Wednesday, 28 July 2010

narwhal and nudnik

Proto-Indo-European *neh₂u- "death; to be exhausted" became Proto-Germanic *nāw-i- "corpse" and Old Norse nár "corpse" (AHD). Narwhal is borrowed from Danish narhval, from Old Norse náhvalr. It's thought that the Old Norse word is from nár plus hvalr "whale" with reference to the deathly colour of its skin. Or it could be from nál "needle". The presence of the r in the modern Scandinavian forms is unexplained (since the Old Norse word didn't have it), but it could have been added by folk etymological association with nár "corpse" (OED).

The Old Norse nár is cognate with the second element of Old English orcnēas "evil spirits, walking corpses". It's also cognate with need, but that's another story.

Nudnik "a pestering, nagging, or irritating person; a bore" is borrowed from Yiddish נודניק nudnik, which is from nudyen "to bore", borrowed from Polish nudzić "to bore" or Russian нудить "to wear out (with complaints)". Both of these are from Proto-Slavic *naud-ā- from *neh₂u- (AHD).


Glen Gordon said...

Considering Norse burial rituals in boats, dated only to the Roman Iron Age, isn't it curious that the same Indo-European word for 'boat', *neh₂us, should be used for 'death' even millennia before boat burials are ever enacted by Germanic peoples? PIE peoples weren't sea people afterall. Is this not another misreconstructed PIE root by chance? Historic cultural diffusion mistaken for prehistoric reality maybe?

goofy said...