Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends

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Oxford University Press, USA, Dec 2, 2004 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 221 pages
3 Reviews
Do you "know" that posh comes from an acronym meaning "port out, starboard home"? That "the whole nine yards" comes from (pick one) the length of a WWII gunner's belt; the amount of fabric needed to make a kilt; a sarcastic football expression? That Chicago is called "The Windy City" because of the bloviating habits of its politicians, and not the breeze off the lake?If so, you need this book. David Wilton debunks the most persistently wrong word histories, and gives, to the best of our actual knowledge, the real stories behind these perennially mis-etymologized words.In addition, he explains why these wrong stories are created, disseminated, and persist, even after being corrected time and time again. What makes us cling to these stories, when the truth behind these words and phrases is available, for the most part, at any library or on the Internet?Arranged by chapters, this book avoids a dry A-Z format. Chapters separate misetymologies by kind, including The Perils of Political Correctness (picnics have nothing to do with lynchings), Posh, Phat Pommies (the problems of bacronyming--the desire to make every word into an acronym), and CANOE (which stands for the Conspiracy to Attribute Nautical Origins to Everything).Word Myths corrects long-held and far-flung examples of wrong etymologies, without taking the fun out of etymology itself. It's the best of both worlds: not only do you learn the many wrong stories behind these words, you also learn why and how they are created--and what the real story is.

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User Review  - rampaginglibrarian - LibraryThing

Urban legends for the entymologist. In some ways its kind of depressing to learn that those cute little stories you always heard were false but you get to learn new ones. Read full review

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Mr Wilton is right that JFK made NO mistake about jelly doughnuts. All the Berliners at the 1963 speech understood him perfectly. A German-English & English-German professional translator-interpreter who was there told me so. And no one laughed, as some have imagined. At the Goethe Institute in Chicago on the evening of 14 November 1988 I heard a man say, when asked if he was a member of the Chicago German Translators Forum “Nein. Ich bin nur ein Gast hier; ich bin nur Gast.” He unhesitatingly used BOTH constructions, with and without article. Both are used. Both are correct. English does not have both constructions. We have “I’m a guest here”, but not “I am guest here”. English-speakers beginning to learn German are struck by the German construction without the article “ein” and over-generalize that the style with article is wrong. Not so. The differences are subtle. “Ich bin ein Berliner” can imply pride or brashness, like “I’m from Texas!”. “Ich bin Berliner” can be said by (a) native or adopted son and has a less rambunctious air. 


1 Debunking the Big Boys
2 The Elizabethan Email Hoax
3 Posh Phat Pommies
4 Canoe
5 Hookers Harlots and Condoms
6 The Perils of Political Correctness
7 Wax Tadpoles and Jelly Doughnuts
Selected Annotated Bibliography

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About the author (2004)

David Wilton, a writer, lives in California. He runs the popular website Wordorigins.org.

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