Best invented folk etymology of 2021?

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Wondermark for 11/25/2021 — deriving "rappers", from "wrappers" and their "candy shanties" on the Hersey Chocolate assembly line:

Mouseover title: "People will claim lots of things to impress some random moron."

The actual etymology emerges from what the OED calls "Senses [of the verb rap] relating to talk of speech of a particular style", starting in the 16th century with

1541 T. Wyatt Defence in K. Muir Life & Lett. (1963) 199 I am wonte some tyme to rappe owte an othe in an erneste tawlke.

… and continuing in the 20th century with OED sense 8.c. intransitive. colloquial (chiefly U.S.). To talk; spec. (originally in African-American use) to talk or chat in an easy or discursive manner; to engage in stylized speech or banter; (also) to establish or maintain a rapport, to communicate (with a person).

intransitivecolloquial (chiefly U.S.). To talk; spec. (originally in African-American use) to talk or chat in an easy or discursive manner; to engage in stylized speech or banter; (also) to establish or maintain a rapport, to communicate (with a person).

1909 F. H. Tillotson How to be Detective 88 ‘Rap’ means to speak. If you ‘rap’ to a man you speak to him or recognize him.
1929 D. Runyon in Cosmopolitan Oct. 65/2 I wish Moosh a hello, and he never raps to me but only bows, and takes my hat.
1965 E. Cleaver Let. 19 Sept. in Soul on Ice (1968) i. 46 In point of fact he is funny and very glib, and I dig rapping (talking) with him.
1967 Time 7 July 17/1 Hirsute, shoeless hippies huddled in doorways, smoking pot, ‘rapping’ (achieving rapport with random talk), or banging beer cans.

And the corresponding noun:

U.S. colloquial (chiefly in African-American use). A verbal display, esp. one intended to impress. Hence: improvised dialogue; banter, ‘spiel’; an instance of this.

1957 N. Algren in Playboy Apr. 72/3 People like to say a pimp is a crime and a shame. But who's the one friend a hustling broad's got?.. Who puts down that real soft rap only you can hear to let you know your time is up and is everything alright in there Baby?
1965 R. Brownlee Michael (Lover) (song, perf. ‘The C.O.D.'s’) in A. Kempton Boogaloo (2005) 365 His rap is strong, with lots of fame When the girls see him coming they tighten up their game.
1966 T. Leary Politics of Ecstasy xv. 225 He started a three-hour rap about energy, electronics, drugs, politics.
1967 J. Horton in Trans-action Apr. 6/1 Sometimes used synonymously with street conversation, ‘rap’ is really a special way of talking—repartee… For example, one needs to throw a lively rap when he is ‘putting the make on a broad’.

So the true etymology is a standard metaphorical transfer and specialization — no candy shanties involved, alas.

Perhaps commenters can suggest some other interesting folk etymologies, real and fake, encountered during this past year.



  1. Michael P said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 10:50 am

    I enjoyed the pseudo-etymology of "nucular", as you previously covered in these pages:

  2. Ben Zimmer said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:02 am

    It's appropriate that the "etymythology" here is candy-related, since as I observed in a 2010 NYT "On Language" column, "Names for sweet foodstuffs seem to attract fanciful factoids like flies to honey." An excerpt:

    The chocolate giant Hershey has mythologized its early candy-making machinery in the back story it tells for its teardrop-shaped Kisses. “While it’s not known exactly how Kisses got their name,” Hershey’s Web site coyly states, “it is a popular theory that the candy was named for the sound or motion of the chocolate being deposited during the manufacturing process.” Samira Kawash, an independent scholar working on a cultural history of candy, recently dismantled this “popular theory” on her blog, Candy Professor. When Hershey first rolled out its Kisses in 1907, Kawash observes, “a candy ‘kiss’ was just another name for a small bite-size candy, typically something with a softer texture.”
    By promoting the “sound of the machine” origin for the once-generic kisses, Hershey is engaging in what Kawash calls “strategic corporate forgetting”: “they invent an original story for marketing purposes to make it seem unique to their candy.” Notably, Hershey’s historical whitewash took shape in the late ’90s, just about when the company’s lawyers were beginning an ultimately successful battle to trademark kisses. They didn’t use the story in their legal arguments, but it played right into their efforts to associate kisses uniquely with the Hershey brand. When a company is trying to make its product iconic in the minds of consumers, it doesn’t hurt to inject a pleasant etymological tidbit, no matter how easy it is to disprove.

  3. Dti said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:04 am

    I’m surprised you didn’t comment on the heard/learned definition. That distinction might be old news in linguistics or rhetoric but it’s new to me. It seems intuitive enough but also… complex.

    A: I learned X today
    B: X isn’t true
    A: but C told me X and c is an authority
    B: oh! If X is true you did learn it.
    C: wait, I was mistaken about X being true…
    B: so A, you only heard X, you didn’t learn it.

  4. David L said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:23 am

    I can't remember if it was this year, but in the comments to a newspaper story — always a treasure-trove of novel information — I came across the assertion that 'cop' for a police officer is an acronym for 'constable on patrol.'

  5. Seth said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:41 am

    The joke might have worked better with cigarettes or cigars, which really were hand-"wrapped" (rolled) before a mechanized means was developed.

  6. Bloix said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:54 am

    I have no difficulty with saying that, for example, Catholic seminarians "learn" theology without having to commit that Catholic theology is true.

    PS- the Apple TV+ comedy "Shmigadoon" has an amusing scene in which a woman complains that "it's a doggy dog" world." Her boyfriend says, "it's "dog eat dog," and they argue. Later, the boyfriend tells her she was right and apologizes, and they make up.

  7. cameron said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:57 am

    @Seth, if it'd been cigars, then they'd have lost the "candy shanty" play on words

  8. Bloix said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 11:59 am

    David L – ah, those acronyms. Cop, tip, wop, posh, even fuck – all false.
    Snafu, OTOH, really is an acronym.

  9. arthur said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 12:00 pm

    Before cell phones and ship-to-shore radio, fishing was a solitary profession:
    Fishermen running nets from small boats were isolated from the world all when they were working. But when rain or snow kept the boats on shore, a fisherman's work was repairing and replacing the well-worn nets. This was best done indoors, and each village along the North Sea would have a large building where the fisherfolk would work on the nets. Wile working on their nets, the men would naturally also chat about news relevant to their profession: Which merchants were offering the best prices for different hauls, who had a boat for sale or was hiring an assistant, etc. Thus, time working on nets was also time spent exchanging information and developing professional relationships. When the fishermen's children left the villages for the cities, they brought the secondary sense of "net-working" with them.

  10. Randy Hudson said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 12:07 pm

    @Dti, that distinction was much discussed in the wake of the US war against Iraq, one of the justifications of which was President Bush's declaration in his 2003 State of the Union address: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The consensus was that "learned" entailed that the British government held the embedded assertion to be true, and the sentence as a whole was also asserting it as fact. The lack of evidence for that assertion after investigation led ambassador Joe Wilson to brand those "16 words" as a lie.

  11. David Marjanović said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 1:13 pm

    but it played right into their efforts to associate kisses uniquely with the Hershey brand.

    In German-speaking places, where Hershey's doesn't exist*, various large roundish sweets are called Küsse or regional synonyms like Busserl.

    * Hershey's has almost managed to produce disgusting chocolate. I wouldn't have guessed that was possible.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 1:18 pm

    "recently sought", in the immediately preceding quotation, does not seem idiomatic to me. For me, it would need to read "sought to purchase" or "sought to obtain" rather than just bare "sought" followed by a noun phrase.

  13. Bob Ladd said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 1:37 pm

    I agree with Dti, BLoix, and Randy Hudson that the learn/hear distinction gets at some really interesting issues.

    But less profoundly: In Italy, the brand of chocolate-nut sweets/candy "Baci [kisses] Perugina" has been around, largely unchanged, for roughly a century. If you can read Italian, the Wikipedia entry ( provides some not-entirely-believable stories about their origins and how they came to be called kisses. I'm not sure whether I've just learned this material, or only read it.

  14. Bloix said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 2:03 pm

    forgive my skepticism.
    Various sources assert that the noun "network" was metaphorically applied to transportation systems (rail, canal, road) by the early nineteenth century; that the verb was applied to radio transmission by 1914 and was extended in time to electronics and eventually computers; that the noun, meaning a group of inter-connected individuals, was psychologiy jargon by 1934; and that the verb, meaning to interact with others to gain information, emerged in the 1980s.
    The related term "old boys' network" (where "old boy" is a Britishism for an alumnus of an elite "public" – i.e. private – secondary school) appears from my ngram research to have emerged in the early 1960s.

  15. arthur said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 2:11 pm

    Bloix, note the title of the blog post.

  16. John From Cincinnati said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 2:18 pm

    @Philip Taylor. While I accept your "sought to purchase" and "sought to obtain" as alternatives, the places I have looked give an essential meaning of seek as to search for or ask for or try to get _something_. Seek employment, seek advice, seek revenge, seek refuge, seek asylum, seek permission, seek approval, seek custody, seek assistance, seek funding. So nothing jarring with seek uranium. YMMV.

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 4:01 pm

    Well, yes, if he were seeking uranium, then I would have no problem with "sought uranium in Africa". But he wasn't seeking uranium, he was seeking to obtain (or purchase) uranium from Africa. The reason for my problem is unclear even to me, but my gut instinct tells me one seeks X in Y, but seeks to obtain X from Y. Although I would allow "sought forgiveness from", so clearly there are exceptions to my "rule".

  18. cameron said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 4:18 pm

    @David Marjanović – those roundish chocolate treats called Küsse had other names in the past, and equivalent names in most European languages:

  19. maidhc said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 5:49 pm

    The phrase "it's a doggy dog world" was attributed to film producer Samuel Goldwyn. But during the golden years of Hollywood, attributing amusing malapropisms to Samuel Goldwyn was a popular sport (you win if it gets printed in one of the leading gossip columns).

  20. Bloix said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 5:53 pm

    Ah. you got me.

  21. David Marjanović said,

    December 29, 2021 @ 6:08 pm

    had other names in the past, and equivalent names in most European languages:

    Yes (in the recent enough past that I remember), but "kisses" was often part of those names.

    Also, there's never been chocolate or any kind of cream in Kokosbusserl. They're just round.

  22. Terry Hunt said,

    December 30, 2021 @ 2:31 pm

    In Britain, "candy" is not generally used in this specific American sense.

    That's why over here, these old work songs were called "chocolate chants."

  23. Piotr J. Flis said,

    January 5, 2022 @ 10:39 pm

    Funnily enough, in Polish—and yes, there are some actual Polish rappers, it’s not all “Who Stole the Kishka?” here…—the RAP from WRAP (by taking away the silent w from spelling) “folk” etymology seems to have borne a few lexical fruits. The Polish rappers’ slang… synonym for RAP (noun) itself is NAWIJKA (noun), which comes from NAWIJAĆ (verb; infinitive) ‘to wrap’.

    However, I have yet to hear NAWIJACZ for ‘rapper’. Polish ‘raper’, with one p, seems the only term to call one who likes to do the wrapping around the beat themselves.

    Also, NAWIJAĆ means not only ‘to physically wrap’, or maybe more accurately, ‘to wind’ (COED 11th ed: ‘[to] pass (something) around a thing or person so as to encircle or enfold them’), but also—colloquially and a tad derogatorily—‘to talk at length in a rambling fashion, or in a machine-like way’ (my own def.). That seems only a bit similar to the meanings of English RAP though (COED: informal, chiefly North American ‘talk or chat in an easy and familiar manner’; therein also TO RAP SOMETHING OUT ‘say sharply and suddenly’). NAWIJAĆ is more like ‘to yak’, ‘to prattle’, or sometimes ‘to ramble’; ‘to ramble on and on’…; albeit it can, and at times does, NAWIJAĆ does not always mean ‘to talk without direction’.

    (And it can mean that only one person is talking while others listen, but also that it is two (or maybe more) persons who are having a long, or dedicated, or rambling, conversation.)

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