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Did it arise from a mixture of chattering and murmuring?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It seems to come from Yorkshire dialect, with direct meaning of mutter.

Also, to me the connection with 'chant' looks interesting:

chant (v.)
late 14c., from O.Fr. chanter "to sing, celebrate" (12c.), from L. cantare, frequentative of canere "sing," from PIE base *kan- "to sing" (cf. Gk. eikanos "cock," O.E. hana "cock," both lit. "bird who sings for sunrise;" O.Ir. caniaid "sings," Welsh canu "sing"). The frequentative quality of the word was no longer felt in Latin, and by the time French emerged the word had entirely displaced canere. Related: Chanted; chanting. The noun is recorded from 1670s, from Fr., from L. cantus, from pp. stem of canere.

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It's also used in Scotland. My grandparents used it quite often. "What are you chuntering about?" translates as what are you complaining about. –  osknows Jun 27 '11 at 14:01
    
@osknows, well wikipedia says: "Broad Yorkshire or Tyke. The dialect has roots in older languages such as Old English and Old Norse; it should not be confused with modern slang."; so if not Old Norse then Old English is common root. –  Unreason Jun 27 '11 at 15:13
    
The OED's third citation (1788) is specifically E. Yorkshire, but the first too (1599 and 1699) are not identifiably connected with Yorkshire (though they might be in text not included). –  Colin Fine Jun 27 '11 at 17:00
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I don't find your suggestion of 'chant' persuasive in either sound (in most of the country the vowels would be very different) or meaning. –  Colin Fine Jun 27 '11 at 17:02
    
And @unreason, the Wikipedia article you refer to does not even mention "chunter" directly: it merely refers to a book which has the word in its title. I agree that this suggests that the authors of the book regarded "chunter" as typically Yorkshire, but really does not amount to a reliable source. –  Colin Fine Jun 27 '11 at 17:07

The Oxford English Dictionary says "Apparently of imitative formation", and dates it from 1599.

I take it this means imitative of the sound made, rather than being a blend of existing words; but existing words may have had an influence on it.

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I suspect the OED's "apparently of" may translate to "our wild guess is." –  Peter Shor Jun 27 '11 at 14:48
    
The OED uses imitative for quite a few things, not all of which are particularly imitative in nature. There is—to my knowledge, at least—no such thing as an imitative formation of a word. My immediate thought upon seeing chunter is that it’s a blend of chatter and mutter and grunt, all rolled up into one neat package. But then that’s just my ‘apparently of’ guess. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 23 at 20:14

Its origin is from :

1590–1600; orig. dial. (Midlands, N England) chunter, chunder, chunner;

Interesting to know that the Scottish have a similar word "channer". However, the origin of both words were deemed :

probably of imitative origin

I reckon the origin of the word was a result of onomatopoeia. The way "bow-wow" or "meow" were originated from imitating the sounds of dogs and cats, "chunter" was probably imitating murmuring sounds.

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