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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 "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."