Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Etymology vs Entomology

Anatoly Liberman in his book Word Origins…and how we know them expressed surprise that his profession was frequently confused with entomology. He thought it must be a local quirk of the Midwestern mentality (he lived in Minnesota) until he discovered an article by a Professor of English at a Boston university. The professor related that a 1958 television lecture of his on “Folk Etymology” appeared on the printed program as “Folk Entomology”.

This mental switching of etymology to entomology is an illustration of the first definition of folk etymology (see previous post) where an unfamiliar word is converted to one with which we are more comfortable.

By the way, the root of entomology is Greek entomos referring to insects. The word means “cut in” and refers to the segmented bodies of some insects.

This inspired me to write the following poem, in the style of Ogden Nash.


            An Etymologist studies the meaning of words;
            An Entomologist studies ants and ladybirds;
            But something that's even more absurd’s…
            A Scatologist studies animal turds.

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