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Metanalysis anyone?

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3454.  Thu Dec 18, 2003 8:10 am Reply with quote

Junctural metanalysis is where the boundaries of words are confused to produce new words.

For example, ‘a napron’ has turned into ‘an apron’ over the years. Looking at the original form we can see a relationship between ‘napron’ and other ‘cloth’ words such as ‘nappy’, ‘nap’, and ‘napery’.

Another quite well known example is ‘an ewt’ which became ‘a newt’, the word 'ewt' deriving from the OE ‘eveta’.

‘Nickname’ is also derived from the same process, the original being ‘eke-name’. In the past ‘eke’ meant ‘extra’ so if you ‘eked something out’ you diluted it in some way, added to it to make it last longer. These days when we 'eke-out' we use less of the original to make it last.

Other examples I’ve come across are;

Adder - was naddre
Naddre was the ME for ‘snake’ and related to the Old Norse ‘nathre’.

Apple - was napple?
I can find no evidence for this one.

Auger - was nauger
Nauger was derived from the OE ‘nafugar’ which was a ‘nave spear’ a tool used to bore holes in the hubs of wheels for the insertion of spokes. Interestingly ‘nafu’ meant ‘centre’ and gives us ‘navel’.

Eyas – was neyas.
An eyas is a nestling falcon. The original was ‘nyas’ from the OF ‘niais’ meaning ‘nestling’ and related to the L. 'nidus' meaning ‘nest’.

Aitchbone – was nache-bone
The Aitchbone is a cows rump bone i.e. the floor of its pelvis. ‘Nache’ is derived from the OF for ‘buttock.’

Orange – was narangah
Narangah is actually a Sanskrit word that came to English via Persian and Arabic. It's thought the ‘n’ was first lost in France, the word in Old Provencal being ‘auranja’. The original survives in Spanish where an orange is a ‘Naraja’.

Umpire – was Noumpere
Noumpere was a French word derived from the OF ‘nomper’ meaning ‘not of a pair’, i.e. one without equal, or peer.

Any others?

Apparently junctural metanalysis is the scourge of linguists trying to make sense of epic poetry. Here constant repetition over the centuries had blended many adjacent words into gibberish.

3456.  Thu Dec 18, 2003 10:32 am Reply with quote

I knew nadder, napron and norange, but the others are new to me. Thanks Steve.

I think apple is probably not one of these words. According to my dictionary it's from the ME aepel, and was also used to apply to anything round (like an eyeball for example). In Latin it's pomum, in French it's pomme and in German it's Apfel, and I can't think of a language in which it begins with n, although the Latin name for an apple tree is malus.

3490.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 2:25 pm Reply with quote

I'm told that the origin of 'pissed as a newt', always a curious image, is 'pissed as an Inuit', them lacking that enzyme which lets the rest of us stay at the scoops all evening.

3494.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 3:35 pm Reply with quote

That sounds a bit urban mythish to me, hardie:

Source: The Collins English Dictionary © 2000 HarperCollins Publishers:

newt [njuːt]
1 any of various small semiaquatic urodele amphibians, such as Triturus vulgaris (common newt) of Europe, having a long slender body and tail and short feeble legs

2 (Chiefly Brit) any other urodele amphibian, including the salamanders
[ETYMOLOGY: 15th Century: from a newt, a mistaken division of an ewt; ewt, from Old English eveta eft1]

3499.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:12 pm Reply with quote

Would this be the same stable as the variation between English/ Anglo-Saxon W and Norman/ French GU as in ward/ guard, William/ Guillaume, warranty/ guarantee?

3501.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:59 pm Reply with quote

Don't know Frances, being linguistically fairly ignorant.

I do remember learning about the f/p, z/t and d/th shifts from the Germanic languages to English though, which is an interesting one.


Pfeffer = pepper

Pflaum = plum

Pfirsch = peach

Apfel = apple


Zug = train (but think of tug)

zehn = ten


dick = fat ('thick')

der/die = the

diese = these

denn = then

There are a lot more than these of course.

3502.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 6:37 pm Reply with quote

Hold on Jenny, this is absolutely true about the Inuits and alcohol. The phrase was in common use among Canadian troops during WW2.

3503.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 6:38 pm Reply with quote

A tad, if not entirely, off-topic - but this is QI, where the obtuse is required: Have heard tell that the word 'ghost' was originally spelt 'gost' but received its aitch because of a typesetting error by one of the inkies employed by Mr Caxton.

Further to which I offer you the word 'scrotnig'. Discuss, destroy and refure...

3504.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 6:41 pm Reply with quote

...or even refute

3512.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 7:35 pm Reply with quote

The phrase was in common use among Canadian troops during WW2.

Well well, you live and you learn... but was that the first time the phrase was used? I must admit I'd always wondered what newts had done to deserve the reputation for drunkenness.

3514.  Fri Dec 19, 2003 7:41 pm Reply with quote

I'll refure you to dredge, where it appears that Scrotnig is a font. This information courtesy of Google, which is of course the font of all wisdom.

Thank you for the ghost/gost thing, which sent me chasing after spelling origins. This website - - agrees with you on that issue and tells us:

A Dutch influence from Caxton, the first English printer, who was born in England but lived in Holland for thirty years, gave us such spellings as ghost (which replaced gost) and ghastly (which replaced gastlic).

Follow the link for other interesting insights into spelling origins.

3542.  Sat Dec 20, 2003 6:11 am Reply with quote

hardie wrote:
I'm told that the origin of 'pissed as a newt', always a curious image, is 'pissed as an Inuit', them lacking that enzyme which lets the rest of us stay at the scoops all evening.

I would have thought that WWII Canadians would have called Inuits, Eskimos, but it’s true to say that certain racial groups have a low tolerance to alcohol.

There’s a gene that helps the human body to cope with the poisonous after-effects of booze. This gene is not found in primates and has a very high incidence amongst Europeans.

The theory is, that when people came together to live in towns and cities people without this gene had terrible hangovers after drinking beer and wine so they turned to water. In a large community the water supply was generally impure so people drinking plain water often died as a result. The alcohol in beer and wine acts as a disinfectant killing any nasties the water, therefore natural selection favoured the light drinker over the teetotaller.

Interestingly the incidence of this gene is far lower in China. Here it’s thought that a very old culture of tea-drinking (using boiled water) gave the non-drinker a hygienic alternative to alcoholic beverages.

It’s also been suggested that there’s a link between the dawn of civilisation and booze. According to some the early agrarian communities of the Middle East developed to grow a surplus of crops (far more than could ever eat) specifically for use in brewing.

All the above appeared in a Scientific American article some years ago.

3543.  Sat Dec 20, 2003 6:18 am Reply with quote

natural selection favoured the light drinker over the teetotaller

My uninformed intuition was that evolutionary processes take far longer than this implies. In the absence of deliberate selective breeding, evolutionary time functions over thousands or tens of thousands of years, doesn't it?

But if Scientific American says different ...

3544.  Sat Dec 20, 2003 7:33 am Reply with quote

I've been told, I don't know how reliably, that Europeans used alcohol to sterilise containers but in east asia they used tea, and that is in some way connected with the arrival of tea in Europe. can't find confirmation anywhere, though

3548.  Sat Dec 20, 2003 11:10 am Reply with quote

I think natural selection could operate over a shorter span than tens of thousands of years. Isn't there a greater incidence of dark-coloured moths in areas where the Industrial Revolution darkened the landscape and light-coloured moths would stand out? A couple of thousand years ought to make a difference to a small detail like alcohol tolerance surely, as it's not a major alteration of the human form.


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