CRENATE.

Last year, I posted about morion, which “is from a Latin word morion that is a misreading of Pliny’s mormorion. I wrote here about collimate, from an erroneous reading of Latin collineare; I wonder if there is a list somewhere of words with similar histories?” I still haven’t seen such a list, but I just ran across a similar case in my new AHD, Fifth Edition: crenate, “Having a margin with low, rounded or scalloped projections,” is from “Late Medieval Latin crēna, notch, from a reading of an uncertain Latin word in a corrupt passage in Pliny the Elder (influenced by Old French cren, notch).” How does Pliny keep getting mixed up in these things?

Comments

  1. ‘Grampian’, as in the mountains, is said to be a misreading, isn’t it?

  2. Scandinavia, where the first n is a perpetuated typo.
    Here’s an 1882 book called Folk-etymology: a dictionary of verbal corruptions or words perverted in form or meaning, by false derivation or mistaken analogy, by one Abraham Smythe Palmer. I haven’t been able to check the entries carefully yet: maybe next week. It’s out of copyright and so available as a full PDF. Most of the entries are surely instances of normal folk etymology, but there may be some that are misreadings or other corruptions through writing.

  3. A nice example is poetry, from the Latin poetria = female poet.
    According to Wills, Latin Textual Criticism, a line in the encyclopedia of Martianus Capella which has now been emended to read an te poetriam fecit cholera “so your anger has made you a poetess” was corrupted in in medieval texts, and the corrupted text seemed to use poetria as a word meaning poesy.
    The fad in the 19th century for using the “correct” word poesy started from the realization of what the correct text of Martianus Capella actually said..

  4. Martianus Capella, dammit, and criticism, and missing close italics.

  5. I have a reprint of the book to which John Cowan refers from before digitization. I think that’s right that it’s mostly normal folk etymologies, though there are a handful of misreadings, like Iona. The entries on analogical spellings like connection read more like pet peeves.

  6. My favorite of such words in the AHD is the word “cycad”. I was able to make a few improvements to this etymology in the 5th edition. The word “abutilon” also offers a misreading within Arabic–the journey from the medieval scientific Arabic ʾawbūṭīlūn ( اوبوطيلون ) from Syriac ʾarqṭīʾūn might have involved a misreading of a rā’ as a wāw (and perhaps an ʾalif as a lām?) along the way?

  7. How does Pliny keep getting mixed up in these things?
    My guess is that it’s because the Natural History is full of unfamiliar names of unfamiliar things, and everybody read it who was anybody. According to this brief description of the medieval German translation held by the Deutsches Museum, the extent of its literary reception over almost 2000 years may be exceeded only by that of the bible.
    As a result, many expressions from the bible and the Natural History now litter literate speech, like addito salis grano. Two posts ago, you used a quote from Pliny: “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam !”.
    Due to television, certain expressions from The Simpsons have not had to wait 2000 years before they became quotable quotes. There is still controversy, however, over correct readings: is it “Doh!” or “Duh!” ?

  8. And anyway it’s not “Pliny”, it’s Pilny.

  9. Charles Perry says:

    It has been speculated that Middle English graue/grauey “gravy” is a misreading, easy enough to make in Gothic script, of grané, from Old French graine “meat.”
    Patriarchy has been interpreted as rule by fathers, thus by men, but πατριάρχης just means “head of a clan.” It’s derived from πατριά, not from πατήρ. I don’t know whether Johann Jakob Bachofen was the first to make this mistake when he coined the word matriarchy.

  10. Charles Perry: but πατριάρχης just means “head of a clan.” It’s derived from πατριά, not from πατήρ.
    But surely πατριά and πατήρ are not unrelated ? By what criteria are etymology and meaning supposed to be so sharply separable ? Even if πατριάρχης could be shown to have “meant” female head of a clan in certain contexts, would that be any different from chairman “meaning” charwoman in certain contexts today ? The gender-benders of the ’70s did not accept that argument – but then probably few of them were etymologists.

  11. But surely πατριά and πατήρ are not unrelated ?
    No, they’re not; what does that have to do with the price of sole in Dover?
    By what criteria are etymology and meaning supposed to be so sharply separable ?
    By any criteria other than your radical “everything you know is wrong, and science is mystification” attitude.

  12. Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia is one of the most entertaining and glorious books on my bookshelf.

  13. As far as I can tell, Bachofen did not in fact coin the word matriarchy or anything like it. The title of his 1861 book is Das Mutterrecht: Eine Untersuchung über die Gynaikokratie der alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen und rechtlichen Natur. Indeed, though the word Matriarchismus is known in German, it seems to be extremely rare, with Google reporting only 932 hits, none of them this book; by comparison, there are 227,000 hits for Mutterrecht.
    In English, the first OED2/3 quotation is from the 21 March 1885 issue of the Athenæum: “Mr. J. W. Redhouse made a few remarks with reference to a paper he has prepared for the Journal of the Society…’On Matriarchy, or Mother Right’.” Ten years later, Hardy is using the word in Jude the Obscure.
    In any case, patriarchy in the relevant sense has a curious history in English: Francis Bacon in his speech in Calvin’s Case says “The first [state] is Paternity or Patriarchy, which was when a family growing so great as it could not containe it selfe within one habitation, some branches of the descendents were forced to plant themselves into new families”, and another use is recorded in 1632, but then the sense vanishes from the English record until 1855. The OED believes it was “apparently re-formed in the 19th cent.; compare French patriarchie“.

  14. your radical “everything you know is wrong, and science is mystification” attitude
    ?? I have never even remotely suggested that I believe such a thing. And just to be clear: I don’t believe such a thing. Could you cite an example of something I have written that supports such an interpretation ?
    Have you too jumped on that bandwagon of discovering what people really think, despite what they say ? I occasionally knock icons around to see how they hold up, but that doesn’t amount to undermining civilization as we know it.
    My question here is this: if πατριάρχης derives from πατριά, and πατριά from πατήρ, and πατήρ means father – then how is it that πατριάρχης does not involve the idea of men being the heads of clan ? Especially since (as I assume) only men were in fact heads of clans in ancient Greek history, and the very notion of women being the heads of clans was inconceivable, or at least hidden behind πατριάρχης like the notion of a female chair is hidden behind “chairman”.

  15. @Grumbly
    The canonical reading is ‘D’oh’:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D'oh!

  16. MattF: The canonical reading is ‘D’oh’
    D’oh ! I’ve never heard the Simpsons in English, only in German. Is the “‘” some kind of stop ?

  17. JC: though the word Matriarchismus is known in German, it seems to be extremely rare
    The standard word in this connection is Matriarchat. All of Matriarchin, matriarchal, matriarchalisch are attested in Duden, but not Matriarchismus or Matriarchie – although I think I have encountered the last two from time to time in my reading. Similarly, Patriarchat is used, not Patriarchie.

  18. chairman “meaning” charwoman in certain contexts
    Excellent typo!
    “Doh!” or “Duh!”
    “Duh” is an unrelated word, meaning (in so far as words can be said to “mean” anything) approximately “everybody knows that, you idiot!”.

  19. “Duh” is an unrelated word
    But I thought “D’oh” is what Homer says to himself, meaning “Duh” ? Somehow none of this comes across in German. Whatever the sound is that he makes in the dubbed series, it doesn’t stand out with iconic clarity.
    I just remembered that I did in fact briefly hear the voices of Marge and Homer in English, long ago – hers whiskey-soaked, his so stupid-sounding that I experienced an access of pity. Unfortunately it was a “D’oh”-less sound bite.
    I suppose I must have recourse to youtube.

  20. The Washington Post runs a jokey contest every week (the Style Invitational), which asks readers to come up with humorous, witty, thigh-slapping responses to a variety of silly puzzles. One competition was to rewrite a classic phrase of your choosing in a way that would make sense to young people. The winner:
    “We hold these truths to be, like, duh!”

  21. ?? I have never even remotely suggested that I believe such a thing.
    My apologies, then; it was my summary of what I took to be your attitude based on many, many comments suggesting that something someone else has said is only based on authority, or doesn’t make sense based on your philosophical outlook, or whatever. You seemed to me to have an attitude of radical skepticism and refusal to accept anything science (in this case linguistics) has to say. I suppose it’s just your contrarianism and sense of play.
    if πατριάρχης derives from πατριά, and πατριά from πατήρ, and πατήρ means father – then how is it that πατριάρχης does not involve the idea of men being the heads of clan ?
    If whiskey derives from uisce beatha, and uisce beatha means ‘water of life,’ then how is it that whiskey does not involve the idea of water or that of life? I’m quite sure you’ve been repeatedly exposed around here to the idea that etymology does not determine meaning.

  22. whiskey … the idea that etymology does not determine meaning
    Yes, I know it doesn’t, and whiskey is a nice example. In fact I did ask what criteria there are for clearly separating etymological assumptions from assumptions about meaning. Maybe the question is too crudely put, and doesn’t have a simple answer – but it by no means amounts to denying separability.
    What I am assuming – and I may be wrong in this – is that the Greek words in question were contemporaneous with each other, and that cotemporal Greeks would not have balked at a suggestion that the πατρ- bits had (socially) related meanings in each word: father, elder, head-of-family. Is this true or not ?
    What I wrote is analogic guesswork based on German, not because I know more than zilch about Greek etymology. The three Greek words seemed similar to Vaterland, Vater, Vaterrecht. But one can guess wrong about these things: the maul- occurrences in Maulwurf and Maulsperre have different origins and meanings.
    Charles Perry above wrote:

    Patriarchy has been interpreted as rule by fathers, thus by men, but πατριάρχης just means “head of a clan.”

    This is, among other things, a statement to the effect that opinions differ as to what πατριάρχης means. It’s all very well to add the little word “just” here. I’m sure those who think differently would meet that “just” and raise.
    Such pronouncement-poker doesn’t help the ignernt reader to understand what’s going on. Of course I myself am not above adding that little word “just” when I claim that a German expression “just means” X … Whenever challenged, for instance by David M, I have always followed up with evidence in support of my claim – and sometimes I have had to back down.
    I would expect that evidence as to the meaning of πατριάρχης would be easy to provide, since the Greek corpus is überschaubar, at least when you have spent 40 years or so working on it.
    Is it not clear from the respective occurrences of πατριάρχης in Greek texts when an abstractum – “rule by men” – was meant, and when a person – “head of a clan” ?

  23. For what it’s worth: πατριάρχης = “head of a clan” sounds convincing to me, though I don’t know why and in any case am in no position to judge of. But still, what about the πατρ- bit there ? Is it meaningless filler like “junk DNA”, or does it mean something completely different, say “blueberries” ?

  24. by the way, I have read that the notion of “junk DNA” has been cast on the junkheap, not 15-20 years after its heyday. It has been found to play a role in keeping certain things/processes far apart from each other, at certain points in time.

  25. Charles Perry above wrote:
      
    Patriarchy has been interpreted as rule by fathers, thus by men, but πατριάρχης just means “head of a clan.”
    This is, among other things, a statement to the effect that opinions differ as to what πατριάρχης means.
    No, it’s not that at all; you have not read carefully. Patriarchy (the English word) has been interpreted as rule by fathers, but πατριάρχης (the Greek word) just means “head of a clan.” No ifs, ands, or buts, that’s what it means.
    As to the mental Venn diagrams of the ancient Greeks, we will never know for sure, but I assume they would have had a sense that the words were related in some way, but they had a very strange (to modern eyes) sense of how words were related; Plato is full of bizarre “etymologies” and comparisons.

  26. You’re right, I didn’t read carefully. I see now that I tripped over the slightly odd formulation: “Patriarchy has been interpreted as rule by fathers …”. I assumed that the familiar English word “patriarchy”, having been cobbled together from Greek bits precisely in order to mean “rule by fathers”, was in no need of interpretation for English speakers. Ergo any interpretation needed would have to be for πατριάρχης.
    Lacking an OED, I can only imagine the additional possibility that “patriarchy” was not cobbled together, but was an Englishing of a misinterpreted πατριάρχης.

  27. Or an Englishing, later misunderstood, of an originally correct understanding of πατριάρχης.
    I was also confused by the claim that “it’s derived from πατριά, not from πατήρ” – as if πατριά were not derived from πατήρ, derivations being transitive.

  28. Charles Perry says:

    Well, a lot of comments on patriarchy. What was really on my mind was that whoever coined the word “matriarchy” was quite innocent of Greek.
    Another spelling error of a foody character: Anna Martellotti proposes in Il Liber de Ferculis that “aspic” derives from fumbling medieval attempts to Latinize the Arabic dish name al-sikbaj, such as assicpicium. (Recipes were sometimes translated in the course of studying Saracen medical texts.) Sikbaj gave rise to Spanish escabeche, which is a cold dish of fish or vegetables in vinegar; the medieval Arab recipes are for lamb, and they come out inedibly sour — unless you let them get cold and form a tart jelly; an aspic.
    She convinces me. The spelling aspic looks like a cross between a misreading and a folk etymology (a rather strained one connecting a jelly with a sort of snake).

  29. connecting a jelly with a sort of snake
    By way of apology, I can offer you a box of sour blue snakeskin jellies.

  30. The historically primary meaning of patriarchy in English is as a synonym of patriarchate, normally in the sense of a partriarch’s see, rarely in the sense of his residence, his staff of subordinates, his position, or his jurisdiction. Patriarch itself, which goes back to early Old English times, is borrowed directly from Ecclesiastical Latin (and thence from Greek). It was surely used in the first place by analogy between the head of an autonomous particular church and the head of a clan.
    The meaning which we have been discussing, now the most usual one, was clearly “cobbled together” on two separate occasions, once in the 17th century and once in the 19th. In the latter case, at least, it was paralleled or slightly preceded by its French equivalent, and perhaps equivalents in other languages as well.

  31. And then there’s “ginkgo”, which comes from a misreading of Japanese.

  32. But I thought “D’oh” is what Homer says to himself, meaning “Duh”?
    Azulno, the correct spelling of ‘D’oh’ is ‘(annoyed grunt)’; YCLIU. It does not mean ‘duh’ in the sense of ‘that’s obvious’, though it sometimes means ‘that was stupid of me’.

  33. Two words well known, whose etymologies seem to have been a misunderstanding, are kangaroo and orangutan.

  34. I’ve heard Matt Groening took “D’oh!” from his own father, who’d start to say “Damn!,” then catch himself and substitute “Oh!”

  35. What was really on my mind was that whoever coined the word “matriarchy” was quite innocent of Greek.
    Well, yes and no. Without looking at the evidence, you can’t tell which English (or French or other modern language) words are actually borrowed from Greek and Latin and which ones were invented in English or another modern language and then borrowed into English. It’s not obvious, for example, that osteoporosis does not reflect an underlying Greek word *ὀστεοπόρωσις, but was devised in French in the form ostéoporose in the early 19th century, passed swiftly into German as Osteoporosis (now replaced, says the OED, by Osteoporose), and thence into English in 1841.
    Per contra, if you told an educated Greek of the Classical era that on a large island in the River Okeanos there dwelt a group of barbarians who traced their ancestry through their mothers, I think he would have had no trouble coining or understanding the word ματριάρχης to refer to the heads of their clans.

  36. More esoterically, the neo-Latin name of a genus of large and endangered freshwater turtles, Rafetus, apparently comes from a misreading, by a British Museum zoologist, of rafcht – which was a French naturalist’s transcription of a (vernacular?) Arabic name for the “original” species of the genus, ar-rafsh, apparently meaning “spade”.

  37. Per contra, if you told an educated Greek of the Classical era that on a large island in the River Okeanos there dwelt a group of barbarians who traced their ancestry through their mothers, I think he would have had no trouble coining or understanding the word ματριάρχης to refer to the heads of their clans.
    Surely either ματριάρχας or μητριάρχης, depending on dialect.

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