An Overview of Folk Etymology in the English Language

Etymology is defined as ‘History of a word.’ A further derivative of this word is Folk Etymology. It means a foreign or unfamiliar word which is adapted to a more familiar form through usage in a language. Folk Etymology in English language is an ongoing process that is prevalent for the last 1000 years. In this process foreign words have been assimilated in the English language through popular usage.

English belongs to the Indo – European group of languages. It is widely spoken all over the world. It is a matter for research that a language spoken by a few Anglo Saxons has become the Lingua Franca of the world. One of the reasons for this is the assimilation of foreign words through the process of folk etymology. Since the time William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066, the language has been constantly adopting words from other languages. There is no estimate about how many words have been assimilated in the language; because many of the words added have lost their original meaning.

English as we know it today has developed over a thousand years to reach its present state as the main language of communication, research, trade and business all over the world. The process to reach this pre-eminent position commenced in the 10th century when the Anglo-Saxon language became pre-eminent in England. Prior to this the process, folk etymology had commenced with the assimilation of Celtic words in English.

The process of folk etymology accelerated with the domination of England all over the world. The wars in France saw more French words being adopted. Much before French words were added to the English, Greek and Latin were adopted. This was a process of folk etymology.

A big hand was played by the British Empire where the adage ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’ greatly added to assimilation of new words. The words in most cases were given a different spelling and also sometimes had a different meaning. A steady stream of words now flowed into the English language. As England expanded its frontiers, more and more words entered the vocabulary. English-speaking pioneers added new words to the language over a time. It is now acknowledged that over 120 languages have enriched the language as it exists today. There is no language in the world that can boast this sort of assimilation.

One of the reasons for the spread of English all over the globe is the resilience of the language. It readily allowed foreign words to be assimilated in it. When, the British colonized India, many words from local languages and dialects, like Hindi found their way into the language. Words like Guru, Kafir, Raja, Rani, Yogi Etc became part of folk etymology.

Folk etymology is also known as popular etymology. In a nutshell it means that a word is incorporated in the language. The word could be altered, so as to resemble at least partly a more familiar word or words. An example is the Latin word febrigugia (a plant with medicinal properties, etymologically ‘fever expeller’) was modified into English as feverfew.

Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part IV – The Origins Of The Word Peridot

Peridot Etymology: The Origins Of Peridot

As discussed in the previous part in this series on Peridot’s etymology, the Septuagint’s ‘Topazion’ of 300 B.C. featured in the Second Temple’s breastplate, denotes what we call Peridot. However, it is very unlikely that Peridot was the ‘Pitdah’ gemstone of the First Temple’s breastplate originating from the Israelite Exodus of 1444 B.C. We can conclude this, as Peridot’s discovery took place around the same time as the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew Bible, under the reign of the Pharaoh Ptolemy II, circa 300 B.C. In addition, we know that the Septuagint’s misappropriation of ‘Topazion’ led to the misnomer of the 1611 ‘King James Version,’ denoting it as ‘Topaz’. But what of the word Peridot and its etymological roots, how did it receive its current moniker?

The origin of the word Peridot itself is unclear. However, one thing is sure, that the term was not in existence before the 1st Century A.D. at the time of Pliny: As he clearly refers to Peridot from the Island of Zabargad as ‘Topazion’. In fact this term was used to denote Peridot up until the fall of the Roman Empire.

During Pliny’s time it was not uncommon that gemstones received more than one name, and that unrelated gems share names in common: a modern example of this is Olivine and Chrysolite, both used to denote Peridot. Another generic appendage was ‘Paederos’ (Greek for: ‘Beautiful Youth’), or ‘Pederote,’ (Latin: pronounced Ped-or-oat): employed by Pliny to denote amethyst and opal. ‘Pederote,’ was also used by the Roman public at large to refer to good-looking gems.

Towards the end of the Roman Empire, Western Europe fell to the barbarians, but in the Near East Roman culture survived within the Byzantine Empire. Under the Byzantines, words and languages bequeathed by the previous Greek and Roman cultures were continued. Similarly art and culture prospered, especially the skills of the lapidaries. However, soon enough the East became the envy of the West, and under the pious concept of reuniting Christendom with the West, the crusades began. France, with its Templar Knights, was at the forefront of the eight crusades that took place between the 10th and the 12th Centuries A.D. During this time the Templar Knights amassed great wealth in precious metals, jewelry and gemstone’s: including Peridot. After returning to Europe with their newly acquired wealth, they bought position, titles and lands in the Anglo-Norman kingdom.

It was during the crusades that a perversion of the Roman word ‘Pederote’ resurfaced. It appeared in the French book ‘Les Lapidaires Français.’ written sometime between 1100 and 1250 A.D. The book outlined 60 gems giving their medicinal value, magical properties and moral significations: one of the featured gems was the ‘Pedoretés’ (pronounced Peh-door-ret). The ‘Lapidaire Français.’ was written specifically for the use of the educated Norman aristocracy who also occupied England at the time. The first recorded instance of this word in popular use by the aristocracy appears in a 11th Century message written by the French lord, Mont Cassin de Solinus, where he uses a word to describe a green gemstone: ‘Perodote’ (pronounced Peh-roh-doh).

However, comparing the earlier Roman ‘Pedoretés’ (Peh-doh-ret) with the French ‘Perodote’ (Peh-roh-doh) we can hear that there has been a reversal of the second and third syllable. In linguistics this is called ‘Metathesis’: a phenomenon where two sounds appearing in particular order in one word, overtime will occur in the reverse order in the same word. French etymologists from the ‘Académie Français’ believe that this explains the shift in ‘Pederote.’

The excerpt below was taken from a later book ‘Lapidaire Des Pierres Gravées’ documenting the etymology of Peridot in France from the 13th Century onwards. It gives Peridot’s name during the 13th Century as ‘Peridol’ (pronounced Peh-rii-dole), and as ‘Peridon’ (pronounced Peh-rii-dohn) during the later 14th Century.

Peridon (Peridol) [Peridot gemstone, also called green-yellowish olivine. 'A gem called peridon enclosed in gold.' xx sols t, (invoice of the Duke of Berry, year 1416.)- viii 'gemstones of which there were a grenas, a lopue, an ametiste and a peridol' (invoice of the Duke of Anjou year 1360.] ”

As mentioned before, the Norman French occupied England during this period, and the aristocracy imposed their language upon their English subjects. This greatly influenced the development of the English language: causing Old French words to be assimilated into the Middle English language. However, Peridot wasn’t the only alias to be appropriated to the green gemstone from these sources.
Up until the 19th Century A.D. another Greek word was also used to denote Peridot and other gemstones similar in aspect: ‘Chrysolite’. This originally came from the Greek ‘Khrysolithos’, ‘Khryso’ meaning golden and ‘Lithos’ meaning stone. It transformed into ‘Chrysolithus’ in Latin, and ‘Crisolite’ in Old French, eventually becoming ‘Chrysolite’ in Middle English.

In 1112 A.D., including Chrysolite with a poem in tribute to Adam and Eve, the French poet Philippe de Thaon wrote: ‘Crisolite ure celeste, qui ourent out vie terrestre.’ Translated the passage reads: ‘Chrysolite the celestial happiness, which they had with the terrestrial life.’ However, there is no conclusive proof to indicate that he was talking of our Peridot, as Chrysolite was also used to describe the majority of all yellow to yellow-green transparent gemstones including: topaz, prehnite, apatite, sapphire, chrysoberyl, beryl, tourmaline, and andradite garnet. By today’s standards such an inaccurate, generic term is disused.

A similar term of equally broad connotations has also been appropriated to Peridot: Olivine. This originated from the Greek ‘Elaiw’ or ‘Elai’, transforming to the Latin ‘Olva’ and eventually to the French ‘Olivine’. In 17th Century France it was a jeweler’s term for a variety of their Chrysolite, today it is a term used to denote one of the most common mineral types on the Earth’s surface, a magnesium/iron silicate in which the ratio of magnesium and iron vary between the two mineral extremities: Forsterite (Mg2SiO4) and Fayalite (Fe2SiO4). Peridot is actually a rare sub-species of the Olivine group: Forsterite-Olivine. Forsterite, the mineralogical term used to denote the Olivine species Peridot, was named in honor of the German mineralogist J. R. Forster.

Read Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part I – In the Beginning

Read Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part II – The Pitdah In The First Temples Breastplate

Read Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part III – The Topazion In The Second Temples Breastplate

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