Posted by: Jack Henry | October 23, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Folk Etymologies

After spending a few weeks on vacation in Germany, I could not resist sharing this list of folk etymologies from Daily Writing Tips with you. Munich and Berlin were full of oak trees, chestnuts, gin, and gingerbread. For more folk etymologies, click the link above.

This post lists words derived from words in other languages as a result of folk etymology, a process by which speakers adopt the foreign terms after revising them by using existing elements from their native language.

acorn: This word is descended from the Old English term aecerne, meaning “tree nut” but originally referring in various forms in Germanic languages to the trunk of a tree; by folk etymology, the current spelling derived from a false association with ac (“oak”) and corn (“grain”). (The word is, however, related to acre.)

chestnut: The name of a type of tree, the wood harvested from it, and the edible nut it produces stems from the Latin term castanea (probably itself borrowed from a language of Asia Minor) by way of Old French and Middle English. By the early 1500s, it was (redundantly) called a chesten nut; that word developed into the current form.

gin: Gin, the name for a liquor flavored with juniper berries, is a truncation of genever, related to the Old French term geniévre and the Dutch word jenever, all of which derive from the Latin word juniperus.

gingerbread: The name of the molasses- and ginger-based confection has nothing to do with bread; the term derives from the Old French word gingembrat, a variation of gimgembre, meaning “ginger.” Gingembrat, and its Middle English derivation gingebred, referred originally to a ginger paste used both in cooking and medicine.

spare rib: This term for a cut of pork ribs alludes to its scarcity of fat, but the source is the Middle Low German word ribbesper; sper meant “spear” or “spit” and referred to the method of roasting the meat on a spit. (Spear, spar, and spire are all related.)

Oktoberfest gingerbread cookies:

And my favorite menu item in all the land: The Hangman’s Lunch

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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