Thursday, 28 February 2008

zenith and amoeba

zenith "point of the sky directly overhead" is from late Middle English cenyth, senith, cinit, from Old French cenit (Modern French zénith), from medieval Latin cenit. The Latin word is from Arabic samt, a component of samt arrās (سمت الرأس) "path over the head". samt "way" + al "the" + rās "head".

Why did samt get borrowed into Latin as cenit? Maybe scribal error was involved. The OED says the derivation is obscure. Also, it seems that the modern English word has influenced the modern French word, or vice versa, since they are both spelled the same.

Arabic samt was borrowed from Latin sēmita "sidetrack, side, path", which is a combination of sē- "apart" (from Proto-Indo-European *s(w)e- the third person pronoun) plus Proto-Indo-European *mi-tā, a form of *mei- "to change, go, move" (also see here).

*mei- in its extended form *h₂meigʷ- became Greek ἀμοιβή amoibē "variation", and amoeba.

Another cognate is mad, from Old English *gemǣdan "to make insane or foolish" from Proto-Germanic ǥa-maiđ-az "changed (for the worse); abnormal" from the suffixed o-grade form *moi-to- (*-to- formed adjectives of accomplishment; it is found in the English adjectival suffix -ed, as in bearded).

4 comments :

Glen Gordon said...

You say "*mei- in its extended form *h₂meigʷ-" but this is inconsistent notation since *mei- would then be an outdated Pokornyism for *h₂mei-. If the two roots are to be related, they should share the same consonantism. I'm picky that way :)

goofy said...

ok, but I can't find any sources that put an initial laryngeal on this root... even Fortson doesn't, assuming that's the same root.

Glen Gordon said...

Whether implied or stark, what is the difference? I challenge people to not simply swallow what one reads but to think it through and to confront logical paradoxes head on with bravery. Wikipedians and other drones are unable to do this, merely quoting second-, third- or nth-hand sources without ever understanding the material. Enslaved by knowledge rather than liberated by understanding.

One can only relate to two words by assuming the same consonantism since there is no sensible reason in PIE grammar to see an initial laryngeal omitted here.

Glen Gordon said...

Sorry, that should be "One can only relate the two words". I published my post too quick. :)