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Etymology gleanings for 2019

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Amateur etymologists and a golden key I agree: no voice should be silenced, but it does not follow that every voice deserves equal respect. I called the previous two posts “Etymology and Delusion” and deliberately did not emphasize such words as madness, lunacy, and derangement, for perfectly normal people can also be deluded. In etymology, the line separating amateurs from professionals is in most cases easy to draw. Amateurs tend to discover a single key to all problems. They begin by refuting what they call dogma, concentrate on some one factor that, in their opinion, holds out great promise, and treat with disdain the professionals who cling to their petty, porous hypotheses and fail to see the forest for the trees. The dogma may indeed be wrong, but this circumstance does not make the opposing view correct. Moreover, the weakness of the scholarly consensus is its main strength. By contrast, revolutionary counter-theories are not falsifiable, and that circumstance dooms them. In the posts, I cited a few daring proposals. All English idioms, we were told, go back to some lost Low Saxon dialect. Or the source of all English words is Irish (Arabic, Hebrew, Latin—you name it). According to a brilliant theory, all words of all languages derive from the roots sal, ben, yon, rosh. Conversely, the underlying concept of all words was said to be “earth.” Indeed, why not? Since all such hypotheses appear to be equally convincing, they cancel one another out. An etymology worthy of consideration usually seldom goes far enough. An amateur has no knowledge of the mountain of articles and books devoted to the history of every word, be it Boche  or kibosh, and sees no use in studying them, for in his mind their fallacy is a given. Details don’t bother him. (Excuse my pronoun: I am not aware of any woman among the characters I have discussed.) Similar situations also occur in other spheres of knowledge. For instance, many people insist that Shakespeare is not the author of the. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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