USAGE: compounds (was: I'm back ...)
|From:||John Cowan <jcowan@...>|
|Date:||Monday, January 20, 2003, 18:38|
Andreas Johansson scripsit:
> PS Can anybody enlighten me as to the etymology of the word "blackguard",
> and why it, according to my sister's dictionary at least, is pronounced as
> if "blaggard"?
Tristan's already covered the pronunciation, to which I will add that
the "black guard" were originally the kitchen servants, who were
so-called because they had to deal with coal. As often, words for
lower-class people become words for bad people: "villain" originally
meant "serf" (this meaning is usually spelled "villein" these days,
but the words are the same), and before that it meant "village-dweller".
The narrator of Chaucer's _Canterbury Tales_ says of the Knight
He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
In al his lyf unto no maner wight.
which (in addition to being a spectacular example of Middle English
multiple negation) means that the Knight was 1) never rude and 2)
never behaved like a peasant.
It is typical for compounds to be pronounced as single words when they
get established, and then to undergo sound-change as if they were single
words. English has created three separate compounds from "house" + "wife":
the modern "housewife", the Middle English "hussif" (obsolete now, but
still current in the 19th century and meaning "sewing-kit"), and the
one dating back to Old English times, which now takes the form "hussy".
John Cowan email@example.com www.reutershealth.com www.ccil.org/~cowan
"The exception proves the rule." Dimbulbs think: "Your counterexample proves
my theory." Latin students think "'Probat' means 'tests': the exception puts
the rule to the proof." But legal historians know it means "Evidence for an
exception is evidence of the existence of a rule in cases not excepted from."