Three words of american interest in a prospective new etymological dictionary of english: Ain't, alairy, and alewife

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Abstract

The article features three entries from An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology, preparation of which is currently underway. The entries offer comprehensive reports (without references to articles and books that contain neither new data nor original ideas) and cautious solutions about the origins of ain't, alairy, and alewife. (1) While the contractions of am not, is not, and are not have been proposed as candidates from which ain't derived, the author rules out each and concludes that the most likely etymon is haven't. (2) The word alairy, used in a girls' ball-bouncing game, seem to be related to a-lery, a Middle English hapax legomenon from Piers Plowman, and is possibly related to Old English lira 'calf of the leg'. (3) Despite speculation that alewife, a type of fish with a large belly found in the North Atlantic, was metaphorically named after a corpulent alehouse keeper, it is more likely that the fish, known in many countries as alose, allice, Alse, alley, allowes, and the like, was changed to alewife because of folk etymology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-189
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Speech
Volume89
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

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