Typically, when the origin of a word is disputed, as in the case of awning/auvent discussed in Origin Unknown Part 1 previously posted to this blog, the contenders for the parent form are all in some sense “real,” i.e., are words that have actually been attested or whose prior existence can be inferred. There are some exceptional cases, however. Consider the following from dictionary.com:

Main entry: kemosabe
Part of Speech: n
Definition: faithful friend
Etymology: has various meanings in Native American language
Usage: used in this way in “The Lone Ranger” television show[http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/kemosabe]

Main entry: kemo sabe
Part of Speech: n
Definition: invented word meaning ‘faithful friend’
Etymology: 1933; fr The Lone Ranger[http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/kemo+sabe?qsrc=2446]

“The Lone Ranger” debuted in 1933 on the Detroit radio station WXYZ. According to Fran Striker, Jr., the son of the first writer for the popular series, “The Lone Ranger had nobody to talk to if he was a lone ranger, so it was suggested they create a sidekick for TLR. Script 11 introduced Tonto. And [he] was developed solely for the purpose of giving the Lone Ranger someone to talk to.”
[http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18195323] Tonto customarily addressed TLR as “Kemosabe,” while the latter customarily addressed the faithful companion as “Tonto,” though Striker notes elsewhere  (http://www.old-time.com/misc/kemo.html) that “… in many of the early radio broadcasts, the Ranger calls Tonto Kemo Sabe AND Tonto also calls the Ranger Kemo Sabe.” Tonto does not appear to refer to TLR as “Tonto,” at least within earshot.

Fran Striker, Jr. reports that the program’s director, Jim Jewell, claimed to have borrowed the appellation “Kemosabe” from the name of a summer camp in Michigan, Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee, which was established by Jewell’s father-in-law, Charles Yaeger in 1911 and ran until 1940. This much of the story is undisputed. What the name of the camp actually meant (if anything), and in what language (if any) is, however, rather murky. According to Jewell, the name meant “trusty scout.”

A number of possibilities have been proposed and have been nicely summarized by linguist John Koontz (http://spot.colorado.edu/~koontz/faq/etymology.htm), the most likely (if problematic) being from a Potawatomi form meaning something like “‘spy’—someone looking at a secret thing, ‘scout’—someone looking secretly at something, or even a ‘masked man’—someone with a secret identity looking out through the eyeholes of a mask.” A stretch, though Potawatomi would have been spoken in the area in which  Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee was situated, something that cannot be said of Yavapai, a language spoken by an indigenous people of the southwest (sometimes referred to as the Tonto Apache) and in which, as Koontz relates, knymsave means ‘one who is white.’ 

What do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?

Tonto Speaks

And what of Tonto? Cecil Adams (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/971/in-the-old-lone-ranger-series-what-did-kemosabe-mean) says “According to Jim Jewell, there was an Indian storyteller at Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee who would get rowdy when drunk, leading the other Indians to call him ‘tonto.’” John Koontz elaborates: “It’s not known where [camp founder] Yeager himself got his word Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee.  However, he is reported to have employed a number of Indians at the camp, including at least one Potawatomi man, remembered as Chief Thundercloud…The Potawatomi man … was known as Tonto according to Jewell, who remembered that this meant ‘the Wild One’…Another possibility might be that there is a French form which was in circulation among the Potawatomi that resembles Spanish tonto ‘crazy’ … and which was a sobriquet of Mr. Thundercloud’s.” We may venture to guess that the French word in question is tonton (a common hypocorism for ‘uncle’).

De quel 'nous' parles-tu, tonton?

TLR Parle

The tonton proposal would certainly make at least as much sense as the derivation from Spanish tonto, which is more commonly used in the sense of ‘stupid’ than ‘crazy:’ Like bobo, tonto probably originally referred to someone with deficient language—and therefore mental—skills. (Bobo ‘stupid’ comes from Latin balbus ‘stammering’ while tonto is probably from Latin attonitus ‘dumbfounded’ literally, ‘thunderstruck,’ though Gómez de Silva in his Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua española says that tonto is “a childish word [una palabra infantil] from common Romance.”) Why the Lone Ranger would address his transplanted Potawatomi (and possibly French-speaking) associate in Spanish is a conundrum, and it is a fundamental tenet of lexicography that just because two forms resemble each other doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in fact related (especially when there is no plausible semantic connection between them). Other proposals, such as that tonto represents the best the masked man could do to get his tongue around something like a truncation of Western Apache binii?e’dnende’ which Koontz glosses as “‘people without minds’, i.e., ‘crazy people’ or ‘wild people’”), however gratifying it might be to infer that the Lone Ranger’s aptitude for second language acquisition was no better than his faithful companion’s, take us even farther afield.

So, where does that leave us? The founder of Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee and the original writers for “The Lone Ranger” are no longer with us, so we can’t ask them where the words kemosabe and tonto came from. Indeed, the opportunity to zero in on the creation of a word is often brief and fleeting. But not always, as we can see from the OED’s entry for the word limerence:

Limerence:
Forms:  19– limerance, 19– limerence.
Etymology:  < limer-, apparently an arbitrary element (compare quot.1977) + -ence suffix. Compare limerent adj.

In form limerance after –ance suffix.

The state of being romantically infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship. It has been suggested that this state results from fluctuations in the levels of various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.

1977    D. Tennov in Observer 11 Sept. 3/9,   I first used the term ‘amorance’ then changed it back to ‘limerence’.‥ It has no roots whatsoever. It looks nice. It works well in French. Take it from me it has no etymology whatsoever.”

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