8.25.2016

Brewing up a Storm on “Brouhaha”

Brouhaha is a French word meaning “commotion” or “hubbub.” The French Littré etymological dictionary cites one use of it in the 18th century by Saint-Simon and three by Molière. It was adopted with this meaning into English in the late 19th century.

Ortolang (Outils et Ressources pour un Traitement Optimisé de la Langue) states that the earliest use on record of this combination of syllables occurred in a16th century farce in which a priest disguised as a devil tries to terrify someone by shouting Brou, brou, brou, ha, ha, Brou, ha, ha. So it may have begun as merely a scary noise, similar to "boo!"

But it seems there may be more to the story than this. Some etymologists have suggested a much more interesting derivation. Here’s a summary of their view from Merriam-Webster:
There is a bit of a brouhaha over the etymology of brouhaha. Some etymologists think the word is onomatopoeic in origin, but others believe it comes from the Hebrew phrase bārŪkh habbā’,meaning "blessed be he who enters" (Psalms 118:26). Although we borrowed our spelling and meaning of brouhaha directly from French in the late 19th century, etymologists have connected the French derivation to that frequently recited Hebrew phrase, distorted to something like brouhaha by worshippers whose knowledge of Hebrew was limited. Thus, once out of the synagogue, the word first meant "a noisy confusion of sound" - a sense that was later extended to refer to any tumultuous and confused situation.
But this could be a mere coincidence, right? How many Christians would have understood enough Hebrew or even had the opportunity to hear it spoken in a synagogue to export it into the wider community? Seems a pretty far-fetched derivation to me.

[Side note: my computer’s auto-correct feature suggests Merriam-Webster is in error in spelling "worshippers" with two P's. It's got some nerve!]

Of course the priest in the old farce could be supposed to be parodying the Hebrew expression, but the fact that the original citation has each syllable repeated separately makes me wonder whether these were just scary noises that happened to sound like the Hebrew phrase.

Ortolang also cites as an example supporting this theory a passage by François Rabelais in 1552 in the fourth volume of Gargantua et Pantagruel in which the bawdy French priest-satirist seems to be using a variation on the phrase from the old farce by depicting a crowd of clerics striking cymbals together and shouting like devils:  Hho, hho, hho, hho, brrrourrrourrrs, rrrourrrs, rrrourrrs. Hou, hou, hou. Hho, hho, hho. 

Ortolang notes that the learned Rabelais could have been directly based on Psalm 118 since he exhibits in his writings some awareness of Jewish writings, but it is far from clear that he could actually read Hebrew.

Even the distinguished Larousse Dictionnaire de français has adopted this etymology without comment:
altération onomatopéique de l'hébreu bārākh habbā, paroles d'un psaume
Whatever its origins, the spelling is definitely not “brew ha ha,” but there are plenty of examples of this amusing version on the Web. Here are just three, all in the context of current political controversies:
But evidently … there is no such rule. Hence … all the brew ha ha.
The whole thing strikes me as a huge brew-ha-ha that started with Scott Brown and has gained life as a meme that won't die.
A huge brew ha-ha occured and the two candidates that were against the IA were Nolan & Turkel.
But an involuntary pun like this is inevitably also made deliberately into the name of some occasion involving beer:
I was reminded while going through these references of the old tradition of having crowd noise created in a play by having the extras mumble over and over phrases like “sodawater bottle” and “rhubarb, rhubarb.” Combining the two creates an even more convincing hubbub. This sort of thing is known as “walla” (do the good folks of Walla Walla, Washington know about this?).

So your depending on your choice of drink a commotion can be hopped up or merely fizzy.

7.24.2016


Myriad Malapropisms

When I read a Facebook post today from a woman experiencing “a Miriam of emotions” I decided to see if anyone else had committed this malapropism on the web.

I found two:

Sasuke outwardly sighed out and showed a Miriam of emotions running through his eyes.
This book is well written, and pulls a Miriam of emotions from deep within the heart
(Don’t search for this one; it’s on a page that brings up a warning.)

Dropping “emotions" from the search phrase brought up plenty of legitimate uses, most of them referring to the Bible:


Just as we have been told that there is a Jesus of history and Christ of faith, we are now being told of a Miriam of history and a Mary of faith.

But there are a number of goofy ones too:


A miriam of laser plotters that are capable of processing A3, A2, A1, B1 and AO size drawings. 
I could keep going but all in all the perfect place to stay if you're going for a Miriam of reasons - big family - surfing - privacy - security - ease.
They also went through a Miriam of excuses.
 The city comes alive with a miriam of light displays.
Did a test drive with a technician and all I got was a Miriam of excuses including design, the xdrive, road camber, tyres, and finally the wheel size!
You will then make your way to the world famous Tangalooma Wrecks for a guidedsnorkel, comparable to the Great Barrier Reef, snorkeling through 15 scuttled shipwrecks, amongst a Miriam of fish.


It’s striking that most of these folks capitalize the name. Who in the world do they think Miriam is? Perhaps someone like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra of whom Enobabus says “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”

And of course they all include the “of” which traditionalists object to. 

See page 153 of my book on this point.