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By Folk-etymology is meant the influence exercised upon words, both as to their form and meaning, by the popular use and misuse of them. In a special sense, it is intended to denote the corruption which words undergo, owing either to false ideas about their derivation, or to a mistaken analogy with other words to which they are supposed to be related. Some introductory remarks on the predisposing causes of this verbal pathology and its symptomatic features may conveniently find place here.
In every department of knowledge a fertile source of error may be found in the reluctance generally felt to acknowledge one's ignorance. Few men have the courage to say " I don't know." If a subject comes up on which we have no real information, we make shift with our imagination to eke out what is wanting in our knowledge, and with unconscious insincerity let "may be" serve in the place of " is." Another infirmity of mind which helps to foster and perpetuate the growth of errors is the instinctive dislike which most men feel for everything untried and unfamiliar. If, according to the accepted maxim, "the unknown ever passes for magnifical," it is no less true that in the majority of instances the unknown arouses active feelings of suspicion and resentment. There is an Arabic proverb, says Lord Strangford,.4n-mJsM addun mdjcl/ialu, of which the French C'est la niesintelliqencequifaitla guerrels a feeble shadow, and which we may freely translate " When men see a strange object which they know nothing of they go and hate it" (Letters and Papers, p. 86). The uneducated shrink from novelties. A thing is new, i.e. not like anything in their past or present experience, then it is "unlikely," unsafe, untrue.
Thus, significantly enough, in Spain, a country which has more yet to learn than most in Europe, novelty, novelty, is in common parlance synonymous with danger. Reformers in all ages have had unhappy experiences of this popular feeling. To leave the common track is to be delirious (de lird), if not something worse. Fust, the innovating printer, is in general belief no better than Faust, who juggles with the fiend. How the attitude of the popular mind towards the vast field of human knowledge will be influenced by this prejudice may easily be imagined. When it is a foregone conclusion that the only thing that will be, or can be, is the thing that hath been, every phenomenon which refuses to adapt itself to that self-evident axiom will be viii INTR OB UCTION.
doubted or ignored; and, if it persists in obtruding itself as an obstinate fact, it must be manipulated somehow till it fits in with the old formula. This unreasoning conservatism of the populace, which has handed down many an ancient superstition and delusion in the region of Folk-lore, has had a marked effect in the province of language also. Multitudes of words owe their present form, or present meaning, to the influence exercised upon them by popular misconception. The Queen's English is for the Queen's subjects; and if they treat it like the Queen's currency—thumb it into illegible smoothness, or crooked it for luck, or mutilate it now and then if suspected as a counterfeit, or nail it fast as an impostor whose career must be stopped—who can say them nay? "They will not use a foreign or strange word until, like a coin, it has been, to use the technical term, surfiappe with an image and superscription which they understand. If a foreign word be introduced, they will neither not use it at all, or not until they have twisted it into some shape which shall explain itself to them" (Farrar, Chapters on Language, p. 138). For if there is one thing the common folk cannot away with, it is an unknown word, which, seeming to mean something, to them means nothing. A strange vocable which awakes no echo in their understanding simply irritates. It is like a dumb note in a piano, which arouses expectation by being struck, but yields no answering sound. Every one has heard how O'Connell vanquished a scolding fishwife to tears and silence with the unintelligible jargon supplied by Euclid. Ignotum pro horrifico!
"If there's any foreign language [read to them] which can't be explained, I've seen the costers annoyed at it—quite annoyed," says one intimate with their habits in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (vol. i. p. 27). He read to them a portion of a newspaper article in which occurred the words noblesse and qui nest point noble nest rien. "I can't tumble to that barrikin" [understand that gibberish), said a young fellow, "it's a jaw-breaker." "Noblesse!" said another, "Blessed if I know what he's up to," and here there was a regular laugh.
The feeling of the common people towards foreigners who use such words is one of undisguised contempt. It seems supremely ridiculous to the bucolic Englishman that a wretched Frenchy should use such a senseless lingo. Why say oh when it is so much more obvious to say "water" in plain English? How perverse to use we for "yes," and then noo for " we"! If any word from his vocabulary be adopted, it must, as contraband goods, pay heavy toll ere it pass the frontier. It must put on an honest English look before it receives letters of denization—Quelgues c/wses must pass as kickshaws, and haut gout as hogo. To the unlettered hind still, as to the Greeks of old, every foreigner is a mere " bar-bar-ian," an inarticulate jabberer.
Nay, even a foreign garb awakens our insular prejudices. Should an Oriental stranger pace down the street of any of our country villages in all his native grace and long-robed dignity, he would, to a certainty, be pronounced a "guy," and might congratulate himself if he escaped with being ridiculed and not hooted and pelted by a crowd of grinning clod-pates. If he would but condescend to change his barbaric turban for the chimney-pot
of civilization, and his flowing robe for a pair of strait trousers, and, perhaps, beflour his bronzed countenance, so as to - look like a Christian," he might then go his way unmolested, and probably unobserved. It is much the same with the language he imports. The words of his vocabulary must be Anglicized, or we will have none of them. They will be regarded with suspicion till they put on an honest English dress and begin to sound familiar. The unmeaning bihuhti (a water-carrier) must become beastie; lipaki must turn into sepoy or (as in America) into seapoy; Middle most masquerade as Sir Royer Dowler.
Thus Barker sawb aya, cover the Jete, is the popular transmutation in the Anglo-Indian lingo of the Hindustani bahir ka sahib aya khabir dijo, i. e. " a stranger has come, please give the news" (Duncan Forbes).
The Margrave of Baden Dourlach was called by the people the Prince of Bad-door-lock (Horace Walpole, Letters, vol. ii. p. 208).
LongbeUy was the popular form at Durban of the name of the S. African chief Langabalele (Froude, Short Studies on Great Subjects, 3rd Series, p. 354).
Belleroplion, the ship that carried the first Napoleon into exile, became the liuUyruffian, and another vessel, the Hirondelle, was known as the Iron Devil. The Franctireurs became the Francterrors (Andresen, Volksetymdogie, p. 26).
In a similar way the lower classes in Hungary often deface foreign names when they are contrary to euphony, and try to transform them into compounds that shall have a meaning as Hungarian words; Lord Palmerston, for instance, was called Pdl Mester (Master Paul), Prince Schwarzenberg, the Governor of Transylvania, was known as Sarczember (The tribute man), and Prince Reuss Kb'stritz as Rizskasa (Rice pudding).—Pulszky, in Philolog. Trans. 1858, p. 23.
The Romans contrived to make the one word serve for a guest, a stranger, and an enemy—pretty good evidence that those ideas were intimately associated in their minds. In English, too, "guest," "host," and "hostility" have the same underlying identity: and to our verbal guests, at all events, it must be admitted we as hosts are often hostile. We give them a Procnistean reception by enforcing conformity to our own manner of speaking, and our treatment of alien words, or even native words which happen to look like strangers, is intolerant and arbitrary. In popular and colloquial speech these mutilations and abbreviations abound. If a word appears to be of undue length it must submit to decapitation. Hence 'bus, 'van, 'plot, 'tcig, 'drawingroom, &c. If the head is spared, the tail must go. Hence cab', cit, gin, mob',phis', tar (= sailor), wag, slang cop' (= capture), spec, &c.
Sometimes a word is simply cut in two and each half, worm-like, has henceforth a life of its own. An old game at cards was called lanturlu in French; this became lanterloo in English (lang-trilloo, in Shadwell's A True Widow, 1670). The latter part of the word yielded too, the former lanter, and lant, the names still given to the game in Cumberland and Lincolnshire. "At lanter the caird lakers sat i' the loft" (Dickinson, Cumberland Glossary, E. D. S.). So Alexander yields the two Scottish names Alec or Aleck and Saunders. Sometimes, again, nothing but the heart or dismembered trunk is left in a x INTRODUCTION.
middle accented syllable, as in the slang 'tec, a detective, and sometimes the word, if not quartered, is clean " drawn" or eviscerated, as in alms,proxy, sexton, prov. Eng. skeg (for "suck-egg"), the cuckoo.
But of all the tricks that the mischievous genius of popular speech loves to play upon words, none is more curious than the transformation it makes them undergo in order that they may resemble other words in which some family relation or connexion is imagined. This is Folk-etymology proper. If the word does not confess its true meaning at once, we put it on the rack till it at least says something. "The violent dislike which we instinctively feel to the use of a word entirely new to us, and of which we do not understand the source, is a matter of daily experience; and the tendency to give a meaning to adopted words by so changing them as to remove their seemingly arbitrary character has exercised a permanent and appreciable influence on every language" (Farrar, Origin of Language, p. 50).
In the world of animated nature the curious faculty with which many creatures are endowed of assimilating themselves to their surroundings in colour and even shape is one of the most interesting phenomena that engages the naturalist. It is one chief means such animals have of securing themselves against their natural enemies, or of eluding the notice of their prey. Thus the boldlv-striped skin of the tiger enables it to crouch unobserved amongst the stalks and grass of the jungle; the tawny lion exactly counterfeits the colour of the sandy plain over which he roams; the russet s of the woodcock render him scarcely distinguishable from the withered leaves amidst which he lurks. Fishes will imitate to a nicety the exact colour of the bottom over which they swim, changing, it is said, as it is changed; while the so-called "leaf insects" of Ceylon simulate the very form and veining of the foliage amongst which they live. It is due to this protective mimicry that the white Arctic foxes are often enabled to escape the pursuit of their natural enemies amongst perpetual snows. In the domain of philology, something very analogous to this may be observed. A word conspicuous by some peculiarity of foreign shape or sound only gains immunity by accommodating itself to its new habitat. It must lose its distinctive colour, and contrive to look like an English word in England, like a French word in France, if it is to run free. This pretence of being native when indeed foreign is made by many words in every language. Thus bangle, jungle, toddy, which look familiar enough, are accommodations of Hindustani words; awning, curry, jackal, caravan, are Anglicized Persian words; caddy is Malayan; jerked-beef is Peruvian. So Fr. redingote is only a travesty of Eng. riding-coat, as old Fr. goudale, goud-fallot, are of Eng. good ale, good fellow. Many French words are Scotticized out of all resemblance; blenshaw, Burdyhouse, gardeloo, killycie, jigot, proochie, are not at once recognizable as blanche eau, Bordeaux, gare de Teau, qui IH vive, gigot, approcliez (Jamieson).
An immense number of English and Latin words are imbedded in Welsh, but so Cambrianized that they pass for excellent Welsh; acppwrdd, lleicpart, ffoddgraff, pwrcas, soicgart, are disguised forms of cupboard, leopard, photograph, purchase, safeguard; and cysylllu, sicllt, ystwyli (=: Epiphany), of Lat.