Friday, 13 April 2012

kukri and crepe

A kukri is a curved knife, described by Hobson-Jobson as "The peculiar weapon of the Goorkhas, a bill, admirably designed and poised for hewing a branch or a foe." It's borrowed from Hindi कूकरी/कूकड़ी kūkarī/kūkaṛī, originally meaning "skein". It's from कूकना kūkanā "to wind", probably related to Sanskrit क्रुक्त krukta "curved" and क्रुञ्चति kruñcati "to wind, twist".

The Proto-Indo-European root is *(s)ker- (IEW 935-938) "to turn, bend". The AHD says this is a "Presumed base of a number of distantly related derivatives".

It's hypothesized that there was a suffixed extended form *krīp-so- (from earlier metathesized *(s)kre-i-p-s-) which became *crīpsus, metathesized to Latin crīspus "curly". I know, there's a lot of steps here, and a lot of reliance on these mysterious extensions. The feminine crīspa became French crêpe.


be_slayed said...

I don't think kukri comes from Hindi कूकरी/कूकड़ी kūkarī/kūkaṛī "skein".

It's originally a Nepali word (unsurprising, given that G{o|u|oo}rkhas come from Nepal): खुकुरी khukurī.

The word gets borrowed into Hindi, but I think it's usual form there is खुक्री or कुख्री or कुक्री. (Though Platts indeed has कुकड़ी kukṛī for the Hindi/Urdu word, and again connects it with words meaning "bent" or "curved". I've never heard any South Asian speaker produce this word with a retroflex though.)

I would guess it actually entered English, however, directly from Nepali, given the relationship between British India and Nepal, and the British employment of Nepali soldiers.

I would suggest that it's related not PIE *(s)ker, but rather to PIE *kes "scratch", whence Greek ξυρόν (ksurόn) "razor" and Sanskrit क्षुर kṣurá- "razor", and that the Nepali word descends from the latter of these.

I have some further notes here:

goofy said...

The OED says it's from Hindi कूकड़ी, and they probably got that from Hobson-Jobson. How do you know it's originally Nepali?

be_slayed said...

Because the objects themselves (kukris) come from Nepal. Gurkha/Gorkha/Goorkha only refers to Nepali soldiers.

My guess is that all of the Hindi forms are actually borrowings FROM English, rather than the other way round. In other words, English speakers got the word from Nepali speakers, and then introduced it into Hindi.

Incidentally, I can't find the word at all, under any spelling (or imagined spelling) in McGregor's Oxford Hindi Dictionary.

Turner, in his Nepali dictionary, doesn't provide any etymological speculations, though he suggests that Panjabi khukhunī is a loan-word from Nepali khukuri (he suggests the final vowel is short in Nepali, but it's hard to know what that means etymologically, since spoken Nepali has lost long:short distinctions in the high vowels).

In Maya Singh's Panjabi dictionary, I find: KHUKHUNÍ ਖੁਖੁਨੀ s. f. A kind of sword used by Gorkhás.( )

be_slayed said...

It occurs to me that the Panjabi word might show contamination with Panj. KHÚṈ ਖੂਣ "blood" (Hindi खून khūn).

goofy said...

The fact that they come from Nepal doesn't mean that the word to describe them is originally Nepali, but it is suggestive.

My Oxford Hindi-English dictionary has खुखरी.