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What is a folk etymology?

A folk etymology (also called associative etymology or popular etymology) is the replacement of an unknown word by a more familiar one, for example, "asparagus" replacing "sparrow-grass" and "cucumber" replacing "cowcumber." Folk etymology can also be an "explanation" of the meaning of a word based on its superficial similarity to other words, and also without analyzing its morphological structure, documented history, or scientifically reconstructible past forms.' A folk etymology is created by analogy and assimilation - usually when a word's derivation is obscure. The "pantry" is not so called since it is or was used for storing pots and pans, but because it was originally a bread storeroom or closet (Old French paneterie). However, folk etymology can also be a perversion of the form of a word to render it more significant (as in the examples of "asparagus," "cucumber"). Folk etymology is an alteration in the form of an opaque word in order to make it seem more transparent - if not necessarily more sensible. In folk etymology, nothing is removed; the form of a word is simply altered.

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