January 02, 2004

"Nucular" solecism traced to 200 B.C.

Inspired by Jim Bisso's ardor in tracing "more unique" to Plautus, I've discovered that the same author is responsible for the whole "nucular" flap. Well, maybe this is a bit unfair, since he is just the earliest extant source for the original form of the base word nucleus, in which there was in fact an extra u between the c and the l ...

According to the OED, the etymology of nucleus is

< classical Latin nucleus (also nuculeus) kernel, inner part, in post-classical Latin also core of a comet

According to Lewis and Short:

nu^cleus (nuculeus ), i, m. [for nuculeus, from nux] , a little nut.

e nuce nuculeum qui esse vult, frangit nucem, he who would eat the kernel of a nut breaks the nut, i. e. he who desires an advantage should not shun the labor of earning it, Plaut. Curc. 1, 1, 55: nuculeum amisi, retinui pigneri putamina, I have lost the kernel and kept the shell, id. Capt. 3, 4, 122 .--

I suggest the last quotation as a motto for language moralists everywhere.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 2, 2004 05:56 PM