Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A ninteresting and a ninsightful nitem

Photo of eyases at Cathedral of St. John the Divine by Bruce Yolton

Chris Karatnytsky, notable North Woods owl finder, sends in a Ninternet Nitem:

Did you know that "eyas" is something called a "false split"?

What's common among an orange and an omelet... and an uncle and an umpire?
Earlier all these words used to take the indefinite article "a", not "an".

They were coined by a process called false splitting. Let's take
orange. The original word was Sanskrit naranga. By the time it reached
English, the initial letter n had joined the article a, resulting in
"an orange". The word for orange is still narangi in Hindi, naranja in
Spanish, and naranj in Arabic.

This false splitting caused what should have been "a napron" to become
"an apron". The same process transformed "a nadder" into "an adder", and
reshaped many other words.

The n went the other way too. "Mine uncle" was interpreted as "my nuncle"
resulting in a synonym nuncle for uncle. The word newt was formed the same
way: "an ewte" misdivided into "a newte".

Could false splitting turn "an apple" into "a napple" or "a nail" into
"an ail" some day? Before the advent of printing, the language was primarily
oral/aural, resulting in mishearing and misinterpreting. Today, spelling
is mostly standardized, so chances of false splitting are slim, though
not impossible.

This week we'll look at a few more examples of words formed by false splitting.

eyas (EYE-uhs) noun

A nestling, especially a young falcon or hawk.

[By erroneous splitting of the original "a nyas" into "an eyas". From Latin
nidus (nest), ultimately from the Indo-European root sed- (to sit) that
is also the source of sit, chair, saddle, soot, sediment, cathedral, and