In 1569, an Antwerp physician and naturalist named Johannes Goropius Becanus published a book arguing that the language spoken in the Garden of Eden must have been Flemish — or more specifically, the Flemish of Antwerp — and that all other languages could be derived from that tongue. According to Becanus, for example, the name Eve came from the Flemish words eu-vat — “people barrel” or “barrel of generations” — since all of humanity had its origin in Eve’s womb.
Not surprisingly, Becanus’s theories were congenial to many of his countrymen, though others found them loopy — Ben Jonson ridiculed him in his play The Alchemist and the philosopher Leibniz turned his name into a verb that means “to speculate foolishly about language.” But Becanus’s spiritual descendants have flourished over the centuries. Scarcely a day goes by that the group of linguists I post with at the LanguageLog blog aren’t debunking some claim about language that’s no less absurd than Becanus’s were. So we decided to create the annual Johannes Goropius Becanus award, or Becky for short, awarded to the promulgater of the single most ridiculous or misleading bit of linguistic nonsense that somebody manages to put over in the media.
The year 2006 was rich in contenders…
More here. [Thanks to Neeraj Kayal.]