Folk etymology

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In a Volksetymologie, also Fehletymologie, Paretymologie and Eindeutung, it is a naive form of etymology through which an opaque in its origin lexeme (word) interpreted content and / or reformed according to the model of a lexeme of similar shape and / or meaning becomes. The etymological connection that is established is historically incorrect. B. Crossbow has nothing to do with “arm” or “chest” in terms of linguistic history, but comes from the Latin arcuballista “slingshot” (to arcus “bow” and ballista “throwing, slinging machine ”). Folk etymology is a historical word formation process in which a previously unknown or semantically opaque word (e.g. a foreign word ) is remodeled based on a familiar-sounding word. Here, the word body can be changed acoustically, and an imaginative new formation can be created through the means of analogy .

The concept of folk etymology was coined in the middle of the 19th century with the essay on German folk etymology by Ernst Förstemann , published in 1852 . Folk etymologies often appear in orally transmitted stories . These are mostly homophonic (same-sounding) interpretations of the names of plants, places or saints (for example Augustine for eye disorders). There are also musical folk etymologies. In addition to the traditional evidence, which is limited to the written language, recently, due to the special media and conceptual conditions of the "new media" , popular etymologies that have not (yet) been lexicalized (cf. Girnth / Klump / Michel 2007 ) .

A phenomenon that is rare in all languages ​​is that of imported folk etymology. The English term windjammer is derived from to jam the wind , which means "to block the wind". It has nothing to do with “whining” in the sense of “complaining, howling”, although one often reads the derivation of the “howling wind in the yards”.


Folk etymological explanations particularly influence the phonetic development of words or even just their typeface, as the following examples show:


  • Crossbow : The word "crossbow" is derived from the Latin arcuballista "bow thrower ". The French word arbaleste based on it was then Germanized, using a combination of the similar-sounding words “arm” (from the possibility of holding the weapon in one hand) and the Middle High German berust / berost (equipment or armament). Even later, the second part of the term was identified with German “breast”.
  • Lovage : The word comes from late Latin levisticum, from ligusticum actually "plant originating from Liguria", first under the influence of Old High German lubbi "poison", then under ahd. Luba "love" and sthho "stick", stihhil "sting, tip, Stake ”and stoc “ stick ”.
  • Mole : From a folk etymological point of view, the mole is an animal that throws up earth with its mouth. In fact, in Old High German , the animal was still called mūwerfo, literally 'heap thrower' (front link corresponds to the aengl . Mūha, mūwa '(grain) pile'). In Middle High German , on the other hand, moltwerf literally became 'earth thrower'. When the word molt for 'earth, dust' died out, the German speakers could no longer associate anything with the darkened moltwerf . Therefore, the soundly similar late Old High German mūlwerf (11th century) arose early on, based on mūl 'Maul'.
  • Wolverine : The name has nothing to do with the feeding habits of the animal, but comes from the older Norwegian expression fjeldfross, which means “mountain cat ”. Interestingly, the names of this animal in many other languages ​​and even the scientific name gulo gulo are the same folk etymology.
  • Onion : The old borrowing from lat. Cepulla was already in the Old High German inspired by the supposed ingredients be- "twice; double "and bolla " bud; Ovary ".
  • Happy New Year: This phrase originally has nothing to do with the German “slippage”, but presumably goes back to the Hebrew Rosh Hashanah “beginning of the year” (literally “head of the year”).
  • The ( Berlin ) saying “It pulls like pike soup” came from the Hebrew word Rotwelsche , where hech supha means “storm wind”.
  • Broken neck and leg : Here was the Yiddish or also the Hebrew model: hatsloche un broche הצלחה ון ברכה means “success and blessings”; The mediating language was again Rotwelsche.
  • Wittstock : The name of the city seems to be of Low German origin and means "white stick". In reality it comes from Old Polish vysoky, feminine vysoka "high up", as the Wittstocker Burg was called that from 946 onwards. The name was then transferred to the settlement in the valley.
  • Katzenelnbogen : The name of the town in the Rhein-Lahn district gives the impression that it was derived from a part of the body of a cat. In fact, it comes from Cattimelibocus, the mountain ( melibocus ) of the Germanic tribe of the Chatti , from whose name the regional name Hessen developed.

In the course of the reform of German spelling in 1996 , the authors, in particular Gerhard Augst , justified changes to the German spelling with an adjustment to an actual or alleged corresponding folk etymology. The changes are partly mandatory and partly optional. The changed words and their linguistic etymology:

  • "Belammert" (previously: "belemmert") was associated with " lamb ". In reality, the word derives from the Low German belemmeren (to belemen “to paralyze”), which means something like “prevent, inhibit, damage”, which etymologically has nothing to do with “lamb”.
  • "Bluing / bluing" (previously: "blending / bluing") were reinterpreted in folk etymology as derivatives of " blue " or "bluing" in the sense of "coloring blue", but "bleuen" comes from the Old High German verb bliuwan "to beat" off etymologically has nothing to do with “blue” (see also Bleuel ).
  • "Messner / Messmer" (previously: "Mesner", Swiss. "Mesmer") "Church servant"; a connection with the "fair" is assumed here. In fact, “ sacristan ” is borrowed from Latin mansionarius “overseer of the house of God”, from Latin mansio “place of residence, building”. ( Typically, however, the pronunciation remains with the long e.)
  • " Quäntchen " (previously: "Quentchen"): Here a folk etymological connection of the word to "Quantum" was established. In reality, "the Quentchen" goes back to the Latin quintus "the fifth". It used to denote a quarter of the weight unit of plumb bob . (It is unclear how the exchange of a quarter and a fifth came about.)
  • "Schnäuzen" (previously: "schnuzen") is supposed to be perceived as a derivation of " Schnauze ", which is expressed by the new ä spelling. In fact, it is a further training of the Middle High German sniuzen (pronounced “to sweet”); this probably belongs to a word for "snot" and to a group of Germanic words that begin with sn- or schn- and onomatopoeically imitate the sound of inhaled or exhaled air, e.g. B. snore, snort, sniff, sniff, sniff.
  • " Tollpatsch " (previously: "Tolpatsch") was adjusted to the adjective "toll" ("crazy") through folk etymology. However, the word is borrowed from the Hungarian word talpas (nickname for the Hungarian foot soldier), a derivation from the Hungarian talp "sole, foot". After the translation into German, the meaning initially changed to "(Austrian) soldier who speaks an incomprehensible language", later to a derogatory but not malicious designation for a clumsy person.
  • "Zierrat" (previously: "Zierat"); In terms of folk etymology, the word is understood as a combination of ornament and advice , analogous to “supply”, “rubbish”, but historically it must be broken down into Middle High German zier (e) “Zier” and at “Erbbesitz”, cf. "Homeland".

See also the articles Appenzeller Biber , Felleisen , Fisimatenten , belongings , hammock (see also under Dutch ), posthumous , Pumpernickel , Schickse , Spa and Greyhound .


  • sparrow-grass "asparagus", literally sparrow grass, comes from the Latin. asparagus "asparagus".
  • requiem shark "human shark, basic shark" from Frz. requin "Hai", which in America was interpreted as "funeral mass" (for a victim of a shark attack) (which may actually be the origin of the French word).
  • so long! “Bye!” Comes from the Irish Slán !, Slán go fóill!


  • Choucroute (Alemannic Surkrut or German Sauerkraut, literally "Krustenkohl") from folk etymological interpretation of German sour as French chou "cabbage" and German herb as French croûte "crust"


  • Casamatta (German " Kasematte ", an underground vault in the fortress construction ) is derived from the Middle Greek word chásma (ta) "Column, Erdschlund, Erdkluft". When fortress builders brought the technology from Byzantium to Italy, the word was reinterpreted as casa matta "crazy house" and then came into German via French (casematte) .


  • Accipiter: The name for the hawk comes from the Greek and should actually be acipiter . Its word components are ancient Greek ὠκύς ōkys (German "fast") and πέτομαι pĕtomai "fly" and mean in the combination ( ὠκυ -πέτης, ōkypĕtēs ) "the fast flyer". For Latin ears, however, a relationship with the verb accipere “to accept” (of prey) came into consideration. The wrong assumption of kinship even led to the hawk being also ( hyper-correctly ) called an acceptor .
  • Benevento : The original name of Benevento came from the Oscan and was possibly Malies or Malocis and evolved to Maloenton . The prefix Mal- possibly meant "stone". This was Latinized as Maleventum , which in Latin means "bad event". Therefore, after the victory over Pyrrhus, when the colony was founded in 268 BC, the city became Renamedin Beneventum (good event).
  • Lateran does not go back to lata rana "broad toad", contrary to the idea circulating in the Middle Ages that Emperor Nero might - as a man - have given birth to a monster at the designated place.
  • Obsonari, obsonor “to go shopping for food” sounds to Latin ears as if it were a combination of the prefix ob- and the verb sonari, sonor , but it comes from the ancient Greek word ὁψώνιον “pay”.
  • Rosmarinus comes from the ancient Greek ῥοῦς " gerber tree ", but sounded like "sea dew" to the Romans.


  • Hangmathammock ”: The original Indian name was hamáka. In French (hamac), Spanish (hamaca), English (hammack / hammock) and also in Polish (hamak) the original word was almost retained. For the Dutch sound system, however, the word sounded strange, and so it underwent phonetic changes between the 16th and 18th centuries, which resulted in hangmat , as this special reclining option was combined with (German) hang and mat . The Dutch word was taken over literally as a hammock in the German language.

See also


  • Karl Gustaf Andresen : About German folk etymology. Gebr. Henninger, Heilbronn 1876; 2nd, increased edition 1877; 3rd, greatly increased edition 1878; 4th, greatly increased edition 1883;
    Hugo Andresen: 6th, improved and increased edition , OR Reisland, Leipzig 1899.
  • Gerd Antos : Notes on a History of Folk Etymology. In: Ders .: Lay linguistics. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1996, ISBN 3-484-31146-0 , pp. 216-237.
  • Gerhard Augst : Folk etymology and synchronous etymology. About Peter Godglück: Self-knowledge and understanding others. About the so-called folk etymologies. In: LiLi, Vol. 31, Issue 122, 2001, pp. 137-149. In: Journal for Literary Studies and Linguistics (LiLi). 127 / 2002. pp. 144-147.
  • Gerhard Augst: Considerations on a synchronous etymological competence. In: Ders .: Investigations into the morphemic inventory of contemporary German. Narr, Tübingen 1975, ISBN 3-87808-625-3 , pp. 156-230.
  • Annemarie Brückner: Etymology. In: Enzyklopädie des Märchen Vol. 4 (1984), Col. 519-527.
  • Hadumod Bußmann : Lexicon of Linguistics (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 452). Kröner, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-520-45201-4 .
  • Ernst Förstemann : About German folk etymology . In: Journal for comparative linguistic research in the field of German, Greek and Latin [= Kuhn's journal]. 1, 1852, 1-25.
  • Heiko Girnth, Andre Klump, Sascha Michel: You 'defame' the authors of the guest book entries, where we are back to the insults. Folk etymology yesterday and today in Romansh and Germanic. In: mother tongue. 1/2007, pp. 36-60.
  • Ignaz Goldziher : Arabic contributions to folk etymology. In: Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft 18, 1888, pp. 69–82.
  • Walter Henzen : Deutsche Wortbildung (= collection of short grammars of Germanic dialects. B. Supplementary series. No. 5). 3rd, reviewed and supplemented edition. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1965, pp. 256-258 (with further literature)
  • Peter Honnen : All chocolates? Words and word stories from the Rhineland. Greven Verlag, Cologne 2008, ISBN 978-3-7743-0418-5 .
  • Walter Krämer , Wolfgang Sauer: Lexicon of popular language errors. Misunderstandings, mistakes in thinking and prejudices from Altbier to cynics . Piper, Munich / Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-492-24460-2 .
  • Heike Olschansky: Folk etymology. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1996 (German Linguistic Series 175), ISBN 3-484-31175-4 .
  • Heike Olschansky: Deceptive words. Small encyclopedia of folk etymologies. Reclam, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-15-010549-8 .
  • Meinolf Schumacher : Sunde kompt from sundern. Etymological to 'sin'. In: Journal for German Philology. 110, 1991, pp. 61-67 ( digitized version ).

Web links

Wiktionary: Folk etymology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Meyer's Great Universal Lexicon.
  2. interpretation. Entry in the universal lexicon.
  3. ^ Metzler Lexicon Language. Edited by Helmut Glück . Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 1993, ISBN 3-476-00937-8 , p. 683 f.
  4. ^ Etymological dictionary of German. Developed under the direction of Wolfgang Pfeifer . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1989 and numerous new editions, s. v.
  5. ^ Ernst Förstemann : About German folk etymology. In: Journal for comparative linguistic research in the field of German, Greek and Latin. 1, 1852, pp. 1-25.
  6. See also O. Weise: On the characteristics of folk etymology. In: Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, Volume 12, 1880, pp. 203-223.
  7. Duden. German universal dictionary. 4th edition Mannheim 2001. [CD-ROM].
  8. ^ Longman Exams Dictionary CD.
  9. Wolverine. Entry in:
  10. ^ Theodor Ickler : Regulatory power. Background of the spelling reform. (PDF, 1.9 MB). Leibniz-Verlag, St. Goar 2004, ISBN 3-931155-18-8 , pp. 87, 108, 175, 210, 226-238, 246.
  11. Wolfgang Denk: 10 years of spelling reform. Considerations for a cost-benefit analysis. ( Memento of February 21, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 1.1 MB) p. 49.
  12. Hannes Hintermeier : Secret thing German. In: August 22, 2004.
  13. Kluge / Seebold: Kluge. Etymological dictionary of the German language . Arranged by Elmar Seebold . 25., through u. exp. Edition Berlin, New York 2011.