This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Nuts and Bolts: false splitting.

Now, is there anything anywhere tidier than an apple pie?

Er...well, yes, actually. More or less everything. that case what's that apple pie order thing all about?

Well, it's about folded napkins. Not that you usually find folded napkins in apple pies, but the French phrase nappes-pliées, folded linen, has been rather beautifully mangled by English speakers into an apple pie.

It's the word an which caused the trouble. The thing is, you can't tell by listening if someone's saying a napron, for instance, or an apron.
(Originally they were saying a napron as a matter of fact, but, hey, it's too late to do anything about it now. An apron has won.)

The same thing has happened with nuncle, which is now uncle, numpire (umpire) and naitch (as in aitch bone. That's from the Latin nares, meaning buttock).

It's happened the other way round (with the n being transferred from the an to the main word) with ewt and ekename (nickname). And nag, as well, which is from the Swedish word ög.

Neds and Nellies were originally Eds and Ellies, too.

Word To Use Today: I really think nuncle is due for a comeback.

And possibly ewt, too!


  1. Folded napkins in French eh?? Fascinating stuff. Much better than the Marie est malade/marmalade thing which turned out not to be true anyway.

  2. I'd always wondered why an apple-pie bed was so called. I need wonder no more.


All comments are very welcome, but please make them suitable for The Word Den's family audience.