Friday, July 01, 2011


More on the Etymology of Kumbaya

Eric Thomson writes:
I found Michael Cervesarius' Isidorian conjecture on the etymology of Kumbaya (LTA, May 31st) wholly convincing. Now I know why I need a drink every time I overhear the song. Johannes Goropius Becanus, of course, would argue that you could go still further back in time, Greek 'kumbíon' being itself merely a corrupt form of a much older and simpler lexeme. 'Kom' in Dutch means 'bowl, basin' and Dutch, as we all know and he conclusively proved, was the language of Paradise. Could Adam and Eve have been expelled from the Garden of Eden for singing (or even humming) Kumbaya? Perhaps not for that alone, but it would definitely have aggravated the original sin.
Le Trésor de la Langue Française Informatisé doesn't seem to have an entry for goropisme or goropizer, said to have been coined by Leibniz. See D.P. Walker, "Leibniz on Language," in R.S. Woolhouse, ed., G.W. Leibniz: Critical Assessments (London: Routledge, 1994), pp. 436-451 (at 443, footnote omitted):
He was by no means alone in his patriotic claim that the Germanic family of languages had most faithfully of all preserved the good qualities of the lingua adamica. He mentions one of his predecessors when suggesting that use could be made of etymological investigations to reconstruct the early history of the origins and relationships of various peoples; great caution, however, is needed here, he says, and no etymology should be accepted without a great deal of corroborative evidence — 'autrement c'est Goropizer'. This verb means to make up 'Etymologies étranges et souvent ridicules', like those of Goropius Becanus, a sixteenth-century writer on language.
Eric Thomson adds:
There's a pleasing echo of 'grope' in 'goropize', the sequence of events for the intrepid etymologist being something like:

1) 'attempt to find something by feeling about as in the dark or as a blind person'; 'behave as if blind or in the dark; to search blindly, tentatively, or uncertainly (for, after); to make a blind guess at.'

followed triumphantly by

2) 'touch with the hands; to examine by the touch; to handle, feel; to probe (a wound). Also, to take hold of, grasp, seize. Obs.*

*OED 3.b. in indecent sense. Obs.

13.. Sir Beues 3105 (MS. A.), Þow gropedest þe wif aniȝt to lowe.
a1380 St. Bernard 133 in Horstm. Altengl. Leg. (1878) 43 Heo lay stille a luytel whil, þen heo groped him atte laste.
1664 A. WOOD Life 26 Jan., Kissed her and groped her and felt her brests.

What a relief that this unseemly practice has been unrecorded since 1664!

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