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an explanation of the origins of a word which does not correspond to its actual history. In contrast to scholarly etymology, false etymology is based not on the laws of language development but on a fortuitous similarity between words. (For example, deriving Russian derevnia, “countryside,” “village,” from derevo, “tree,” whereas derevnia originally meant “a place cleared of trees for plowing.”)
Collective false etymology, or popular etymology, reflects the tendency on the part of speakers to invent maximum semantic justification for linguistic signs. Popular etymology can lead to changes in the meaning or phonetic structure of words, most often of foreign origin. For example, Russian verstak, “carpenter’s bench,” from German Werkstatt, received its form by analogy with Russian versta’, “to arrange typeset pages in order for printing”; Latin vagabundus (“strolling”) became, in Spanish, vagamundo (under the influence of the Spanish word mundo, “world”) and was construed as “he who wanders/goes around the world.”