June 7, 2012

Squinch: a false etymology on Wikipedia

There's a couple instances of false etymologies on Wikipedia.  If something on Wikipedia looks too exotic or interesting to be true, it probably is.  Grant Barrett on "A Way With Words" pointed out that "homie" and "homeboy" are nineteenth-century black slang.  He had more than once changed the Wikipedia page "Homeboy" to reflect this, and each time others had changed it back to a false etymology: that homeboy came from homo or homme or hombre.

I discovered what looks like a false etymology in the Wikipedia article "Squinch."  A squinch is an architectural member that was an early (Byzantine?) solution to the problem of stacking an octagonal or a round dome on a square, four-walled structure: create four squinches, or little bridges at the corners of the walls, set at 45-degree angles to the walls.  The dome can sit on these, as well as the center-points of the four walls.  The Wikipedia article thinks squinch comes from a Persian word "pronounced 'sekonj.'"  "Persian, huh?" I thought.  The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to the French escoinson, meaning "from an angle" and via the English word "scuncheon." 

Can anyone out there explain the reasoning behind the Persian-word claim?