The Myth of the “Maple-Apple”: Laying a Gaulish Ghost Word to Rest

Full PDF thesis can be found here.

Abstract

In spite of some strides that have been made, Old Celtic plant names are an area of study that has not been developed to its potential. The case of acerabulus (etymon of French érable) is a good example of this, where current literature repeats a flawed analysis for the term from over one hundred years ago, with little-to-no improvement since. The goal of this paper is to shed a new light on acerabulus, to reveal that our conventional wisdom of it meaning ‘maple-apple’ is in fact a fundamental misunderstanding. The paper gives an overview of influential publications on the matter and analyzes the primary source of our conventional theory. It then turns a critical eye on the supposed supporting evidence for this theory, demonstrating its flaws and misrepresentations that have been essential to propping it up for decades. Afterwards, the paper discusses the theory’s phonological failures while proposing a potential alternative etymology that could better fit. Lastly, the provenance and significance of this alternative etymology is discussed.