7 Words That Came About From People Getting Them Wrong

iStock.com/maelrenault
iStock.com/maelrenault

People didn't always say pea or newt. These seven words initially started as other words entirely.

1. Pea

Originally the word was pease, and it was singular. ("The Scottish or tufted Pease ... is a good white Pease fit to be eaten.") The sound on the end was reanalyzed as a plural s marker, and at the end of the 17th century people started talking about one pea. The older form lives on in the nursery rhyme "Pease-porridge hot, pease-porridge cold …"

2. Cherry

The same thing happened to cherise or cheris, which came from Old French cherise and was reanalyzed as a plural. So the singular cherry was born.

3. Apron

Apron also came into English from Old French and was originally napron. ("With hir napron feir .. She wypid sofft hir eyen.") But "a napron" was misheard often enough as "an apron" that by the 1600s the n was dropped.

4. Umpire

Umpire lost its n from the same sort of confusion. It came to English from the Middle French nonper, meaning "without peer; peerless." ("Maked I not a louedaye bytwene god and mankynde, and chese a mayde to be nompere, to put the quarel at ende?") A nompere or an ompere? The n-less form won out.

5. Newt

The confusion about which word the n belonged to could end up swinging the other way too. A newt was originally an ewt ("The carcases of snakes, ewts, and other serpents" is mentioned in 1584's The Discoverie of Witchcraft), but "an ewt" could easily be misheard as "a newt," and in this case, the n left the "an" and stuck to the the newt.

6. Nickname

The n also traveled over from the "an" to stick to nickname, which was originally ekename, meaning "added name."

7. Alligator

Alligator came to English from the Spanish explorers who first encountered el lagarto ("lizard") in the New World. While the big lizards were for a time referred to as lagartos, the el accompanied often enough that it became an inseparable part of the English word.

All example quotes come from the Oxford English Dictionary.

This list first ran in 2013.

Where Did the Phrase 'Red Herring' Come From?

iStock.com/Mathias Darmell
iStock.com/Mathias Darmell

You may have seen a red herring in a recent book or movie, but you probably only realized it after the fact. These misleading clues are designed to trick you into drawing an incorrect conclusion, and they're a popular ploy among storytellers of all stripes.

If you've seen or read the Harry Potter series—and really, who hasn’t?—then you may recall some of the many instances where J.K. Rowling employed this literary device. That endearing plot twist about the nature of Snape's character, for example, is likely one of the longest-running red herrings ever written.

Sometimes they aren't even subtle. Agatha Christie's murder mystery And Then There Were None directly mentions red herring in reference to a character's death, and a statue of a red herring appears in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Perhaps most blatantly, a character in the cartoon A Pup Named Scooby-Doo who was constantly being blamed for myriad crimes was named—you guessed it—Red Herring.

But where does this literary device come from, and why is it named after a fish? For a bit of background: herring are naturally a silvery hue, but they turn reddish-brown when they're smoked. Long before refrigerators were invented, this was done to preserve the fish for months at a time. They can also be pretty smelly. As Gizmodo's io9 blog points out, it was believed that red herring were dragged against the ground to help train hounds to sniff out prey in the 17th century. Another theory was that escaped prisoners used the fish to cover their tracks and confuse the dogs that tailed them.

However, io9 notes that red herring were actually used to train horses rather than dogs, and only if the preferred choice—a dead cat—wasn't available. The idea was that the horses would get used to following the scent trail, which in turn would make them less likely to get spooked while "following the hounds amid the noise and bustle of a fox hunt," notes British etymologist and writer Michael Quinion, who researched the origin of the phrase red herring.

The actual origin of the figurative sense of the phrase can be traced back to the early 1800s. Around this time, English journalist William Cobbett wrote a presumably fictional story about how he had used red herring as a boy to throw hounds off the scent of a hare. He elaborated on this anecdote and used it to criticize some of his fellow journalists. "He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon," Quinion writes in a blog. "This caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters."

According to Quinion, an extended version of this story was printed in 1833, and the idiom spread from there. Although many people are more familiar with red herrings in pop culture, they also crop up in political spheres and debates of all kinds. Robert J. Gula, the author of Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language, defines a red herring as "a detail or remark inserted into a discussion, either intentionally or unintentionally, that sidetracks the discussion."

The goal is to distract the listener or opponent from the original topic, and it's considered a type of flawed reasoning—or, more fancifully, a logical fallacy. This application of red herring seems to be more in line with its original usage, but as Quinion notes: "This does nothing to change the sense of red herring, of course: it's been for too long a fixed part of our vocabulary for it to change. But at least we now know its origin. Another obscure etymology has been nailed down."

Game of Thrones Fans Have Been Mispronouncing Khaleesi

HBO
HBO

While Game of Thrones fans are busy poring over every still image and official trailer released for the show's final season in the hope of noticing some tiny detail that might hint at what's to come, David Peterson—the linguist who creates the series' fictional languages—dropped a huge piece of information: we've all been mispronouncing  Khaleesi.

While being interviewed for The Allusionist podcast, Peterson described the rampant mispronunciation as "a real thorn in my side." So just how should we be saying the Dothraki word?

"I wanted to make sure if something was spelled differently, it was pronounced differently," Peterson explained of his process of transforming the handful of Dothraki words George R.R. Martin had created into a full language. "That worked pretty well for everything except the word Khaleesi ... There's no way it should be pronounced 'ka-LEE-see' based on the spelling. So I had to decide, 'Am I going to respell this thing because I know how people are going to pronounce this, or am I going to honor that spelling and pronounce it differently?' I made the latter decision and I think it was the wrong decision."

(That said, in his book Living Language Dothraki, Peterson writes that "many Dothraki words have multiple pronunciation variants, often depending on whether the speaker is native or non-native. Khaleesi, for example, has three separate pronunciations: khal-eh-si, khal-ee-si, and kal-ee-si," which at a later point in the book spelled is "ka-lee-si.")

Given that Daenerys Targaryen has a mouthful of other titles at her disposal, we'll just call her the Mother of Dragons from now on.

Game of Thrones returns for its final season on April 14, 2019.

[h/t: Digital Spy]

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