Friday 4 September 2009

San Telmo

In Buenos Aires there is a barrio (neighbourhood) called San Telmo, where last week I visited an interesting open-air art and antiques market. (Who on earth buys old soda syphons? There were two stalls specializing in them alone.)
The name San Telmo naturally reminded me of the English St Elmo, patron saint of sailors, martyr, died c 303, formally known as St Erasmus of Formiae.
We all know him because of St Elmo’s fire, “an electrical weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge originating from a grounded object in an atmospheric electric field (such as those generated by thunderstorms or thunderstorms created by a volcanic explosion). … The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms, and was regarded by sailors with religious awe, accounting for the name.” [Wikipedia].

Are Telmo and Elmo the same name? Are we talking about the same saint? Has Spanish just moved the final t of san(c)t- into the following syllable, rather as English and French moved the initial n of Arabic nāranj into the preceding article to leave orange, or OE nædre became modern English (an) adder? (There’s a name for this process, but for the moment I can’t recall it.)
Probably yes, it’s the same name: but probably not the same saint. According to Wikipedia, the Spanish “Saint Telmo or Saint Elmo” was a priest born in 1190 in Spain, never actually canonized though given the courtesy title of Saint.
Both Elmo and Telmo, I learn, are diminutives of Erasmus, though it’s not clear to me why or how the latter became the former.


  1. Is "metanalysis" the word you're looking for?

  2. Could it be that it’s the t from Sant’? That’s where we get Tiago from Sant’ Iago, I think.

  3. Ah, a new entry for the long list of self-describing linguistic terms:

    pyalatyalizyation, methatesis or metasethis, redup-reduplication, frikhathive, schwə, positionpost, teefoicink, anology, triephthouong, superlativissimus, diminutivito, ancicipation, rules of redundancy rules, { reduced grud : zr grd : e grede : o grod }, sekont sount shiftz, { ebleut : ümläut }, folk-entomology or folk ate-a-mology, frönting, voized, fəˈnɛtʰɪk, suffix-ed, pre-fixed, epenethesis, rhotarism, haspʰiration, gemmination, apfrication, noun, noun phrase, adjectival, adverbially, conjunction and/or disjunction, "This is a complex sentence because it has a subordinate clause", genitive’s, gloʔʔalization, vowol harmono, to back formate, dithsimilation, anapityxis, execrescence, metan alysis, agglutinatinglanguages, apfricate, -pheresis, aphas...., diephthoung, kpoarticulated stop, compēsatory lengthening, condamination, diäeresis, díäçrît’ǐč, digræph, duplication, duplication, monophtong, nãsąlĩzątĩǫn, lharyngeal, mprenasalization, weagening or lenizhion, relick form, infuckingfixation, sibboleth, pro clitic, and derivationalizationalize; also, from the field of writing, lipgraphy and dittotography.

  4. I can't remember the name for the process at the moment, either, but "apron" from "naperon" and, I think, "uncle" from "nuncle" are other examples. We also have a saint in England who has undergone the process. The word "tawdry" derives from St Audrey's Fair (held somewhere in East Anglia, Ely I think) at which cheap and showy stuff called "tawdry lace" was sold. St. Audrey (also known as Etheldrida)was the daughter of Anna (sic) the king (sic) of East Anglia.

  5. Metanalysis: 'The reinterpretation of the form of a word resulting in the creation of a new word; esp. the changing of the boundaries between words or morphological units.' (From the OED.)

  6. In English, at least, it's not unusual for nicknames to be formed by swapping out initial sounds. So Edward can be Ed - but he can also be Ned or Ted. Richard can be Rick - or he can be Dick. Robert can be Rob - but he can also be Bob and, historically, Hob or Dob (as in "Dobbin", a stereotypical name for a horse). Mary can be Molly - or Polly. Margaret can be Meg - or she can be Peg.

    It's one way of coping with the fact that people liked to use the same names over and over again, like being in class with 3 Aidens (popular name for 5 year olds this year) and being Aiden K, Aiden P, and Aiden W, except more interesting.

    I don't know if they did that in Spain, though.

  7. Britannica Online has: "Elmo is an Italian corruption (through Sant' Ermo) of St. Erasmus; other derivations include Ramus, Eramus, Ermus, Ermo, and Telmo."

    In other words, the T- would still be from sant' and the -l- from -r-, maybe after the -as- had been elided.

  8. The non-botanical name for vipera berus is adder (besides viper) in English. The German for it is Natter (or Kreuzotter). The OE word was nædre; the n got lost in ME times in English but not in German. So this is another instance of metanalysis. The word nedder seems to persist in some northern dialects.

  9. Is phonetic junture involved in these cases?

  10. David Marjanović3 October 2009 at 19:53

    St. Audrey (also known as Etheldrida)

    <lightbulb above head> Edeltraud!

    was the daughter of Anna (sic) the king (sic) of East Anglia.

    Reminds me of the Dutch male nickname Anne for Andreas (or something).

    The non-botanical name for vipera berus

    Botany is only about plants... and Vipera is a genus name, so it gets a capital letter.

    the n got lost in ME times in English but not in German.

    It did in one dialect, and that's what produced Standard German <Otter> "adder, viperid" from what also became Standard German <Natter> "non-venomous 'colubrid' such as Natrix". (I've never heard anyone refer to Vipera berus as a <Natter>.)


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