Overheard in the Lounge—“Occam’s Bolt Cutters”—The SpecGram Busybody Elves™ SpecGram Vol CLXXXIII, No 2 Contents Tenure Case—Assistant Professor Marvin Allen Studebaker

Ockhamian Etymologies:
The Mysteries of English Unraveled with William of Ockham

Diddles McGraw, the Viscount Average,
Lecturer in Okhamian Poetics

Item #213: OK

There are a multiplicity of etymologies out there for that most international of English words, OK. Some trace it to okey-dokey, others to the state of Oklahoma. The most likely etymology, however, is down to our familiar Franciscan friend, William of Ockham.

In his desire to keep language as parsimonious as possible, William of Ockham periodically reduced all the lexemes in his idiolect to one sole form Ockham. If people asked him where he was from, he’d proudly reply “Ockham.” However, when the abbot asked him what he wanted for tea, he’d also answer “Ockham.”

Most of the time this led to confusion. However, when meaning yes, William would, with the rest of us, nod his holy balding head and reply “Ockham.” This is the one that stuck. Beginning in Ockham and then spreading rapidly through the monastery system of Europe, monks of all persuasions started using Ockham for yes.

And the rest is sociolinguistic history. Through well understood processes of social diffusion such as the social diffusion model, Ockham diffused itself throughout the whole of European society such that by the time Mary I of England married Philip of Spain, Ockham had even begun to replace Spanish sí.

Finally, in a twist of fate worthy of William himself, Ockham was reduced to simply Ock and then modified to Ock-hey finally becoming OK by the time of the Crimean War. Florence Nightingale’s diaries attest to this form being well established in the speech of the nursing corps she created.

And that’s the Ockhamian etymology of OK!

Item #453: Ockham’s Trouser

Have you ever found yourself wondering why the English word for the leg-length overgarment, trousers, is inherently plural despite referring to only one item? If you are like me, and this has been keeping you up for years, here’s the explanation.

What we call “trousers” were first brought over to the UK from Rome by William of Ockham in 1321. Created originally by an itinerant Greek minstrel and patisserie entrepreneur, Patrou Xer, the “trouzer” did at first cover both legs. However, being a parsimonious fellow, Baldly Bill, as he was affectionately known by his friends (a.k.a. the Franciscan Fellows), chose to divide his trouzer in half and wear it on only one leg (MonWed, the left; ThurSat, the right with Sunday trouzerless for the Lord).

Of course, the trouzer soon took off in Ockham and spread swiftly to the surrounding villages of Brockham, Stockham, New Knockham and Kensington-under-Lyme-on-the-Wirral. But those who adopted the trouzer, being of an unfortunately unparsimonious disposition, soon reduplicated Ockham’s single trouzer, thus creating the “trousers” which we know and love today.

Overheard in the Lounge“Occam’s Bolt Cutters”The SpecGram Busybody Elves™
Tenure CaseAssistant Professor Marvin Allen Studebaker
SpecGram Vol CLXXXIII, No 2 Contents