Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Jul 30, 2001
This week's theme
Words evolved using folk etymologies

This week's words
chaise longue

Make a gift that
keeps on giving, all year long
A gift subscription of AWAD
It takes less than a minute.
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share
with Anu Garg

A mailing titled "Life in the 1500's" has been making the rounds of the Internet for quite some time. This piece of creative writing purports to depict life at the time of Shakespeare and his wife Ann Hathaway to explain the origins of many popular idioms. While this forwarded mail makes fascinating reading (but the first time only) it is simply a product of some netter's wild imagination. It's a shining example of folk etymologies: popular stories about the origins of words that sound convincing but aren't true.

On the other hand, there are cases when a mistaken assumption about the origin or meaning of a word does result in a change in its form. The word shamefaced evolved from Middle English shamefast (meaning modest, or shy) and had nothing to do with face. The similarity of pronunciations of fast and faced made some mistake the sound and we got shamefaced. Another example of an interesting derivation by folk etymology is the term forlorn hope. It was transformed from the Dutch verloren hoop, literally, lost troop. This week's AWAD shows other examples.

humble pie

Pronunciation RealAudio

humble pie (HUM-buhl pi) noun

Humiliation in the form of apology or retraction. Often used in the phrase "to eat humble pie".

[From the phrase, an umble pie, transformed by folk etymology by resemblance to the word humble. The phrase "an umble pie" itself was made by false splitting from "a numble pie". Numbles or nombles are edible animal entrails. The words came to us from Latin via French.]

"TVNZ's highest-paid broadcaster Paul Holmes ate humble pie today and apologised for his criticism of TVNZ chairman Ross Armstrong."
Holmes Eats Humble Pie, The Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), Feb 13, 2001.

"Mr. Ivester's apology stopped short of admitting liability; Coca-Cola also released a toxicology report that suggested something else must have caused the symptoms. That made Coke's apology a more limited serving of humble pie than other corporate leaders have had to dish out. In Japan, executives not only apologize publicly but also personally, to each person harmed in incidents."
Constance L. Hays, Coca-Cola Hopes Things Go Better With 'Sorry', The New York Times, Jun 27, 1999.


What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. -Crowfoot, Native American warrior and orator (1821-1890)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2022 Wordsmith