The SpecGram Archive Elves recently made another large collection of documents available to the XQK Directorate, leaving them on our doorstep in black plastic sacks in the middle of the night. In order to avoid any more unfortunate incidents involving a cucumber, a marmot, or the Director’s favorite coffee mug, we were given the task of cataloging these documents. Going through the collection, we have found again that, while apparently lacking provenance (which the Archive Elves still attribute to a bizarre set of circumstances obscurely alluded to in editorials passim), they shed unexpected light on the origin of several well known words and phrases. Note that some entries contradict others. Etymology is like that.
Here we publish the eighth half of our collection of excerpts.
The earliest attested Mayan sporting ritual involved two teams of cooks and four teams of ravenous eaters, whose rampaging competition for edibles on grassless turf typically raised such a a cloud of dust over the entire village that the game was referred to as a “food pall”. Simple shifts in voice onset timing caused this to become “football”, after which the rules of play were significantly modified to conform to the resulting folk etymology.
English farmers once captured brown bears in large, rotund traps whose walls would spring up from the ground to surround the creature when it poked at the bait (often honey on a tree stump or rock). The carcass was then dressed and hung to dry in the same “bear urn”, a term which was later contracted into “barn”.
The first historical linguists would collect similar forms in a number of languages and from that infer an ancestral form. The harder part was dealing with semantic change, which some critics said resulted in slapping together something ramshackle that didn’t really fit any of the attested, notionally daughter forms but was just added on gratuitously, often humorous. The most famous of these criticisms, “[they just] add to them all a jest,” was taken up proudly by the practitioners of the new science as “[we just] add to them all a gist,” which was shortened to “etymologist.”
When talking about things happening in your current village, one used the present tents. When talking about the journeys you planned to make to other villages to trade, one used future tents. And when talking about the people who had died and whose bodies were removed from the village, one used past tents.
The tale of Adam and Eve is a popular subject of artwork. All modern paintings are reinterpretations of the original, according to a theory that became popular during the Renaissance. The story goes that while the first couple were in the Garden of Eden, Steve went out to the Art Supply Store of Eden. Upon his return, Adam and Eve were mid-
* A less popular theory in the Southern Hemisphere is that they were mid-
The intellectually demanding work of scrutinizing legal documents to resolve ambiguities gave rise to a new academic discipline which still enjoys a modicum of interest today: the study of how sentences are structured. Ecclesiastical laws were the most convoluted, particularly those focused on the buying and selling of indulgences. So this subfield of legal-
In addition, individuals were known to pay lawyers to work out exactly which kinds of tolls and tithes they owed. This breakdown was labelled the “tax on me”, which then became the source of the name of any list of obscurely related items.
In addition to framing the langue vs. parole distinction, which underlies most disputes in modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure also inadvertently named many of the subdisciplines whose scope we cannot agree on. Describing a fellow linguist who consistently refused to give due attention to grammatical patterns, instead focusing exclusively on squishy meaning, de Saussure was overheard to remark “ze man ticks”. Presumably his intended target was the expression “ticks me off”; but the non-
Some years later, de Saussure’s non-
More to come...