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False acronymic etymology

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 post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Ian

    13.50, 02/06/2007

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)

    22.33, 04/06/2007

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

Comment from Coire

    22.29, 05/06/2007

so where does ‘posh’ come from then?

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    22.36, 05/06/2007

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

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15th February 2013.

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