False Etymologies

pluck yew by Slug Signorino

There are numerous fallacious ideas and beliefs about the origins (or etymologies) of common English words. The word ‘fuck’ did not originate in Christianized Anglo-Saxon England as an acronym of ‘Fornication Under Consent of King’; nor did it originate as an acronym of ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,’ either as a sign posted above adulterers in the stocks, or as a criminal charge against members of the British Armed Forces; nor did it originate during the 15th-century Battle of Agincourt as a corruption of ‘pluck yew’ (an idiom falsely attributed to the English for drawing a longbow).

Modern English was not spoken until the 16th century, and words such as ‘fornication’ and ‘consent’ did not exist in any form in English until the influence of Anglo-Norman in the late 12th century. The earliest recorded use of ‘fuck’ in English comes from c. 1475, in the poem ‘Flen flyys,’ where it is spelled ‘fuccant’ (conjugated as if a Latin verb meaning ‘they fuck’). It is of Proto-Germanic origin, and is related to Dutch ‘fokken’ and Norwegian ‘fukka.’

The ‘Fuck you/V sign’ folk etymology centers on archers who had their middle fingers removed in medieval times to keep them from properly aiming their arrows. English longbow archers caught by the enemy at Agincourt supposedly would have had their bow fingers amputated, since at that time the longbow was a devastating weapon and gave a great tactical advantage to the English. The unaffected archers could taunt the enemy by raising their index and middle fingers to show they were still intact and that the archers could still effectively ‘pluck yew.’ However, this story is untrue.

The word ‘crap’ did not originate as a back-formation of British plumber Thomas Crapper’s surname, nor does his name originate from the word ‘crap,’ although the surname may have helped popularize the word. The surname ‘Crapper’ is a variant of ‘Cropper,’ which originally referred to someone who harvested crops. The word ‘crap’ ultimately comes from Medieval Latin ‘crappa,’ meaning ‘chaff’ (grain hulls inedible by humans fed to livestock). The word ‘shit’ did not originate as an acronym for ‘Ship High in Transit,’ a label falsely said to have been used on shipments of manure to prevent them from becoming waterlogged and releasing explosive methane gas. The word comes from Old English ‘scitte,’ and is of Proto-Germanic origin.

The word ‘gringo’ (a pejorative term for a white American) did not originate during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), the Venezuelan War of Independence (1811–1823), the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), or in the American Old West (c. 1865–1899) as a corruption of the lyrics ‘green grow’ in either ‘Green Grow the Lilacs’ or ‘Green Grow the Rushes, O’ sung by American soldiers or cowboys; nor did it originate during any of these times as a corruption of ‘Green go home!’, falsely said to have been shouted at green-clad American troops, or of ‘green coats’ as a description of their uniforms. The word originally simply meant ‘foreigner,’ and is probably a corruption of Spanish ‘griego,’ (‘Greek’).

The word ‘spic’ (a pejorative term for a Latino) did not originate as an abbreviation of ‘Hispanic’; nor as an acronym for ‘Spanish, Indian, and Colored’ (in reference to minority races in the United States); nor as an acronym for ‘Spanish, Polish, Italian, and Chinese,’ falsely said to have been used by U.S. immigration officials in the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s to categorize citizenship applications.The word, originally spelled ‘spig,’ was short for ‘spiggoty,’ which is probably from the Spanglish phrase ‘No speak the English.’

The word ‘wop’ (a pejorative term for an Italian) was not originally an acronym for ‘without passport.’ It is a corruption of dialectal Italian ‘guappo,’ (‘thug’). The use of ‘cracker’ as a pejorative term for a Caucasian does not come from the use of bullwhips by Caucasians against slaves in the Atlantic slave trade. The true origin is uncertain. The word ‘picnic’ did not originate as an abbreviation of ‘pick a nigger,’ a phrase falsely claimed to have been used by White families at community lynchings in the 19th century. ‘Picnic’ comes from 17th-century French ‘piquenique,’ which is of uncertain origin. The use of ‘buck’ to mean ‘dollar’ did not originate from a practice of referring to African slaves as ‘bucks’ (male deer) when trading. ‘Buck’ was originally short for ‘buckskin,’ as buckskins were used in trade. A ‘crowbar’ is not so named for its use by Black menial workers. The name comes from the forked end of a crowbar, which resembles a crow’s foot.

‘Golf’ did not originate as an acronym of ‘Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.’ The word’s true origin is unknown, but it existed in the Middle Scots period. Some falsely believe that the word ‘coma’ originates from ‘Cessation Of Motor Activity.’ Although this describes—fairly accurately—the condition of coma, this is not the true derivation. The word ‘news’ has been claimed to be an acronym of the four cardinal directions: (‘North, East, West, and South’). However, old spellings of the word varied widely. Additionally, an identical term exists in French, ‘les nouvelles’ which translates as the plural of ‘the new.’ The word ‘news’ is simply a plural form of ‘new.’ ‘Tips’ did not gain their name from the acronym ‘To Insure Prompt Service.’ The word originated in Shelta (language of the Irish Travellers) in the 17th century and is of uncertain origin. There is no evidence that ‘posh’ was ever an acronym for wealthy British passengers getting ‘Port Out, Starboard Home”‘ cabins on ocean liners to India, in order to get ocean breeze.

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