This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Nuts and Bolts: hobson-jobson.

Hobson-jobson is a rather nice example of an autological word, ie one that's an example of its own meaning (no, it's all right, it's not complicated: the autological word short is indeed short, for example, the word polysyllabic is polysyllabic, and the word readable is...yep, that's it, you've got it).

Anyway, hobson-jobson is a term for something also sometimes called folk entomology, which is what happens when people misunderstand the derivation of a word and 'correct' it to make a new one.

So we get words like artichoke, from the Italian articiocco, presumably because if you try eating the flowery bit inside a globe artichoke you are indeed quite likely to choke on it; sparrowgrass instead of asparagus, because the stuff does look quite like grass; and the word belfry, which started off as the Old French berfroi, a watch tower equipped with bells for raising the alarm, which led people to assume the ber bit really should be bel.

You'll come across examples of hobson-jobson all the time if you have young children about the place. One of my daughters, when small, used to call dock leaves doctor leaves, for instance, because they were used for soothing nettle stings.

I think it's all terrific, myself.

Nuts and Bolts: hobson-jobson. This word comes from the Arabic yā Hasan! yā Husayn! a ritual lament for the grandsons of the prophet Mohammed, influenced by the English surnames.

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