Etymology in the Colloquial Sense

The other day, I listened the Lexicon Valley podcast by renowned linguist John McWhorter. Since the title of the episode in question was called “The many meanings of too,” so I naturally assumed that the episode would be about homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings. Needless to say, the episode had very little to do with homophones; instead it was about the etymology of many of the words we use in colloquial speech. He started by talking diminutives of popular names. The word Dolly came Dorothy, which originally meant sweetheart. Ironically, it came to have connotations of promiscuity. The ‘r’ to ‘l’ shift was not exclusive to Dolly. Molly, a diminutive of Mary evolved in a similar way. Some words simply evolved from other words closely associated with them. For example, rubber came to be called rubber simply because it was rubbed on other surface. Fancy comes from fantasy, or unattainable desires. Telling, which we now use to mean explicating, originally meant counting. It is for this reason that we “tell” the time. Since we use numbers for the purpose of clarifying things, telling came to be used as explaining, or elucidating. Too has several meanings as well, including some we usually don’t think of. The two we think about the most often are “excessively” and “in addition.” What we don’t think about, however, is an rejection of a negative statement someone else has made. If you asked me if I took the trash out, I might reply, “I did too.” This use of too is almost exactly the way speakers of French use “si.” What do you think about the way the English language has evolved? Did you know about the “r” to “l” shift?

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Om Satapathy

Hi, I'm Om, the author of Lingua Franca.

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