Linguimericks—Book ५ SpecGram Vol CLXIX, No 2 Contents Sundry Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

The Real Etymology of Timothy

Eura U. Pertú, Peninsular Institute of Etymology

[Note: More than twenty years ago (SpecGram CXLVII.3, to be exact) we published what now appears to have been a spurious etymology of Timothy, seemingly forced upon us by shadowy forces and/or powerful lobbies. We can’t for the life of us imagine who would do such a thing. Fortunately, this original, unbowdlerized versionpresented here without fear of lost fingersquite surprisingly turned up among our executive editors’ stockpile of Hanebisho toilet paper. The truth wants to be told. —Eds.]

It has long been observed that Timothy is a name of obscure origin; several unlikely sources appear in the literature. Among these are ‘one who is afraid of God’, from Lat. timere ‘to fear’ > + Gk. θεός ‘god’ and ‘he who honors moths’, from Gk. τιμή ‘honor, worth’ + Eng. moth ‘moth’.

However, recent analysis has provided the far more likely suggestion that the name can be traced back to its Proto Indo-European roots, with the original meaning ‘he who maims she-goats’, probably connected with obscure religious/fraternity rituals.

The PIE form *dimútēr stems from two roots, *digh- ‘she goat’ (cf. ON tīk ‘bitch’ < Gmc. *tigon with expressive consonantism) and *mut- ‘to cut short’ (cf. Lat. mutilus ‘maimed’ < suffixed form *mut-il-), plus the hypothesized agentive suffix -ēr. The velar ending of the first root seems to have been lost through assimilation to the nasal of the second. This form of the name appears in numerous unattested sources throughout Asia Minor.

Subsequently, PIE *dimútēr > Gmc. *tímuþēr, with regular conversion of d > t and t > þ via Grimm’s Law. The West Saxon form *tímuþē is, admittedly, unattested; but a variant of the name is almost certain to exist in some of the obscured portions of several manuscripts of the time, based on analysis of rhyme and rhythm. It exhibits reduction of -ēr to under influence of the forward shift of stress.

OE *tímuþē produced ME *tímuthē, leading to EMdE *tímothī. In this form the second vowel has already been reduced to schwa and the final has been raised to . The o is merely an orthographic convention, employed to distinguish the m and u, which were undergoing the well-known ‘minim effect’. MdE tímothy exhibits little change, other than the regular orthographic conversion of final to -y.

SpecGramBehind the Scenes

A rare inside view of the editorial process at workon left, rejected letters to the editor, on right, accepted letters... or is it the other way around?

LinguimericksBook ५
Sundry Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
SpecGram Vol CLXIX, No 2 Contents