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English, like all languages, is a messy business.
You can be uncouth but not "couth."
You can be ruthless, but good luck trying to show somebody that you have "ruth" unless you happen to be married to someone named Ruth. [To my sensitive husband. Love, Ruth.]
It's bad to be unkempt but impossible to be "kempt," or "sheveled" as opposed to disheveled.
There are other things that make no more sense than those but that seem normal now because the sands of time have buried where they came from.
For example, did you ever wonder why a nickname for Edward is Ned?
Where'd the N come from?
It's the same with Nellie for Ellen.
Afterall, if someone's name is Ethan, we don't nickname him Nethan, nor do we call our favorite Maria, Nmaria.
In fact, if anyone did, our primary urge would be to either scold them or gently hide them away until the company had departed.
All these nicknames trace back to a mistake, although, a perfectly understandable one.
In fact, even the word nickname is weird.
What's so "nick" about a nickname?
Is it that it's a name that has a nick in it?
Let's face it, not likely.
Actually, in Old English, the word was ekename, and eke meant also or other.
You can see eke still used in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a sentence like, [speaking Middle English] in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a sentence like, which meant, "When Zephyr also with his sweet breath."
Ekename meant "also name."
What happened was that when people said, "an ekename," it could sound like they were saying, "a nekename," and after a while, so many people were hearing it that way that they started saying "that's my nickname," instead of "that's my ekename."
Now, the word had a stray n at the front that started as a mistake, but from now on was what the word really was.
It was rather as if you had gum on the bottom of your shoe and stepped on a leaf, dragged that leaf along for the rest of your life, were buried wearing that shoe and went to heaven in it, to spend eternity wedded to that stray, worn-out leaf.
Ekename picked up an n and never let it go.
The same thing happened with other words.
Old English speakers cut "otches" into wood.
But after centuries of being asked to cut an otch into something, it was easy to think you were cutting a notch instead, and pretty soon you were.
In a world where almost no one could read, it was easier for what people heard to become, after a while, what it started to actually be.
Here's where the Ned-style nicknames come in.
Old English was more like German than our English is now, and just as in German, my is "mein," in Old English, my was meen.
You would say "meen book," actually "boke" in Old English, or meen cat.
And just as today, we might refer to our child as my Dahlia or my Laura, in Old English, they would say, "meen Ed".
That is mein Ed, mein Ellie.
You see where this is going.
As time passed, meen morphed into the my we know today.
That meant that when people said, "mein Ed," it sounded like they were saying my Ned.
That is, it sounded like whenever someone referred to Edward affectionately, they said Ned instead of Ed.
Behold, the birth of a nickname!
Or an ekename.
Hence, also Nellie for Ellen and Nan for Ann, and even in the old days, Nabby for Abigal.
President John Adam's wife Abigail's nickname was Nabby.
All sorts of words are like this.
Old English speakers wore "naprons," but a "napron" sounds like an apron, and that gave birth to a word apron that no one in Beowulf would have recognized.
Umpire started as numpires, too.
If all of this sounds like something sloppy that we modern people would never do, then think about something you hear all the time and probably say: "a whole nother."
What's nother?
We have the word another, of course, but it's composed of an and other, or so we thought.
Yet, when we slide whole into the middle, we don't say, "a whole other," we clip that n off of the an and stick it to other and create a new word, nother.
For a long time, nobody was writing these sort of things down or putting them in a dictionary, but that's only because writing is more codified now than it was 1,000 years ago.
So, when you see a weird word, remember that there might be a whole nother side to the story.
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【TED-Ed】為什麼綽號的英文稱作 nickname 呢? (Birth of a nickname - John McWhorter)

154828 分類 收藏
Halu Hsieh 發佈於 2013 年 12 月 7 日
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