Saturday 19 September 2020

Interesting etymology


'Dandy first made its appearance on the Scottish border and in the 1780’s became current in British slang. Its origin (most probably, dialectal) remains a mystery—a common thing with such words. Etymologists have grudgingly resigned themselves to the idea that dandy goes back to the pet name of Andrew. How Andrew became Dandy is also unclear (by attracting d from the middle?). But this is not our problem. Pet names behave erratically. Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Beth make sense, but Bill (= Will) for William? Peggy for Margaret? In any case, Dandy is a recorded short name for Andrew (and incidentally, for Alexander). Trying to discover why Andrew was chosen to represent London overdressed young men (assuming that such a thing happened several hundred years ago) would be a waste of time. This mythic character is a member of the club to which Sam Hill, Smart Aleck, and Jack Sprat (a.k.a. Jack Prat).' belong; its whereabouts are lost. (Anatoly Liberman, a Russian etymologist, on the OED blog.)

Interesting. He could have mentioned Polly, affectionate form of Mary, Sally (Sarah), Lotty (Charlotte), Jack (John), Harry (Henry), Dick (Richard) and Ned (Edward).

Sam Hill apparently is an Americanism and means the Devil. Jack Sprat apparently means someone short. I only know him from the nursery rhyme. 'Jack Sprat would eat no fat' - presumably he was slim as well as short.

We could go on forever. Joe, I discovered recently, is American slang for coffee and it is because of one Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the US Navy, who banned the consumption of alcohol in the American navy during the First World War.

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