Re: [tied] Re: Ground squirrels suck

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 5687
Date: 2001-01-21

There are dictionaries and dictionaries. OED is generally *far* more reliable than Brückner, simply because there's a lot more research (conducted by a team of first-class experts) behind it. Brückner wrote his dictionary as a stopgap reference book for language-lovers. If he had known that it would have to remain practically the only widely accessible etymological dictionary of Polish for the rest of the century, I suppose he would have been terrified. Both your favourite dictionaries are somewhat dated. Historical linguistics keeps making progress and a lot of information is dispersed in various publications never seen by the general reader. Brückner would vehemently disagree with many of his own etymologies of seventy or eighty years ago if he were alive now. Besides, he was a great philologist and historian of culture, but often a very inept linguist and etymologist.
Sure, there are various onomatopoeic expressions for 'hiss' in Slavic, including sys-, syk- and the like. Same in other language groups. You can't compare them historically, since they can't be too old. An ancient *su:s- related to German sausen would have yielded *syx-, not sys-. Like English hiss or whizz they are of imitative and rather recent origin.
I don't think you understood Sergei's correction. He said that Old Church Slavic was not to be identified with Proto-Slavic, so it was wrong to say that a word appearing in various Slavic languages derived from OCS. If related words occur in Polish, Russian and OCS, their common prototype is older than any of those three languages. Now if you say that *sus(U)l- is related to *sys-, the vowel difference implies a very old common base for both, since *sus-(U)l- with its /u/ cannot be derived from *sys- via morphological processes characteristic of more recent periods. In fact, it seems necessary to go back to something like *souk^-/*su:k^- --- but now, paradoxically, the words are not "hissy" enough to be plausibly onomatopoeic.
The most sensible way out is to abandon Brückner's idea altogether, as it causes more problems than it solves. Phonetic similarity is useless if you can't propose a good morphological derivation. But because of phonetic similarity speakers may form a non-etymological (or rather folk-etymological) association between originally unrelated words (Cze,stochowa = "cze,sto chowa" 'frequently hides' for a vast majority of Poles). The *sus(U)l- / *sys- link is of this kind, I think.
Gopher is popularly derived from gaufre 'waffle, honeycomb' (with various rationalisations) simply because the history of the word is obscure and there seems to be no attractive alternative in sight. Well, one could invent more such explanations (e.g. immigrants from Scotland who saw the holes in the earth and concluded that there must be "goffers" around if there were "goff links"), though the gaufre hypothesis is perhaps more plausible. Still, it has its weak points. Something that makes "gaufres" is a "gaufreur", not a "gaufer" itself. Besides, the animal was apparently known under a longer name (recorded as magopher or megopher) at an early date. I've no idea where it comes from. Borrowing from an Native American language? -- but which one? A slangy word without etymology? The don't use question marks in OED without a reason.
----- Original Message -----
From: stefan
Sent: Sunday, January 21, 2001 9:18 PM
Subject: Re: [tied] Re: Ground squirrels suck

[PG]. The susl- : sys-/sUs- < *suk^- 'suck' looks to me like a
folk-etymology (your derivation of "gopher" is probably another),

No, no. Bruckner derives "susel" from OChSlav (as Sergei corrected)
"sysati" "to hiss" (pol.syczec, syk- not sus).  Hence another name
for "susel" was/is "krzeczek" (squeaker). In the XVI c. "sys" was
another name for an eagle (they hiss too). Brueckner also mentions
German sausen (older su_so_n) to sough, swish, rush.

You have just undermined my faith in Brueckner, OED and all the
other etymological sources I cling to. Where, oh, where can I turn
now for advice to avoid folk etymologies? :-(

[PG]The name "gopher" is erroneously applied to various ground
squirrels (such as Spermophilus) and prairie dogs, but real gophers
make up the exclusively North and Central American family
Geomyidae -- they are not sciurids.

Yes, it is applied indiscriminately to various small animals as well
as used as a nickname for the inhabitants of Arkansas or Minnesota.
Curiously enough, acc. to Brueckner, some small Slavonic tribes have
also been nicknamed "gophers" (Susly)
But how does this affect their etymology?  I have my doubts too but
OED gives the colonial French "gaufre"( with a question mark.) North
Amer. "gofer" (go for it) to describe someone who runs errands, a
dogsbody could be another folk etymology.