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False acronymic etymology


Warning: This post was published more than 10 years ago.

I keep old posts on the site because sometimes it's interesting to read old content. Not everything that is old is bad. Also, I think people might be interested to track how my views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured!

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Many thanks for your understanding.

Chav I think this last went out of fashion in about 1997, but it seems to have sprung up again, and if I have to read one more thing like this or this, or have it rammed down my throat by another well-meaning friend, I might scream.

The etymology of words is rarely – in fact, almost never – acronymic.

To clear up the two above which seem to have been doing the rounds particularly virulently recently:

  • ‘Chav’ is not derived from ‘Council House and Violent’, but rather the Romany word ‘chavi’, meaning ‘child’.
  • ‘Fuck’ is not derived from ‘Fornication Under the Consent of the King’. Nor ‘For Use of Carnal Knowledge’ for that matter. It comes from the Middle English ‘fucken’, meaning to strike or penetrate.

And while we’re at it…

  • ‘Posh’ is not derived from ‘Port Outward, Starboard Home’
  • ‘Cop’ is not derived from ‘Constable On Patrol’
  • ‘Tip’ is not derived from ‘To Insure Promptness’
  • ‘Nylon’ is not derived from abbreviations of ‘New York’ and ‘LONdon’
  • ‘News’ is not derived from ‘North, East, West, South’
  • ‘Golf’ is not derived from ‘Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden’
  • ‘Shit’ is not derived from ‘Ship High In Transit’

These words all have etymologies just like any other word, mostly derived from ancient or foreign languages.

There are exceptions: Radar does indeed come from ‘Radio Detection And Ranging’, and laser does derive from ‘Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’. But these exceptions are few and far between.

Most etymology is not acronymic, and when it is, there’s usually no lengthy, contrived back-story – so if someone spouts one of these at you, please correct them, and maybe we can stop this incredibly irritating disease in its tracks.

This 1,137th post was filed under: Headliner.

More posts worth reading

What I’ve been reading this month (published 6th November 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 5th October 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 3rd September 2017)

Abercrombie and Fitch: for beautiful people only (published 5th October 2012)

HP Support Blog: Day 19 (published 4th September 2006)

ABC News: People of the Year (published 31st December 2004)

Goodbye 2005 – This Blogging Year (published 31st December 2005)

Comments and responses

Comment from Ian

by Ian

Comment posted at 13:50 on 2nd June 2007.

I think that when words, such as CHAV, become accepted language, people often try to find a reason for them -Council House And Violent has comedy value, but clearly the etymological foundation of the word is slightly different.

I just overlook those who make incorrect assertions -most words tend to come from something much more complex than just putting a phrase together! Greek & latin are popular origins, and often words have ‘mutated’ over the centuries, and are quite distinct from 500 years ago. If you read anything in ‘middle English’ such as Chaucer, then you realize how much language evolves.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

by sjhoward

Comment posted at 22:33 on 4th June 2007.

It’s because of my previous study of Chaucer and the like that this kind of thing annoys me…

Comment from Coire

by Coire

Comment posted at 22:29 on 5th June 2007.

so where does ‘posh’ come from then?

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

by sjhoward

Comment posted at 22:36 on 5th June 2007.

The OED says it’s untraced – but the evidence goes against the P.O.S.H. theory… and who am I to argue?

Trackback from elsewhere on the site

Trackback received at 15:51 on 15th February 2013.

This post has been referenced by another on this site:
sjhoward.co.uk » Acronyms and etymology

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