Friday, 4 December 2009

lox, lakh, shellac

lox is a kind of smoked salmon, from Yiddish לאַקס laks, from Old High German lahs "salmon". The Proto-Indo-European root is *laḱs- "salmon". The IEW has laḱ- 653 "to be spotted, salmon".

lakh/lac/lack is Anglo-Indian for "one hundred thousand", from Hindi लाख lākh, related to Sanskrit लक्ष lakṣa "one hundred thousand", also "mark, sign, token". Hobson-Jobson says the word has been borrowed into Southeast Asian languages like Malay and Javanese.

Pokorny derives Sanskrit lakṣa from *laḱ-; the sense development is presumably something like "spotted > lots of marks > a vast amount like one hundred thousand".

There is a homophonous Hindi word लाख lākh "gum-lac, a kind of wax formed by the Coccus lacca" (a scale insect that feeds on certain trees in south Asia). This is related to Sanskrit लाक्ष lākṣa "a kind of red dye", which is also possibly from *laḱs- (because salmon are red?). The Hindi word found its way to French as laque en écailles, which was calqued into English as shellac, that is, "shell-lac" - lac that has been melted and run into thin plates (OED).


be_slayed said...

I know I left the comment on Omniglot about लाख lākh and lox...but a few more notes from Turner's "Comparative Dictionary of Indo-Aryan":

So the Hindi homophones लाख "100,000" and लाख "gum-lac" are, as you note, from different sources: the first from Skt लक्ष lakṣa "one hundred thousand", the latter from Skt. लाक्ष lākṣa "a kind of red dye". (Their different etymologies is also suggested to me since while closely-related Nepali also has lākh "100,000", the word from "gum-lac" is lāhā).

Turner relates Skt. lākṣa not to "salmon", but rather says that in the Atharvaveda it is used as the name of a particular plant, and relates it also to Skt. alakta- (again a plant-name)--suggesting to me that the name derives from the name of the plant used to make the gum-lac.

On Skt. lakṣa, Turner points out that in earlier Vedic Sanskrit, lakṣa means "stake, prize"; later in the Classical Sanskrit of the Mahabharata, "mark, sign"; and it doesn't seem to be until yet later texts that it means "100,000"--which makes me wonder about the connection to Gmc. lox that I repeated on the Omniglot blog.

In the Addendum, Turner suggests that the modern form lākh "100,000" might be related to a hypothesised (Prakritic) *lakka- "lump" (attested by Hindi lakkā "lump, piece", Nepali lakku "heap, pile of money (esp. in gambling)".

So I wonder how sound the connection Pokorny makes(that I repeated) between lox and lākh really is....considering that the semantics don't seem right for Vedic Skt....

goofy said...

Wow, thanks for all the info. Pokorny connects both lakṣa and lākṣa to this PIE root, but he puts question marks before both of them, so he's not sure either.

I've just noticed that Turner is online! I'm sure I'll be looking at it often...