LINGUIST List 8.1459

Fri Oct 10 1997

Sum: Quote ("Etymology is . . .")

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Rebecca Larche Moreton, Quote ("Etymology is . . .")

Message 1: Quote ("Etymology is . . .")

Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 16:33:27 -0500 (CDT)
From: Rebecca Larche Moreton <>
Subject: Quote ("Etymology is . . .")

All right, Listers! Thanks for all the quick responses; so far, I
have heard from nineteen people that the quote I asked about is
attributed to Voltaire; most said it was about etymology, not about
historical linguistics (close enough for my purposes, anyway). BUT
many also mentioned either that they had never seen an exact reference
or that they had actually searched in vain in Voltaire's writings and
not seen the quote anywhere. Two people gave the French as :
L'etymologie est la science ou les consonnes valent peu, et les
voyelles rien du tout, and another had a slightly different version.

Peter Daniels goes two steps further by noting that the statement is
attributed to Voltaire by Bloomfield (in Language (1933; pp.6, 511),
who states that he got it from Max Muller (in Lectures on the Science
of Language, 2nd Series, London, 1864, p. 238). Bloomfield says he has
"searched in vain" for the quote in Voltaire's works. (B. did not have
access to the CD of Voltaire's works, but Daniels does, and HE says he
can't find it there.)

Curiouser and curiouser. Myself, I would have thought it sounded more
like Moliere anyway, but let's not get another rumor started. Dorothy
Disterheft suggested I try a historical list she runs, and I
will. Reckon where Muller got HIS information? Well,if anything
definite turns up, I will post on the LL (but I think I'll check it

Thanks to the following responders, as well as any others that may
have already sent a reply which I have not yet gotten:

Lisa Stevens
Amalia Arvaniti
Larry Trask
Jane Edwards
James Clackson
Peter Daniels
James Copeland
Marc Picard
James J. Jenkins 
Georgia Green
Richard Derochers
Herb Stahlke
Rhett M.
Robin Thelwall
Dorothy Disterheft
Fred Anshen
Tim Pulju
Suzanne E. Kemmer

Rebecca Larche Moreton
301 South Ninth Street
Oxford, MS 38655
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