Thursday, 26 February 2009

qualtagh and salmagundi

qualtagh is a word from Manx English meaning "The first person to enter a house on New Year's Day". Another term for the same concept is "first-footer". It's from Manx quaaltagh, which according to the OED literally means "someone who meets or is met". The OED says it is from Manx quaail "meeting", which is cognate with Scots Gaelic còmhdhail and Irish Gaelic comhdháil, both from Old Irish comdál, all meaning "meeting". comdál is formed from the prefix com- plus dál "meeting, assembly, court". The etymology of dál is disputed, but it might be from Proto-Indo-European *dʰeh₁- "to set, put".

*dʰeh₁- in the prefixed and suffixed form *kom-dʰh₁-yo- became Latin condiō "to season, flavour" (as in condiment) which according to the AHD combined with Old French salemine "salted food" to form salmigondis and English salmagundi ("a salad of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions"). It's worth noting that the OED says "obscure origin" for salmagundi.

*dʰeh₁- has all sorts of other reflexes, like Greek τίθημι "to put" as in thesis, Sanskrit dadhāti "to place" as in sandhi, and Latin facio "to do, make" as in fact, affect and face. In English it became do, doom and deed.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

menhir and soiree

Proto-Indo-European *seh₁-ro- (*seh₁- "long, late", with a *-ro- suffix) became Breton hir "long". This combined with maen "stone" to form maen-hir "long stone". English menhir is borrowed from French, borrowed from the Breton word.

Maen "stone" is from Proto-Indo-European *meǵ- "great" (OED).

*seh₁-ro- became Latin sērum "late hour", then French soirée "evening, evening party".

Monday, 23 February 2009


Bat-Manga by Chip Kidd is an English reprinting and translation of Japanese Batman comics from the 60s. It's a cool book (but not without a bit of controversy).

What I want to talk about is Chip's note on the translation:

Regarding the translation, by Anne Ishii (and finessed by yours truly), every effort has been made to be faithful to the original scripts... We've tried to strike a delicate balance between what is grammatically correct and what was actually said - two factors often sharply at odds, especially in the marginalia. That's another way of saying: We are certainly not trying to make fun of the Japanese grasp of English, but at the same time, here and there we wanted to preserve its undeniable charm.

Since he is referring to comics that were originally published in Japanese, I'm having trouble understanding this. Does he mean that the Japanese was grammatically incorrect, and they tried to preserve that in the English translation? Does he mean that they tried to emulate "the Japanese grasp of English" in the translations? Neither of these seem likely.

I'm glad I'm not the only one wondering about this.

Anyway, the comics are pretty cool.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

words from Indic

atoll from Dhivehi އަތޮޅު atoḷu

aubergine from Persian بادنگان bādingān probably borrowed from Middle Indic *vātiñjana-, vātingana-, compare Sanskrit hastivātiṅgaṇa "eggplant"

bandanna: Hindi बांधना bāndhanā "to tie" (AHD)

bangle from Hindi बंगरी baṅgarī "glass bracelet"

banyan from Gujarati વાણિયો vāṇiyo "member of Bania caste; Bania; merchant; shopkeeper"

beriberi from Sinhala බැරි bæri "unable; impossible". "බැරිබැරි·රෝගය [bæribæri rēgay], a. the disease beri-beri, a form of neuritis accompanied by dropsy" (Carter)

bungalow from Hindi बंगला baṅgalā "belonging to Bengal", because houses of this style were "Bengali-fashion" houses

cheetah from Hindi चीता cītā

chintz from Hindi छींट chīṇṭ "spot, speck, stain, blot; spattering, splash"

chutney: Hindi चटनी caṭanī from चाटना cāṭanā "to taste" (AHD)

dinghy from Bengali ডিঙ্গি ḍiṅgi "small boat"

juggernaut from Hindi जगन्नाथ jagannāth "Krishna" from Sanskrit jagannātha "lord of the world"

jungle from Hindi and Marathi जंगल jaṅgal "desert, waste, forest"

loot from Hindi लूट lūṭ from Sanskrit loptra "stolen property, plunder" from lup "to seize"

mandarin from Spanish mandarín borrowed from Malay menteri borrowed from Sanskrit mantrin "king's counsellor, minister"

nark probably from Romani nāk "nose"

opal: probably Sanskrit उपर upara "posterior, later; the lower stone on which the soma is laid" from upa "below" (AHD)

pal: Romani phral "brother" from Sanskrit bhrātṛ (OED)

palanquin ultimately from Sanskrit palyaṅka, paryaṅka "bed, litter" (OED)

Parcheesi from Hindi पच्चीस paccīs "twenty-five"

pepper from Indic, compare Sanskrit पिप्पली pippalī "long pepper" (much more)

posh: perhaps from Romani paš "half"

punch the drink, from Hindi पाँच pāñc "five", or from Sanskrit pañca, short for पञ्चामृत pañcāmr̥ta "five nectars (of the gods), the five kinds of divine food"

shampoo from Hindi चाँपो cāmpo, the imperative of चाँपना cāmpanā "to press"

sugar: possibly from Sanskrit शर्करा śarkarā "gravel, ground or candied sugar" (AHD)

thug from Hindi ठग ṭhag "robber, assassin"

tourmaline: from Sinhala තෝරමලලි tōramalli "carnelian" (OED)

verandah? from Portuguese varanda from Hindi बराँडा barāṇḍā, Bengali বারান্দা bārāndā (OED)

also see my list of words of Dravidian origin.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Sri Lanka

Wikipedia tells us that Sri Lanka is Sanskrit for "sacred island". Their source - a New York Times article. Another page says it's Sanskrit for "resplendent land". Other sites and books repeat similar etymologies.

The Sanskrit श्री लङ्का śrī laṅkā means "splendid Lanka". I can't find any dictionaries that actually list laṅkā as meaning "island" or "land". In fact laṅkā was also the name of the capital city. As Apte says, it is the "N[ame] of the capital and residence of Rāvaṇa and identified with the island of Ceylon or the chief town in it".

However, the Tamil name for the country, இலங்கை ilaṅkai, also seems to mean "an inlet or island, an inlet formed in a river". So maybe the story that it means "island" has Dravidian origins. (But the general Tamil word for "island" is தீவு tīvu.)

The history of Sri is clearer. श्री śrī means "light, lustre, radiance, splendour, glory, beauty, grace, loveliness". It's also found in Srinagar (श्रीनगर "splendid city"). It's derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱreiH- "to be outstanding, brilliant" (AHD). It is cognate with κρείων "noble, princely", and the personal name Κρέων - Creon, the king of Thebes in Greek mythology.

I pronounce sri with the same sound as at the beginning of shrine - with /ʃ/ instead of /s/ - just because it more closely approximates how I hear the word pronounced in Hindi, where it is commonly used as an honorific. But it turns out the pronunciation with /s/ is also standard, and is the one used by the CBC and BBC.

The logo for Shree Cement Limited is ingenious. It resembles both श्री and the English initials "SCL".

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

khaki and phthiriasis

khaki is from Urdu خاکي ḵẖākī "dust-coloured" from خاك ḵẖāk "dust, earth, ashes". It is borrowed from Persian, and is according to Platts cognate with Sanskrit क्षारक kṣāraka "pouring forth" and "juice, essence". At least, I assume that's what Platts means by "cf. S. क्षारक".

Assuming that kṣāraka is derived from kṣar "to flow", then the Proto-Indo-European root is *dʰgʷʰer- "to flow, move forcefully, with derivatives referring to ruin and destruction" (from the AHD, also see IEW 487-488). The Avestan derivatives also have the "flow" sense. I guess dust flows, and is associated with ruin.

One Greek derivative of *dʰgʷʰer- is φθείρω phtheirō "to scatter, destroy", which is probably the source of φθείρ phtheir "louse". As the OED says:

Ancient authors derive ancient Greek φθείρ louse < φθείρειν to destroy (see PHTHARTIC adj.), as they believed that lice were generated spontaneously in decaying flesh. Modern scholars generally accept this derivation.

φθείρ was borrowed into English thru Latin in the form phthiriasis, a lice infestation (of the eyelids apparently).

I really hope today's extreme etymology is true, because it's awesome.

Monday, 9 February 2009

the earliest recovered word of English

Wikipedia on Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae:

Gildas adds several small details that suggest either he or his source received at least part of the story from the Anglo-Saxons. The first is when he describes the size of the initial party of Saxons, he states that they came in three cyulis (or "keels"), "as they call ships of war". This may be the earliest recovered word of English.

Europrogocontestovision has some interesting theories on what this word might really mean.

But of course defining the beginning of English from the moment the Anglo-Saxons arrived is arbitrary. The language they spoke when they began their channel crossing was the same language they spoke when they arrived on the island. And I wonder, if we still called Old English Anglo-Saxon, would we think the same about this word?

We do have records of English from before the invasion, altho we call it "Proto-Germanic". Finnish preserves forms in loanwords, for instance kuningas "king", borrowed from Proto-Germanic *kuninǥaz.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

ḱlewos n̥dʰgʷʰitom

Speaking of *ḱleu-... in How to Kill a Dragon, Watkins discusses how *ḱleu- is found in two phrases: Vedic śrávas ákṣitam and Homeric kléos áphthiton. Both these phrases mean "imperishable fame". Watkins derives both of them, sound for sound, from a reconstructed form which he writes as *k̂leu̯os n̥dhgʷhitom.

Watkins argues that this phrase represents an Indo-European textual formula. However, Margalit Finkelberg, in "More on κλέος ἄφθιτον", Classical Quarterly 57.2 (2007), argues that śrávas and kléos were not always synonymous, and that the "fame" sense developed independently in both languages.

*ḱlewos is built on *ḱleu- "to hear" - that is, "what is heard about someone, fame". *n̥dʰgʷʰitom "imperishable" consists of a negative prefix *n̥- and *gʷhðei(ǝ)- "to perish, destroy" (nowadays written as *dʰgʷʰei-, I assume). It has no English descendents, but, in addition to Greek and Indo-Iranian, is probably found in Latin situs "mud, dirt".

The Vedic phrase is from R̥gveda 1.9.7 in the form śrávo... ákṣitam.

सं गोमदिन्द्र वाजवदस्मे पृथु श्रवो बृहत् | विश्वायुधेह्यक्षितम् ||

maṃ gomadindra vājavadasme pṛthu śravo bṛhat

Give, Indra, wide and lofty fame, wealthy in cattle and in strength,
Lasting our life-time, failing not.

śravas is a neuter noun. I assume it takes the form śravo here because of sandhi. In The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots Watkins cites it as śravaḥ.

The phrase in the Iliad, from Perseus:

Iliad book 9, lines 412-415
εἰ μέν κ' αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται:
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ' ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν

ei men k' authi menōn Trōōn polin amphimakhōmai
ōleto men moi nostos, atar kleos aphthiton estai:
ei de ken oikad' hikōmi philēn es patrida gaian,
ōleto moi kleos esthlon, epi dēron de moi aiōn

if I abide here and war about the city of the Trojans,
then lost is my home-return, but my renown shall be imperishable;
but if I return home to my dear native land, 
lost then is my glorious renown, yet shall my life long endure

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

slaves and buggers

Today we have two words with negative connotations that are derived from words for Slavs. Slave comes from Latin Sclavus, a name used by Slavic people. This name, along with the word Slav, seems to be ultimately derived either from Proto-Slavic *slovo "word" or *slava "fame, glory". Both *slovo and *slava are from Proto-Indo-European *ḱleu- "to hear", the source of English loud and listen.

*slava "fame, glory" is found in names like Bohu-slav meaning "having the fame of God" and Miro-slav meaning "having peaceful fame". Its cognates can be seen in other branches as well: Sopho-kles meant "famed for wisdom", and Ludwig (Old High German Hlūd-wīg) meant "famed in battle".

And bugger is from the same Latin source as Bulgarian! What does everyone have against Slavs anyway?

Here are the etymologies from the OED, so you can see I'm not making them up.


ad. OF. esclave (also mod.F.), sometimes fem. corresponding to the masc. esclaf, esclas (pl. esclaz, esclauz, esclos, etc.), = Prov. esclau masc., esclava fem., Sp. esclavo, -va, Pg. escravo, -va, It. schiavo, -va, med.L. sclavus, sclava, identical with the racial name Sclavus (see SLAV), the Slavonic population in parts of central Europe having been reduced to a servile condition by conquest; the transferred sense is clearly evidenced in documents of the 9th century.


In early use ad. med.L. Sclavus (recorded from c 800), corresponding to late Gr. σκλάβος (c 580): cf. older G. Sklave, Sclav(e, Schlav(e, MHG. Schlaff. The later forms in Sl- correspond to mod.G. and F. Slave, med.L. Slavus (951), and are closer to the OSlav. and Russian forms: see SLOVENE.


a. G. Slovene (Slowene), pl. Slovenen, ad. Styrian, etc. Slovenec, pl. Slovenci; the name is a survival of the old native designation of the Slavs, which appears in OSlav. as Slovēne, and is supposed to be derived from the stem of slovo word, sloviti to speak.


a. F. bougre: - L. Bulgarus Bulgarian, a name given to a sect of heretics who came from Bulgaria in the 11th c., afterwards to other ‘heretics’ (to whom abominable practices were ascribed), also to usurers. See BOUGRE.