Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Upanishad and Eisteddfod

Proto-Indo-European *sed- "to sit" became Vedic ni-ṣad "to sit or lie down" (ni- "down" from PIE *ni as in English beneath). This combined with upa "near to" to form उपनिषद् upaniṣád "to sit down near to; to approach, set about" hence "the sitting down at the feet of another to listen to his words" (Monier-Williams). The Upanishads are prose writings that are important to understanding the Vedas.

In Proto-Celtic, *sed- became the typically over-prefixed *eks-dī-sedo- (*eks- "out" and *dī- "out") "sitting". This became Welsh eistedd "to sit", which combined with bod "to be" to form eisteddfod "session". An Eisteddfod is a congress of Welsh bards.

physics and भौतिक

The episode "The Pirate Solution" from the third season of The Big Bang Theory has a linguistically interesting exchange… Sheldon and Raj are arguing about the dark matter problem:

Raj: Do you understand we're talking about dark matter colliding in outer space?

Sheldon: Of course I understand. And who are you to tell me about outer space?

Raj: I'm the astrophysicist! "Astro" means "space"!

Sheldon: "Astro" means "star".

Raj: OK, well let me just tell you, if we were having this argument in my native language, I'd be kicking your butt!

Sheldon: English is your native language.

The Hindi for "astrophysics" is खगोल भौतिकी khagol bhautikī - composed of khagol "the vault or sphere of the heavens" and bhautik "existing, material, real, of this world" (according to my Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary).

So Raj is right that the Hindi word for "astrophysics" contains the word for "space". The writers have done their research. (But he's wrong that the etymology of the word, in any language, is relevant to his argument.)

Hindi भौतिक bhautik is of course related to English physics. It's borrowed from Sanskrit bhautika "anything elemental or material", from bhū "to be" - from Proto-Indo-European *bheuH- "to be, exist, grow". This is the source of Greek φυσικός phusikos "natural, physical" (English physics), Latin futūrus "that is to be" (English future), and Welsh bod "to be" (combining with eistedd "to sit" to form Eisteddfod).

Concerning Sheldon's comment about Raj's native language, I suppose it's possible that Raj, who comes from an educated family in Delhi - has two native languages - Hindi and English.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

arsenic and zloty

Skeat, in his Dictionary of English Etymology, writes that arsenic is borrowed from Latin arsenicum, borrowed from Greek ἀρσενικόν "arsenic", from ἄρσην "male", so arsenic etymologically means "a male principle" - "the alchemists had the strange fancy that metals were of different sexes" writes Skeat. But the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology calls this a folk etymology on the part of the Greeks. According to the ODEE, ἀρσενικόν means "yellow orpiment" and is actually borrowed from Arabic الزرنيخ azzernykh (the AHD says Syriac zarnīkā). This was borrowed from Middle Iranian *zarnīk- from Old Iranian *zarna- "golden" (AHD). And *zarna- is from Proto-Indo-European *ǵhel- "to shine".

The suffixed o-grade form *ǵhol-to- became Polish złoto "gold" (cognate with Russian золотой), and złoty "golden" (OED).

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

capillary and disheveled

Latin capillus "hair" beget capillāris "pertaining to hair", borrowed into English as capillary which first meant "Of, pertaining to, consisting of, or concerned with hair", then "Having a very minute or hair-like internal diameter; as a capillary tube or capillary vessel".

discapillātus/dēcapillātus meant "stripped of hair, shaven" (with the negative prefix dis-), becoming Old French deschevelé. This was borrowed into English as dishevelled/disheveled. It first meant "Without coif or head-dress; hence, with the hair unconfined and flung about in disorder" and then later "Disordered, ruffled, disorderly, untidy" (OED).

Is capillus perhaps a diminutive of caput "head"? I have no idea.