Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Neptune and nephew

According to Fortson's Indo-European Languages and Culture, the Proto-Indo-European form for "grandson, nephew", *nepōt- became the name for the Indo-Iranian deity whose name means "grandson of the waters" - Vedic Apám Nápāt, Avestan Apąm Napā̊. He also connects it to the Irish deity Nechtan and the Roman god Neptūnus "Neptune". (The OED doesn't accept this derivation of Neptune.)

*nepōt- became Latin nepōs "grandson", becoming Anglo-Norman neveu, borrowed into English as nephew. The Latin feminine form neptis became Anglo-Norman nece and English niece.

There is a theory that naphtha is derived from Apám Nápāt thru Greek. This is unlikely; naphtha is either from Semitic or perhaps from PIE *nebʰ- "cloud".

1 comment :

Jonathon said...

My intro to linguistics textbook listed nephew and nepos as examples of Grimm's Law (PIE /p/ > Germanic /f/). I had assumed it was a French borrowing, and it took all of two seconds to look it up in the online OED and confirm. Suffice it to say that this was not the only problem with that textbook.