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False acronymic etymology

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Hold up! Before you read on, please read this...

This post was published more than 12 years ago

I keep old posts on the site because I often enjoy reading old content on other people's sites. It can be interesting to see how views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have, to put it mildly, mellowed.

I'm not a believer in brushing the past under the carpet. I've written some offensive rubbish on here in the past: deleting it and pretending it never happened doesn't change that. I hope that stumbling across something that's 12 years old won't offend anyone anew, because I hope that people can understand that what I thought and felt and wrote about then is probably very different to what I think and feel and wrote about now. It's a relic of an (albeit recent) bygone era.

So, given the age of this post, please bear in mind:

  • My views may well have changed in the last 12 years. I have written some very silly things over the years, many of which I find utterly cringeworthy today.
  • This post might use words or language in ways which I would now consider highly inappropriate, offensive, embarrassing, or all three.
  • Factual information might be outdated.
  • Links might be broken, and embedded material might not appear properly.

Okay. Consider yourself duly warned. Read on...

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 1,136th post was filed under: Headliner.

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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?


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


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