Re: OED Help! (was couth/uncouth)

Subject: Re: OED Help! (was couth/uncouth)
From: Karen Kay <karenk -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 27 Dec 1994 18:25:39 -0800

Ann Amsler said:
> I knew this OED on my desk would come in handy sometime! The OED says
> that "couth" is Old English and means "known" or familiar (as in the
> Riddles, 1000 A.D.: "That word was sone wide couth." [That word was soon
> widely known.]). The word also appears in Old High German. The OED
> lists uncouth as the negative of couth.Uncouth is also Old English, and
> appeared in AElfred in 897. back formation here. Just two Old
> English words that survive today.

Whoopsie! You're making some unwarranted assumptions here! First of all,
'couth' may mean 'known' or 'familiar' and 'uncouth' may mean 'unknown' or
'unfamiliar' in Old English, but the modern meaning of uncouth (according
to the online Webster) is

un.couth \-'ku:th\ aj [ME, fr. OE uncu-th, fr. un- + cu-th familiar, known;
a]kin to OHG kund known, OE can know - more at CAN archaic 1a: not known
or not familiar to one : seldom experienced : UNCOMMO N, RARE obs 1b:
MYSTERIOUS, UNCANNY 2a: strange or clumsy in shape or appearance :
OUTLANDISH 2b: lacking in polish and grace 2c: awkward and uncultivated
in appearance, manner, or behavior - av

2a, b, and c how are I'm used to thinking of it. This has nothing to do
with the first definition. Also, it was interesting to note that there are 5
separate meanings.

When you look up 'couth', you get just one meaning:

couth \'ku:th\ aj [back-formation fr. uncouth] : POLISHED, SOPHISTICATED

The fact that there is only one meaning is a clue to this being a back
formation. If it were really a word descended straight from OE, then a) it
would most likely have a meaning more closely related to it's OE meaning
than to its negative, and b) it would probably have more meanings than
one. This situation--of the negative surviving longer than the affirmative
and a new affirmative developing from the negative--is not unheard of in


karenk -at- netcom -dot- com

Previous by Author: Re: Indexes - Printed vs. On-line
Next by Author: Re: Re[2]: warranty info in a manual
Previous by Thread: Re: OED Help! (was couth/uncouth)
Next by Thread: Re: OED Help! (was couth/uncouth)

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads