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).


Mattitiahu said...

Add to the Middle Iranian forms the attested substantives in Old Persian daraniya- 'gold', Avestan zaraniia- Pahl. zarēn, NPers. zärr < PIE *ǵʰl̥-enyo-

At least according to Kent's Grammar of Old Persian (1953)

In Avestan the morphologically simpler adjective zaire (voc.m.sg.) 'yellow, tawny' is also a regular epithet of haoma (Ved. soma)

Glen Gordon said...

'Gold' is one of those funny terms that gets passed around a lot.

If we accept Old Iranian *zama- 'golden' then is Greek ξανθός 'golden, yellow' connected somehow?

Also, if *zama- is really from Indo-European then is Egyptian ḏˁm 'light-coloured gold, electrum' (perhaps pronounced *ḏaˁma) another coincidence too?

Anonymous said...

Regarding -n- suffix Old Iranian *zarna- "golden", we have cognates in Slavic as well, specifically Common Slavic *zelenъ "green". Shall we posit e-grade -n- suffix Indo-Iranian *dzhelenas "gold, green" as the ancestor of both words? How do we explain the loss of -e- in Old Iranian, or it's addition in Slavic?

Also, perhaps we might reconstruct an Indo-Aryan form *dzhelenyam for Old Persian daraniya-, Avestan zaranya-, Sanskrit híraṇya-. This *dzhelenyam would be a derivate using a word-formation suffix -yom from *dzhelenas "gold, green" and equal to Slavic *zelenъ.

The semantic spectrum from "gold" to "green" is interesting, as are the difficulties with the vowels.

Thanks for bringing this root up I am a fan of your blog.

goofy said...

You guys are awesome.