Linguimericks, Etc.—Book ५२ SpecGram Vol CLXXXII, No 1 Contents Linguistics Gaming Machines—Advertisement

Good Enough for Folk EtymologyPart II

A. Pocryphal & Verity du Bius
X. Quizzit Korps Center for Advanced Collaborative Studies

The SpecGram Archive Elves recently made a large collection of documents available to the XQK Directorate, leaving them on our doorstep in black plastic sacks in the middle of the night. After an unfortunate incident involving a cucumber, a marmot, and the Director’s favorite coffee mug, we were given the task of cataloging these documents. Going through the collection, we have found that, while apparently lacking provenance (which the Archive Elves 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 second half of our collection of excerpts.

From Mediterranean Flora and Fauna: A Handbook of the Fabulously Delicious, the Reasonably Palatable, and the Merely Edible:

Most people have wondered just how drunk someone would have to be to think a seahorse looked particularly equine. The answer is probably too drunk to have written it down, because in fact that is not the correct etymology of the term! An early reference to seahorses, in a rare English translation of a 1918 issue of the Communist newspaper Ριζοσπάστης, edited, translated, and published by Welsh sympathizer D. Ord, contained a typo for the correct phrase“... such a hideous seashore creature...”and the name has stuck ever since.

From Sport is as Sport Does:

Young American children have been introduced to baseball via the pitcher-less form called “t-ball” since this variation was brought to California by Japanese immigrants in the 1890s. Although popular in the American West (where there were few organized sports prior to 1900), the game was badly received in other parts of the country. This was not entirely due to the inherent character of t-ball, though; prankish students from Stanford University first introduced the game in a tour of the Midwest, but substituted a rugby ball for the requisite baseball. Midwesterners and Easterners alike felt constrained to learn the game, in order to keep up with the trend-setting Left Coast, but derided it as “fool’s t-ball.” The name stuck, and the medial cluster /lstb/ was substantially simplified, when the game migrated onto a rugby-like field and codified rules that encouraged pummeling not of a ball with a bat but of other players with one’s own body.

From Elephants I Have Known:

Originally, the Germanic word which is now “deer” in English referred to any animal, and in Pre–Old English all specific animals had periphrastic names, like “warren-dwelling-animal” (rabbit), “hissing-animal” (snake), “man’s-best-friend-animal” (pig), and so on. In the 11th Century, “deer” narrowed to refer only to “forest dwelling animal hunted only by Norman Frenchies”, and this was part of a larger trend in which most animals acquired monomorphemic names. This trend was driven by the rediscovery of a diatribe which had been written much earlier by the Venerable Bede entitled “Against Hyphens in the Naming of Creatures”. No copies of this Old English essay survive, but contemporary comments by Pope Leo XIII, preserved in the Vatican archives, suggest that Saint Bede believed that orthographic hyphens could chokein some presumably metaphysical waythe eater of any animal whose name contained them. He also considered them difficult to pronounce. During the Great Naming, as it came to be called, an obscure Saxon noble named Alfeater compiled a list of creatures to be named, and somehow the creature entered as “eleventh” ended up with a version of its numerical designation; perhaps the Saxons did not trust themselves to give a semantically adequate label to a creature they had only heard of second-hand. A couple of minor sound changes account for the later development of “eleventh” into “elefant”.

From An Historical Guide to Rare Anglo-Algonquian Architecture, Edifices, and Other Erections:

British colonist Nigel Bramblefeld-Unbuttonton and Algonquian native Matchitehew did not always see eye to eye, but they formed an uneasy alliance in order to deal with a common enemy: their wives. Matchitehew built a birchbark waginogan to contain the women and Nigel supplied a metal padlock for the door. In a multilingual play on words, they called it the “squaw shed”. The edifice itself was not secure, and both men were rendered incorporeal by their soon-escaped wives, Imogen and Alsoomse, by way of the forceful application of Imogen’s cast iron skillets to the relevant crania. Longfellow attempted to immortalize these events in a little-known poem, “The Squa-shed Murders”. An editor of a later edition of the volume in which it appeared, unfamiliar with the poem’s inspirationbut at least able to recognized its metrical needsrewrote the word as squashèd. The modern verb is a backformation.

From Metaphysical and Doctrinal Absolutes in Recreational Pastimes:

One of the medieval scholastics least known even to his contemporaries was the monk Leofwulf Caudicopollex of Little Turnipgate Priory, who was inspired by a now-lost work of Johannes Eriugena to develop an Augustinian theory of sports and games. Although the innovations of Abelard led to its losing what little repute it had earned even by the beginning of the 12th century, it did leave one curious relic in English. Leofwulf classified sports and games by the extent to which they rewarded intelligence and athleticism, and pointed out that between games requiring even a modicum of intelligence and those demanding even a modicum of athleticism was a vast gulf of theoretically possible activities requiring and rewarding neither intelligence nor athleticism; as a result, his term “gulf” has ever since been applied to the prototypical such activity, golf.

From A Hooligan’s Guide to Historical Detroit, Where the Weak Are Killed and Eaten:

An unfortunate married couple from New York City, unaware of the general level of ruffianism required of any and all denizens of Detroit, thought nothing of booing and heckling an all-male troupe performing Λυσιστράτη. After the performance, the troupe/gang accosted the play-goers, knocking them to the ground and kicking them viciously. The main attacker jibed, “How about I boo your face?” before kicking the pair repeatedly in the indicated area. Other hoodlums, watching the carnage, chanted “Boo it! Boo it!” The chant caught on, and eventually became the name of the heavy footwear used in such savagery.

From The Linguistic Impact of the Hundred Years War:

...but some peasants refused to take up their bows, and stayed behind to mind the cattle. These were known as cowherds.

From Matrimony on the MenuLove, Lust, and Foodstuffs:

In many parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, parental consent was necessary for marriage. As is usually the case, true love was not willing to be forced into such straits (never mind many varieties of not-so-true love), so a wide variety of customs arose by which the woman would signal to her suitor whether she agreed to his plans. The most intriguing was a system of signals involving fruit that arose in the south of France, a system so evocative and charming that parts of it have entered the language to this day. If the woman agreed to run off and get married, she would put out a green melon (the origin of the green light in traffic signals), hence the name “Honey, do!” melon. On the other hand, if she decided not to get married on the sly, she would put out an orange melon, hence the name “can’t elope” for such melons. Finally, if the suitor so offended her with his attentions that she wished him to leave her alone in the future, she would put out the fruit now named for its message, “Man, go!”

From The Swell Fella’s Guide to Getting Copacetically Middle Aisled:

So you’re carrying a torch for this flapper, and while she’s the bee’s knees and all you aren’t sure if you’re ready to middle aisle it with her. Horsefeathers! Unless she’s a gold digging dame looking for a daddy, she’ll stay with you like a one-legged woman stays with her crutch. Those ivory tower types even got a fancy name for behaving all one-legged-like: mono-gam-ous.

From The Encyclopedia of Israeli Place Names:

Although credit for the invention of the telephone is traditionally attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, in fact the device has Middle Eastern origins. The first device that allowed long-distance transmission of speech consisted of two jars of baked clay, connected by several hundred metres of twisted papyrus cord, and was excavated by archeologists at the site Tel F1 in 1928. Orthographic indeterminacy of the form “tel f one” resulted in the modern term.

From The Big Book of Traffic Safety:

Dominique Montpelier was a well-liked traffic safety inspector in 1890s Vermont who was flattened one otherwise fine August day by a horse-drawn steamroller that escaped its security shackles. This was such an unexpected occurrence that the phrase “like the time that steamroller ran Dominique down” came to refer to similar unforeseeable events. Eventually, the expression was shortened, as in, “that was a ‘ran Dom’ event!”. Claims that the capital city were named after him are considered apocryphal.

From A History of Hauntings:

Ghosts are most frequently seen on licensed premises. It has frequently been found that the stronger the drink a person favors, the more likely he is to report a supernatural encounterso much so that the strongest drinks are now known as “spirits”.

From The Book of Diachronicals:

And in those days, there was drought, and great famine in the land. And Joseph bar Becu went unto the Temple, and there made burnt offerings, so that the Lord might send rain upon the Earth.

From InternEtymology: The Origins of WebSpeak and ComputerEse:

It is well-known that the words “net” and “trolling” originate from the world of fishing, but so do many other items of online jargon. In the fishing communities of Medieval England, there were some who were fixated on the goal of developing better fishing lures. They would spend very little time actually fishing, and would often hang around on the margins of fishing meetups, not participating but only quietly watching others to see what kinds of lures they were using. These folks were called “lure-carers,” which over time became corrupted into “lurker” and came to refer to anyone who observes a discussion group without getting involved.

More to come...

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SpecGram Vol CLXXXII, No 1 Contents