Real Talk: “Piggybacking”

Real Talk, in which I explain why we say weird things like “plugged nickel” or “cats pajamas.” Also, a place where I can send my boyfriend when he asks the meaning of weird phrases like “plugged nickel” or “cats pajamas.”

Today we discuss “piggyback,” as in “piggyback rides.” And this leads us into a discussion of “folk etymology,” and I’m SO EXCITED.

“Piggyback” as a concept dates from the 16th century, when it was called “pickaback.” The “pick” part comes from English dialect for “pitch,” as in “pitch a tent.” But as American language evolved, people began to forget about that dialect and needed something that made more sense. Enter folk etymology!

Folk etymology (in all seriousness, this is really interesting) is a process by which outdated phrases are replaced by more familiar ones. For instance, to buttonhole someone in conversation comes from buttonhold, a piece of string that held down a button. And “curry favor” was born out of “curry favel,” when “favel” meant a chestnut horse used as a symbol of duplicity.

So when “pickaback” stopped making sense it became the equally nonsensical but familiar “piggyback.” And that’s the origin of piggyback!

I’m tired of thinking. Do you want to look at hot Olympians with me now?

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