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Blame it on Erasmus (was common root of proverbs)

Posted by Israel izzy Cohen on July 29, 2005

In Reply to: Blame it on Erasmus posted by Bruce Kahl on July 14, 2005

>> ... evidently both the French and British peasantry knew the same market-trader's trick of selling a man a piglet, pretending to put it in a bag to carry home and substituting a cat, which has given rise to the English saying "buy a pig in a poke" and the French "acheter chat en poche"... Just to clarify, are you claiming that
> "to let the cat out of the bag" is a
> borrowed, Anglicized expression?

Yes. Either inherited (Nostratic ?) or more likely borrowed from Aramaic. Aramaic kuf-shin-vav(oh)-taf Ki[T]oT = truth. bet-gimel-dalet BaGad = to betray. Hence, to betray the truth, or betray someone by telling the truth.

> What evidence would argue for this in
> the face of the more widely accepted and
> [as far as I know] documented origin that
> goes along with "a pig in a poke"?

I would derive "pig in a poke" from Semitic
peh-gimel-mem PaGaM = blemish, defect, fault, flaw + peh-kuf-het PaKakh = be watchful, careful. That is, be careful (to not buy) something defective.

There are more or less believable folk
etymologies for all idioms. However, the
standard etymology of the word "idiom" itself gives a strong indication that idioms are borrowed.

From Random House online:
id-i-om (id'ee uhm) n.
1. an expression whose meaning is not predictable
from the usual grammatical rules of a language
or from the usual meanings of its constituent
elements, as kick the bucket "to die". ...
[1565-75; KK BKT. The final N was dropped.

"spill the beans" seems to be a transliteration (via Germanic spielen, e.g. Purim spiel) of the Hebrew SaPeR eT HaBiNah = to tell (spell out) the meaning. Compare OE spellian = to talk, announce.

raining "(pole)cats and dogs" seems to be a transliteration of maBooL GeSHeM SHKi3a = flood/torrent rain descend, at a time when the shin still had its original "dental" D/T sound
and the aiyin=3 sounded like G (as in 3aZa = Gaza). The Old English word for "dog" was DoCGa, a perfect match for the original sound of SHKi3a = descend. This also provides the meaning for "dogs" in the idiom: His life went to the dogs. Compare Pennsylvania Dutch "raining cats and ducks" with the same meaning. In this case, DoCGa --> ducks because DoCGa doesn't sound like G Hunt = dog.

[ make others think you are more important or wealthy than you are; that is, to purposely lead others astray what you say when you realize you have made a mistake(gone or been led astray; i.e., the obverse of put on the dog) where you are after doing something awful a long, involved tale told with extraneous detail having an absurd or irrelevant ending < shin-gimel-gimel SHaGaG = to err, act under a wrong impression. shin-gimel-yod-aleph-heh SH'Gi'aH = blunder, error, mistake
+ taf-aiyin-heh = to be led astray

In other words, the literal meaning of the "English" words in classical idioms such as "kick the bucket" or "spill the beans"
is (mostly) irrelevant. However, the meaning of these sounds in the source language *is* relevant.

Israel Cohen

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