There’s a word for that

Do you know what an oronym is? Merriam-Webster Online doesn’t, which isn’t encouraging, but I don’t know whether that says more about the online dictionary or the site I’m blogging about this evening. I know I never encountered the term before (that I can remember). It’s easier to give examples than a definition. The Swot’s Corner, where I learned the term, cites “I scream” and “ice cream,” “some others” and “some mothers,” and “a notion” and “an ocean.”

The example I always think of, which formed the basis for Encyclopedia Brown’s solution to a mystery in a story I read as a child, is “a narrow flight” (of stairs) and “an arrow flight.” (Obviously the idea impressed me, even if I didn’t know what it was called, as I’ve never forgotten that example.)

I didn’t go looking for oronyms this evening, or to learn the difference between elude and evade (though I have often wondered about it as I do crossword puzzles and try to decide which of the two is the answer to a given clue). I was answering the QoD (question of the day) on the blog formerly known as WorldMagBlog (now WORLDmag.com Community) about ancestry. I know that one branch of our family tree came from Scotland, and I wanted to see what was the difference between saying Scottish and Scotch.

I remember as a child that I always used to say Scotch, and then I was told no, I should say Scottish because Scotch is an alcoholic beverage, not a nationality. But other people on the blog referred to themselves as Scotch. According to The Swot’s Corner:

Scots’ preferred adjective for Scotland and for themselves is “Scots”. “Scottish” is also acceptable. But “Scotch” (although used by Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, and still used by some Americans of Scots descent) is now considered offensive by many Scots. Certain Scots hold that only three things can be “Scotch”: “Scotch whisky”, “Scotch egg”, and “Scotch mist”. They are not interested in considering additions to this list, although many other terms containing “Scotch” can be found in dictionaries.

So now I know. And, because I was delighted to find a page so full of interesting details about words, I also learned that the term for a redundant term like PIN number (Personal Identification Number number) is a pleonasm. (I’m pleased to say that Merriam-Webster Online does know this one.) I already knew the difference between averse and adverse, a simile and a metaphor, and among and between. But I do have trouble with epigraph and epigram, and founder and flounder.

I’m not sure I can think of a good example of a dysphemism (the opposite of a euphemism), but it’s nice to know what to call it if I think of one. And I like the word “deboning” for removing the inserts from the Sunday newspaper.

One thing the page doesn’t comment on, however, is the difference between swot and SWOT. The page begins with a definition of swot to explain the site’s title:

swot v. & n.; Brit. colloq.; _ v. (swotted, swotting);1intr. study assiduously.;2tr. (often foll. by up) study (a subject) hard or hurriedly.; _ n.;1a person who swots.2a hard study. b a thing that requires this.; Etymology dial. var. of sweat;      Oxford English Dictionary. Ed. J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

But when I did a Google search on the word (thinking it would be faster than going back through my browser history to find the site again), I had to go through five pages of hits to reach it. All the other references were to the acronym SWOT, familiar (I would guess) to any graduate of a business administration program: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

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2 Responses to There’s a word for that

  1. Peter L says:

    Interesting post. I wonder if “Scotch” is a mispronunciation of “Scots”? It could be that the early settlers of the Appalachian Mountains, many of whom were of Scotland and Ireland, didn’t change the name. Was it not they who gave us the word “critter” form “creature”, along with “spitting image” from “spirit and image”?

  2. Margaret says:

    Wikipedia says that “Scotch” originated among the 16th-century English, who mispronounced “Scottish.” (The English were always shortening the pronunciation of words.) But I guess the early settlers of the Appalachians did the same sort of thing.

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