Juncture loss

Juncture loss (also known as junctural metanalysis, false splitting, misdivision, refactorization, or rebracketing) is the linguistic process by which two words (often an article and a noun) become partially or wholly affixed. Some examples would be if "a noodle" became "an oodle", if "an eagle" became "a neagle", if "the jar" became "(the) thejar", or if "an apple" became "(an) anapple".

A form of back-formation akin to folk etymology, juncture loss may occur because the new form makes sense (i.e., hamburger taken to mean a burger with ham) or through highly probable word boundaries ("an oodle" sounds just as grammatically correct as "a noodle", but "the bowl" could not become "th ebowl" and "a kite" could not become "ak ite").

There are two forms of juncture loss. The first is often called false splitting (though all forms of juncture loss can be called this), where two words mix together but still remain two words (as in the noodle and eagle examples above). The term false splitting occasionally is also used to describe the process of splitting a word in a new place, such as helico•pter (from Greek heliko- and pterōn) to modern heli•copter (as in jetcopter, heliport), hamburg•er (after the German city of Hamburg) to modern ham•burger (as in cheeseburger, etc.), and cybern•etics (from Greek kubernan and -ētēs) to modern cyber•netics (as in cyberspace). These are all forms of folk etymology and back-formation.

The second, less frequently referred to form of juncture loss is merely referred to as juncture loss, and almost exclusively deals with articles and nouns (as in the jar and apple examples above).

Examples of false splitting

In English

As demonstrated in the examples above, the primary reason of juncture loss in English is the confusion between "a" and "an". In Medieval script, words were often written so close together that for some Middle English scholars it was hard to tell where one began and another ended. The results include the following words in English:

  • adder: Middle English a naddre ("a snake") taken for an addre.
  • aitchbone: Middle English a nachebon ("a buttock bone") taken for an hach boon.
  • apple pie order: English a nappes-pliées (meaning "neatly folden linen" in French) taken for an apple pie (this is also an example of transposition).
  • apron: Middle English a napron taken for an apron.
  • auger: Middle English a nauger taken for an auger.
  • eyas: Middle English a niyas taken for an eias.
  • humble pie: Middle English a numble taken for an umble (ultimately from Latin lumbulus, this is also an example of homorganicness).
  • lone: Middle English al one (all one) taken for a-lone.
  • newt: Middle English an eute (cognate with eft) taken for a neute.
  • nickname: Middle English an eke name ("an additional name") taken for a neke name.
  • nonce: Middle English, for old English þen ānes (the one [occasion]).
  • omelette: 17C English from French la lemelle ("omelette") taken for l'alemelle; ultimately from Latin lamella ("blade"), perhaps because of the thin shape of the omelette (SOED).
  • ought: Middle English a nought ("a nothing") taken for an ought. Ultimately distinct from Old English naught ("nothing"), of complex and convergent etymology, from na ("not") and wight ("living thing, man"), but cf. aught ("anything", "worthy", etc.), itself ultimately from aye ("ever") and wight (SOED).
  • tother: Old English (now dialectal) t[he] other, taken for t-other.
  • umpire: Middle English a noumpere taken for an oumpere.
  • prosthodontics (= false teeth): from prosth(o)- + Greek odont-; odont- = "tooth", and prostho- arose by misdivision of "prosthetic", which was treated as supposed stem prosth- and suffix -etic, but actually came from Greek pros = "in front of" and thē- (the root of the verb tithēmi = "I place").

In French

In French similar confusion arose between "le/la" and "l'-" as well as "de" and "d'-".

In Arabic

In Arabic the confusion is generally with Western words beginning in "al-" (al is Arabic for "the").

  • Greek Alexandreia (Alexandria) taken for al Exandreia (and thus Al-Iskandariyah; this is also an example of metathesis).
  • Greek Alexandretta taken for al Exandretta (and thus Iskenderun; this too is an example of metathesis).

Examples of juncture loss

  • alligator from Spanish el lagarto ("the lizard").
  • another from an other.
  • atone from at one.
  • alone from all one.
  • lithotrity from Greek lithōn thrutika ("stone-crushing").

From Arabic "al"

Perhaps the largest form of this sense of juncture loss in English comes from the Arabic al (mentioned above):


  • Arabic al-faṣfaṣa in Spanish as alfalfa, alfalfa.
  • Arabic al-kharrūba in Spanish as algorroba, carob.
  • Arabic al-hilāl in Spanish as alfiler, pin.
  • Arabic al-hurj in Spanish as alforja, saddlebag.
  • Arabic al-qāḍī in Spanish as alcalde, alcalde.
  • Arabic al-qā’id in Spanish as alcaide, commander.
  • Arabic al-qaṣr in Spanish as alcázar, alcazar.
  • Arabic al-qubba in Spanish as alcoba, alcove.
  • Arabic al-‘uṣāra in Spanish as alizari, madder root.
  • Arabic al-rub in Spanish as arroba, a unit of measure.
  • Arabic al-zahr ("the dice") in Spanish as azar, "randomness", and in English as "hazard"


Medieval Latin

  • Arabic al-’anbīq in Medieval Latin as alembicus, alembic.
  • Arabic al-dabarān in Medieval Latin as Aldebaran, Aldebaran.
  • Arabic al-ḥinnā’ in Medieval Latin as alchanna, henna.
  • Arabic al-‘iḍāda in Medieval Latin as alidada, sighting rod.
  • Arabic al-jabr in Medieval Latin as algebra, algebra.
  • Arabic al-Khwarizmi in Medieval Latin as algorismus, algorism.
  • Arabic al-kīmiyā’ in Medieval Latin as alchymia, alchemy.
  • Arabic al-kuḥl in Medieval Latin as alcohol, powdered antimony.
  • Arabic al-qily in Medieval Latin as alkali, alkali.
  • Arabic al-qur’ān in Medieval Latin as alcorānum, Koran.



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  • Hendrickson, Robert. QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1998.
  • McWhorter, John. The Power of Babel: A natural history of language. Harper Perennial, 2003.
  • Morris, William. The American Heritage dictionary of the English language.—new college ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976.
  • Pickett, Joseph P. The American Heritage dictionary of the English language.—4th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
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  • Webster, Noah. American Dictionary of the English Language. New Haven: S. Converse, 1828.
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