On the rare occasions when I admit I’ve made a mistake (the admitting is rare, not the making) I have to eat humble pie. It’s interesting therefore, to discover that the very expression ‘humble pie’ is the result of a mistake.
Numbles were originally the entrails of a deer. While the lord and lady dined on venison, further down the table, the huntsmen were allowed to eat the numbles made into a pie.
So to eat a numble pie meant to come down to a lower level, where the huntsmen sat. Gradually, this was mistakenly pronounced as an ’umble pie or humble pie, because of the similarity in meaning.
The Old French word nappe has given rise to napkin, napery and apron. An apron used to be a napron. The ‘n’ was written with the wrong word.
The same story with the only poisonous snake in Britain. An adder used to be called a nadder. For the same reason, an umpire was a numpire, and an auger (the boring tool) was once a nauger.
That letter ‘n’ moved the other way too. A nickname comes from an ekename. The word eke was Old English for also, and meant an also name. Similarly, a newt was an ewt.
From the French language we acquired a complice, meaning a partner. Gradually, the ‘a’ became part of the word so that we now say an accomplice, for the partner in crime.
So the history of the English language has been riddled with errors from the start, like most other languages I suspect, and makes it all the more interesting.
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