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1441RE: [Czechlist] Czech Dictionaries

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  • Melvyn Clarke
    Jul 9, 2000
      >Many English Dictionaries include etymology for most of their entries. In
      many cases words are traced all the way to their Indo-Europen roots.

      >It would appear that Czech Dictionaries (e.g. Travnicek) do not give word
      etymolgy - even though Czech words must (and do) have their stories. Anyone
      knows why this is so ? Or I just know little about newer Czech Dictionaries
      ?

      Olda Bendl
      Ontario

      Hi Olda, welcome to the list. I can't give you any authoritative answers but
      I do have a couple of pet theories.

      It seems to me that in the past, the etymology of a word was erroneously
      believed to have some bearing on its 'correct' usage. Perhaps this belief
      has been stronger in the English-speaking world than elsewhere. Perhaps we
      Anglo-Saxons are haunted by a word's history more than we should be.

      When Samuel Johnson was compiling his Dictionary of the English Language
      (1775), I believe he was often swayed by the history of a word when making
      one of his silly, arbitrary decisions on its spelling (yes, you can all
      blame him:)). So he decided to stick a b in 'doubt' because the Latin word
      had a b in it, even though nobody else had ever pronounced or written a b in
      the English word until he came along.

      Even nowadays, reference to a word's earlier meaning can often influence the
      way an argument proceeds. In a recent TV debate on the way history should be
      taught in schools - whether the focus should be on 'facts' or 'methods' - a
      supporter of the latter position referred to the 'real' meaning of history
      as 'investigation' or 'learning by enquiry', as this was what was meant by
      Greek historia, from which the modern term derives. Several people were
      swayed by the point, and referred to it throughout the debate.

      This view that an earlier meaning of a lexeme, or its original meaning, is
      its 'true' or 'correct' one is called the etymological fallacy. The fallacy
      is evident when it is realised that most common lexemes have experienced
      several changes in meaning during their history. 'Nice', for example,
      earlier meant 'fastidious', and before that 'foolish' or 'simple', and if we
      trace it back to the equivalent Latin form, 'nescius', the meaning is
      'ignorant'.

      Do people refer to the older meaning as the correct meaning quite so much in
      CZ??? Somehow I doubt it.

      I think another point worth bearing in mind is that English is such a
      hotch-potch mongrel language, there is quite an element of fun in guessing
      if a word is of Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Norman French,
      Flemish, Romany etc origin and guessing the transmutations it has gone
      through. Etymological dictionaries are full of fascinating information like
      the fact that 'poppycock' comes from seventeenth-century Dutch 'pappe kak'
      meaning 'soft dung'.

      >- even though Czech words must (and do) have their stories.

      _Does_ Czech really have anything to compete?

      There is a modern Czech etymological dictionary. I have it at home. But I
      won't be home till tomorrow evening so I can't tell you what it's called
      till then.

      :)

      Melvyn


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