Daily Archives: July 6, 2009

acorn

This word has that food-receiving mouthfeel that comes from corn, plus the bit of acuity that comes from the a. Its object presents images of that squirrel favourite, the tree-seed shaped like the head of a medieval yokel with a pageboy bob (or perhaps Dorothy Hamill). Nothing in the shape of the word readily suggests that, though; the closest is the co, a bit like an acorn on its side. (Scramble it and you get caron, a diacritical mark that looks just a little like an acorn cap turned upside down.) It’s just an unassuming little word, really, but one about which many assumptions have been made. It ought not to have the corn at all, etymologically; it appears to stem from the Gothic aker “field,” originally “open country” – source of acre – by way of the derivative akran, which would have signified “fruit of the open country or forest.” Others trace it to óg, an Indo-European root for “fruit, berry.” Wherever it came from, the sense over time narrowed to refer to the oak’s seed specifically. This led to versions such as oke-corn and oke-horn. Most recently, the misconjecture eggcorn has become a word to refer to such folk-etymological misconjectures generally. When we see acorn out on a date, its Betty and Veronica are squash and woodpecker (an acorn squash is a squash that resembles a huge acorn, and an acorn woodpecker is a type of woodpecker that hoards acorns).