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We see here https://www.etymonline.com/word/sobriquet and it says "origin unknown."

Is this to say, the connection between the literal meaning and the current meaning is unknown?

I would suggest that to chuck someone under the chin is a gesture of affection between intimate equals or, for example, an adult and a young child -- it is easy to see that someone might while doing this use a nickname. Not to be facetious, but if you have ever had a cat, that is exactly what happens if they have a nickname.

But maybe I am not understanding what "origin unknown" means in these etymologies.

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  • Is this to say, the connection between the literal meaning and the current meaning is unknown? If we do not know the origin, then how would we know the literal meaning? If we don't know the literal meaning, how can your question be answered?
    – Greybeard
    Oct 13, 2022 at 10:21
  • The literal meaning sounds like a chuck under the chin. It seems like they are saying they don't understand how that is related to nickname.
    – releseabe
    Oct 13, 2022 at 11:23
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    The dictionary says that the origin of the French word soubriquet is unknown, and that it is said to have meant a chuck under the chin, not known to. Oct 13, 2022 at 12:10
  • Origin unknown means we don't know how it all began, who came up with it, and why it caught on. We know a nickname, for example, is a pet name, but why nick? If a dictionary cannot come up with the etymology of nickname, then origin unknown there, too. (Maybe "it is said to have" come from Nicholas->Nick.) Oct 13, 2022 at 14:19
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    cnrtl.fr/definition/sobriquet
    – Lambie
    Oct 15, 2022 at 19:10

1 Answer 1

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Etymology does not deal directly with the meanings of words but mainly with the evolution over time of their forms and definitions. As with genealogy, a goal is to trace lineages. Ideally, we identify when a word was first used or attested and from which parent word it was created (its etymon). The same process is repeated for the parent word(s) and so on until we arrive at a word whose ancestors are unknown.

The English term "sobriquet" was borrowed from the French sobriquet in the mid-17th century. The French and English meanings were likely identical at that time. In modern French sobriquets are usually mocking or derogatory whereas I'm not sure this nuance is present in English.

The 17th century French sobriquet derives from the 16th century French sobriquet which had a different definition: "a chuck under the chin". Such changes in meaning are not uncommon.

When etymologists say that the origin of sobriquet is unknown, they are not saying that the change from "chuck" to "nickname" is unexplained but that the form sobriquet has at least one unknown etymon. It is suspected that the prefix so- comes from sub (French sous, under) as an alternative writing was soubriquet, but the root of briquet is unknown. Several hypotheses including the Latin beccus (beak) and the Dutch bricke (brick) have been rejected by etymologists as not convincing enough. Therefore, the origin of sobriquet is unknown. Q.E.D.

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