejade.

But very soon the French split this word differently, mistaking their l'ejade (feminine) for le jade (masculine), which would be pronounced the same. In other words, French for 'th' ejade' became 'the jade', which was then taken into English as the name of that stone.

jade – a semiprecious gemstone (either nephrite or jadeite) or its light green color
Note: This is entirely separate from jade – an inferior or worn-out horse, or a crabby or disreputable woman
 
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Note that "nephrite" is from the Greek nephros, which means kidney, so the association with the reputed healing properties of the stone remains, though in a different form.

Susan Gawarecki

A like change occurred within French. A certain stone was believed to cure colic, severe pain in the abdomen, and apparently that pain was identified with the side or kidney area, Latin ilia (plural). So the Spanish called this the 'colic stone' or 'piedra de ijada'. French took the ijada which, with their word for 'the', became l'ejade.

<snip>

jade – a semiprecious gemstone (either nephrite or jadeite) or its light green color
 
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Nice to see you here again, Llamalady! "Colic" is also the term we use for chronic irritability and crying seen in infants.
 
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munition; munitions – war material of any kind (weapons, equipment, stores, etc.), but especially weapons. (verb: to supply with munitions) Especially weapons, but not necessarily firearms. OED quotes show the term used for items from spears and pikes to atomic bombs.

This word, ultimately from Latin 'fortification', comes to us from French. In French, "the munition" is la munition, and the 'a' easily migrated, so that la munition was misheard as l'amunition. The two forms apparently coexisted, with a class division, the French officers saying munition but the soldiers saying amonition.

Both forms passed into English. In French the erroneous form amoniton has now fallen out of usage. In English the erroneous form ammunition now has a more limited use relating to firearms, etc. (for which usage the former term was munition, singular).

ammunition – 1. the material to charge firearms, cannon, etc.: shot, shell, powder 2. points used as to support in argument

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Let's look at the pattern of this week's words.
  • anapron became anapron
  • l'ejade became lejade
  • lamunition became l'ammunition
  • ellagarto became ellagarto, changing to alligator
In each case the division between two word-units shifted, to create a new word. This sort of change is common enough to have a name.

metanalysismore generally: creation of a new word by reinterpreting the form of an old one
especially: such word-creation by reinterpreting the division between words (or between other units: roots, prefixes, etc.)
    I have ventured to coin the word 'metanalysis' for the phenomenon frequent in all languages that words or word-groups are by a new generation analyzed differently from the analysis of a former age.
    – Otto Jespersen (1914)
Jespersen in the above quote is more careful than I was. He makes no judgment of right or wrong: the change is not a mistake, but simply a new analysis by a new generation. In that spirit, perhaps this theme should not have been called 'False Starts'. A better name would have been 'New Beginnings'.

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Metanalysis in a joke from my Dad:
Two kids meet.
"Guess what I got in me pocket."
"Don't know. Gimme a clue."
"It starts with a 'n' and you can eat it."
"Napple?"
"No."
"Norange?"
"No."
"Nonion?"
"No."
"I give up."
"Negg!"
 
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That is surely a different definition from the one I've seen. In research a meta-analysis is when the researcher combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses.
 
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That is surely a different definition from the one I've seen.

That's because meta-analysis and metanalysis are two different words. The latter is the only one I was familiar with.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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This week we've seen, in various tongues, migrating sounds involving a noun preceded by the definite or indefinite article (the, or a or an). Thus 'an apron' from 'a napron', and ammunition from French 'la (the) munition'. Here is a migration involving a different preceding word, part of a familiar phrase. I crib from OED.

rassJamaican slang (coarse): the buttocks; also, a term of contempt
[from 'shove it up your arse'.]
    'Rass, man! Ah doan talk wid buckra.' The expression 'rass' is Jamaican for 'shove it'.
    – Ian Fleming, The Man with the Golden Gun
 
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Originally posted by zmjezhd:
That is surely a different definition from the one I've seen.

That's because meta-analysis and metanalysis are two different words. The latter is the only one I was familiar with.

Yes, that's what I was going to say. But then I consulted the OED Online.

  • metanalysis, n.
    [< META- + ANALYSIS n. (see quot. 1914). Cf. (in different sense) later META-ANALYSIS n.]

    The reinterpretation of the form of a word resulting in the creation of a new word; esp. the changing of the boundaries between words or morphological units (see quots. 1966, 1972).

  • meta-analysis, n.
    [< META- + ANALYSIS n. Cf. (in different sense) earlier METANALYSIS n.]
    1. Philos. Analysis of the grounds and assumptions on which a theory, explanation, or account is based; an instance of this.

    2. Statistics. Analysis of data from a number of independent studies of the same subject (published or unpublished), esp. in order to determine overall trends and significance; an instance of this.

The definitions of the two words were different, of course, but the etymology appeared to be the same. And meta-analysis was previously metanalysis. At least, that's the way I read it. That confuses me. It sounds like one word is derived from the other. I don't really understand how the words can be so closely related with entirely different, seemingly unrelated, meanings.

Tinman
 
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There's a sort of "pool" of Greek and Latin words that are used by the scientific community to coin new words as needed.

My guess is that philologists and statisticians independently chose from the pool to invent their words. It might even be the reason meta-analysis was at first metanalysis; it was later hyphenated to avoid confusion.

Of course, that assumes its use in logic was also unknown to the word creators.


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The definitions of the two words were different, of course, but the etymology appeared to be the same.

It depends on how you define word. I meant that these are two different words because they have separate origins. They were coined by different people at different times, provided with different meanings, and currently have different spellings. They just happen to be composed of the same Greek roots from the ISV. If the word had occurred in Greek, and the meanings had diverged, I'd say that they were the same word. Of course, in this, I disagree with the editors of the OED. Horrors, we all know that nobody would dare do this ... Wink


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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'Napron' lost an n by metanalysis, to become 'apron'. Here is a word that gained an n.

ekeverb: to add to, with the sense of making something go further by supplying what is missing, as to eke out extra income. Gestures can eke out the meaning of your words.
    It took hundreds of thousands of dollars in last-minute ads from a panicked National Republican Senatorial Committee for Burns to eke out a 14,000-vote win …
    – David Sirota, Washington Monthly, Dec. 2004
Thus an eke-name is an additional name given to a person. That's 'an eke-name', but the n migrated to make it 'a neke-name', which became a nickname.


English noumpere (among other spellings) meant 'one who decides a dispute'. [From French adj. nonper '[having] no-par or no-peer; surpassing all others', and noun nomper; ‘one who so surpasses', for the essence of decider's role is to be above and apart from the parties.] The initial n then migrated, and 'a noumpere' became 'an oumpere' or umpire; later, the word 'umpire' was extended to mean 'one who decides' in sports.

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Originally posted by wordcrafter:
'Napron' lost an n by metanalysis, to become 'apron'. Here is a word that gained an n.

ekeverb: to add to, with the sense of making something go further by supplying what is missing, as to eke out extra income. Gestures can eke out the meaning of your words.
    It took hundreds of thousands of dollars in last-minute ads from a panicked National Republican Senatorial Committee for Burns to eke out a 14,000-vote win …
    – David Sirota, Washington Monthly, Dec. 2004
Thus an eke-name is an additional name given to a person. That's 'an eke-name', but the n migrated to make it 'a neke-name', which became a nickname.


English noumpere (among other spellings) meant 'one who decides a dispute'. [From French adj. nonper '[having] no-par or no-peer; surpassing all others', and noun nomper; ‘one who so surpasses', for the essence of decider's role is to be above and apart from the parties.] The initial n then migrated, and 'a noumpere' became 'an oumpere' or umpire; later, the word 'umpire' was extended to mean 'one who decides' in sports.


I haven't contributed in a while (sorry Kalleh) -- but I notice also that there have been precious few contributions generally (aside from the silly four-letter game [BTW, how far nested am I allowed to go on this forum? {I think I must be reaching the limit (but somebody tell me, please)}] that seems to be dominating discourse -- so I thought I'd chime in here where I have some unique expertise, namely in the Germanic roots of our Anglo-Saxon bastard -- and I mean that in the best sense -- language that we lately call English.

"Eke" is OE for German "auch" i.e. "also, as well as", as in "Whan Zephyrus eke with hys swete breth / Inspired hath wyth every holt an heeth ..." -- Thus, very roughly, Chaucer's intro to The Canterbury Tales, where the first line is, in modren Anglick, "When also the winds ..."

David the Frogglett
 
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Damn! I forgot to mention that "nickname" goes back to German "Auch-Name", also-name, with of course the shifting of the 'n' from the article to the noun.

D
 
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how far nested am I allowed to go on this forum?
Sorry, Froeschlein, I don't understand what you mean. Can you rephrase the question? Confused


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We'll take an extra day on our "New Beginnings" theme, to look at a word that circled the Mediteranean and had two changes at it's beginning. But we'll start with a different word.

precocious – showing unusually early mental development (not necessarily complimentary)
Etymology starts with Latin coquere to cook or, figuratively, to ripen. So an 'early-ripening' fruit or flower would be præ- before + coquere, or præcox. In English prœcox became 'precocious'. It first applied to fruits and flowers, but soon was used figuratively for 'early maturing' persons, and the latter use is now far more common.

Præcox also leads us to today's word, an early-ripening fruit which in Latin was described as, and later named, præcocquum. Traveling east, in Greek it became prekokkia and then berikokkia, and thence the Arabic birquq. The Arabs carried al-birquq ('the birquq') back westward through northern Africa and into the Iberian peninsula, and by metanalysis the al became attached as part of the word: albarcoque, al-borcoq, albricoque, albaricoque and abercoc (O.Sp; Sp.Arab; Port.; Span.; Catalan). Also abricot Fr. and albercoccia Ital.

Do you recognize this fruit? It is the apricot. One new-beginning is that the Arabic al ('the') had become attached. ('Alcohol' was similarly formed from al-kohl.) A second change is that in English the abr- beginning changed to apr-, as in Shakespeare.
    Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks,
    Which, like unruly children, make their sire
    Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
    King Richard II, Act 3, Scene 4
No one is sure why the abr- changed to apr-. Perhaps it is because the word was mistakenly thought to derive from aprico coctus, ripened in a sunny place.

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I haven't contributed in a while (sorry Kalleh) -- but I notice also that there have been precious few contributions generally

Well, I am glad to see you again Wink, but I hate to hear your comment about activity! I do think the more serious threads have been a little slow, and this happens from time to time.

I didn't get your "nested" comment either. Some people like the games, some people don't. That's just taste. I used to post in the 6-letter game all the time, but I don't anymore. There are just so many of those that I can come up with!
 
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Hi Kalleh,

"Nested" referred to the set of nested parenthetical phrases that I had got myself into (and which I proceeded to deliberately deepen (mischievously) once I noticed it). Didn't mean to be cryptic, tho, sorry.

The 4-letter game is fun for a while -- & of course it's a taste thing -- but to my mind it hasn't much "depth" (kinda like tic-tac-toe: fun to kill a few minutes), and it struck me that for weeks it's been far and away the most active topic of all, virtually the only one with multiple postings in the bundled email I get from the group software, and the ONLY one with postings every time. Also, this topic doesn't generate discussion, so in that sense it's sterile, too.

Keep meaning to drop in on Saturdays, but we've always been out lately.

David
 
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I think the 4-letter game (I have only played the 6-letter game) is so active because people can do that easily, in fun, while they are coming up with more detailed and serious posts in other areas. That's all. I also wonder what is so mesmerizing about the 4-letters game, but then I mesmerize myself with definitional limericks so I should talk! Wink
 
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It's a little like a newspaper here. Some people turn straight to the comic section when they pick the paper up. Others don't even glance at it. Me, I pass over the seemingly endless pages on fashion or health, or fashion and health, or health and fashion...

Whatever turns you on...


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Yes, you are right, Arnie. And I pass over the sports pages, unless of course the Cubs or Bulls are playing. However, Arnie, I encourage you to read the health pages. Wink
 
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I pass over the sports pages

For a shrot while, The Times produced a separate sports section which I could discard in a convenient WPB on my way to catch my train.

I wrote to the editor to congratulate him and suggested that the separate section be left in a separate pile at the newsagents (much as is the case with the Evening Standard's various magazine supplements) so that I would be spared even the trouble of disposing of it. Sadly, it would appear that the protests of the vociferous sports minority prevailed and the sports section is now bound into the newspaper and I have to carry it around with me. What a waste of paper.

Incidentally, now that UK TV has its own (and a massive number) of sports channels, why is it that the normal channels are still choked up for hours on end with the inanities of sport, and the vapid and semi-articulate offerings of sports personalities?


Richard English
 
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