We all know a buttonhole as the gap in a coat through which you're supposed to push a button. Its etymology seems simple, right? Button and hole? Well, it is simple, but that's incorrect. Buttonhole actually used to be the spelling, and it meant "a looped string through which a button goes". The new name got applied through folk etymology; people associated the loop with a hole, thought hold should actually be spelled hole, and changed it. Buttonhole designs evolved too, giving us our modern prototype of the word. Weird. NOW we etymologize button: possibly through French, it traces to the Proto-Germanic term buttan, from Proto-Indo-European bhau, a word that meant "to thrust" since buttons jut out. Hold, through Middle English holdan, Old English haldan, and Proto-Germanic haldan, ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European root kel, which meant "to shepherd" or "drive" under the connection of livestock.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd