History in the making

Since 2005 I have been teaching a one Term introductory course each year on Historical Linguistics at SOAS and enjoying it a lot. The students especially like the coverage of semantic change, loanwords, and borrowing and language contact. One of the (standard) topics in this area that I cover is so-called folk etymology and typically refer to the text book examples like ‘day’s eye’ for ‘daisy’, or ‘cockroach’ that was borrowed from Spanish cucaracha and given a pseudo-etymology in English.

Well today at 7:15pm on ABC news radio I heard a great example that I’d never come across before and will definitely use when I teach the course again. A commentator said:

“The current strength of the Australian dollar it’s all well for investment in the manufacturing sector.”

It took me a minute or so to parse this and figure it out, but clearly what we have is a folk etymology of “it’s all well” in place of augurs well. As the Free Dictionary indicates, this is the intransitive verb use of augur meaning “to be a sign or omen”; the word form entered Middle English from Latin where it meant “one of a group of ancient Roman religious officials who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens”. Wicked innit?

1 thought on “History in the making”

  1. The term eggcorn has emerged in recent years to distinguish potential folk etymologies which haven’t yet become common usage: see The Eggcorn Database and discussion linked there.

    The Eggcorn Database has an entry ‘it all goes well (for)’. I would expect it all goes well for has got a better chance of survival than it’s all well for: the latter isn’t as idiomatic, and doesn’t match the g in it augurs well for.

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