Friday, December 01, 2006

Hump This: Pimp My Etymology

Hump This is a (quasi-)weekly Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, choose which lucky word gets humped back to the stoneage (or at least to Proto-Indo-Europa). Today's word comes from RM in California who asks:
Where does the word "pimp" come from?
The American Heritage Dictionary sometimes disappoints me. Effort counts for something in life and sometimes the AHD just doesn't try very hard. Case in point, its entry for the word pimp: "Origin Unknown". Now, the OED also says pimp's origin is unknown however it lists a myriad of possibilities then strikes them down one-by-one. I appreciate this. Let's take a look at what the OED has to say:

1) It's been suggested that pimp has a connection with the German Pimpf meaning "small boy" but the German word appears much later than the English pimp (c. 1600) and thus any causal relationship seems unlikely. Plus, there are apparently a number of semantic differences.

2) The second suggestion, which is what I would have guessed, is that pimp is short for pimpernel, scarlet-colored or otherwise. But again, the OED claims there are semantic irregularities.

3) There are a number of possible French roots including pimpant (seductive in appearance), pimper (to adorn) and pimpernol, which is a small eel (and is surprisingly not etymologically related to pimpernel at all). The OED dismisses any connections to these words as merely coincidental.

However, the Online Etymology Dictionary, citing a mysterious source "Weekley", offers this li'l nugget of linguistic gold:
Weekley suggests [Middle French] pimpreneau, defined in Cotgrave [?] (1611) as "a knave, rascall, varlet, scoundrell."
So, there you go. Now where's my money, bitch?

If you have a word you'd like humped please email it, along with your location, to wordhumper.

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:: posted by David, 8:01 AM


Is your money in the bank?
Blogger Loocite, at 3:38 PM  

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