Posted in Language, Music, Music History

Unsung heroes of etymology

 

“My dear, I used to think I was serving humanity . . . and I pleasured in the thought. Then I discovered that humanity does not want to be served; on the contrary it resents any attempt to serve it. So now I do what pleases myself.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Please Listen:

 

 

 

Those who look up the origin of a word in a dictionary are rarely interested in the sources of the information they find there. Nor do they realize how debatable most of this information is. Yet serious research stands behind even the controversial statements in a modern etymological dictionary. Accepted hypotheses make their way into print, while guesswork does not. Unfortunately, together with guesswork, many promising conjectures are left by the wayside. Dictionary makers know that the results of linguistic reconstruction are seldom final and “better safe than sorry” is their motto. Hence the recurring phrase, so irritating to non-specialists: “origin unknown.”

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Author:

"If he's honest, he'll steal; if he's human, he'll murder; if he's faithful, he'll deceive. Being at a loss to resolve these questions, I am resolved to leave them without any resolution." I have so much to say to you that I am afraid I shall tell you nothing."

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