Thursday, 13 December 2007

ghee and fornicate

Ghee is a clarified butter used in Indian cooking. It doesn't require refrigeration, and apparently can be heated longer than other kinds of butter without burning. The word comes from Hindi घी ghī, from Sanskrit घृत ghr̥ta "clarified butter". The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says this is the past participle of ghr̥ "to sprinkle", which is not of Proto-Indo-European origin. However, the American Heritage Dictionary and the database of Indo-Aryan inherited lexicon disagree; they say that the Proto-Indo-European root *gʷher- "to heat, warm" is the likely source of ghr̥ta.

*gʷher- in its suffixed o-grade form *gʷhor-no- became Latin fornix "arch, vault" (as in, vaulted brick oven). This became fornicārī "to fornicate", "what low-grade Roman whores did beneath the ovenlike vaulting of public buildings" (says Robert Claiborne in The Roots of English). I'm reminded of the vaulted Roman ruins where the prostitutes hang out in Fellini's Nights of Cabiria.

The zero-grade form *gʷhr- became burn from Old English, and brandy from Dutch brandewijn and branden "burn, roast, distill". The suffixed form *gʷher-m(n)o- became ancient Greek θέρμος "warm, hot" hence thermos.

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