Archive for Etymology

"Crisis = danger + opportunity" redux

From IAS: Institute for Advanced Study; Report for the Academic Year 2018-2019, p. 8:

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Know your Ossetians

We here at Language Log know our Ossetians:

"Blue-Green Iranian 'Danube'" (10/26/19)

"Sword out of the stone" (8/9/08)

And we know our Scythians, who are closely linked to the Ossetians, too:

"Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (12/23/18)

"Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China" (11/11/19)

"Of armaments and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 6" (12/23/17)

"Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (4/21/19)

"Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstruction" (12/16/18)

Now Richard Foltz (a cultural historian specializing in ancient Iranian religion), on his blog, "A Canadian in Ossetia:  Life in the central Caucasus", has given us the opportunity to greatly expand our knowledge of Ossetian / Ossete / Ossetic and the Ossetians who speak it with two new, substantial articles:

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Sino-Semitica, part 2: of massage and Old Sinitic reconstructions

As part of our research on the dictionary of Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) that Zhu Qingzhi and I have been working on for more than two decades, I was tickled by this quaint poem (below on the second page) by the medieval Buddhist poet, Wáng Fànzhì 王梵志 (Brahmacārin ब्रह्मचारिन् Wang; fl. first half of 7th c.).

I have been an avid fan of Wáng Fànzhì's unique poetry for nearly half a century.  Quaint, indeed, and also quirky.  Wang Fanzhi is self-demeaning in a funny, adorable way.  The poem I'm about to introduce you to is a good example of his trademark self-abnegation.

What attracted me particularly to this poem for the purposes of our research on MVS is the first word in line 2, chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time"), which does not exist with this meaning in Literary Sinitic (LS) / Classical Chinese (CC).  Finding chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time") in Wang Fanzhi's poem was already enough of a treat, but when I got to the last word of the couplet, I was even more delighted.  As you will momentarily see, what Wang says about his wife's tummy is funny by itself, but the word he uses to describe what the wife does to her tummy made me even more excited.

But let's read the poem first, then I'll talk about the word in question, namely, méisuō 沒娑 ("massage").

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Sino-Semitica: of gourds, cassia, and hemp and Old Sinitic reconstructions

In a personal communication, Chris Button recently reminded me that I had once (more than two decades ago) written about the possible relationship between Semitic and Sinitic words for "gourd":

You might remember a while back I was asking you about your Southern Bottle Gourd Myths paper.

Recently, I've been working a little more on the 瓜 series in my dictionary and have ended up with it as an etymological isolate (bar the obvious relationship with 壺). So, I started looking for an external origin. Your note on the Arabic form qarʿa jumped out at me as being strikingly similar to my reconstruction of 瓜 as qráɣ and very supportive of the areal associations you outline in the paper.

That would add to the other two Semitic loanwords 麻* and 桂** here.

The merger of *-r with *-l in Old Chinese means 麻 *mrál could have gone back to an earlier 麻 *mrár which then aligns very nicely with the Semitic source to support Prof. Mair's suggestion.

We already have a precedent for a borrowing of this nature in 桂 *qájs "cinnamon, cassia" which could regularly go back to *qjáts and is likely associated with Hebrew qetsia "cassia

source of last two ¶s

[VHM:  *má ("hemp")]

[VHM:  **guì ("cinnamon, cassia")]

I had an old, learned German friend named Elfriede Regina (Kezia) Knauer (1926-2010) who was very much aware of the Semitic origins of her nickname and often asked me about its Sinitic parallels (see here, here, here, here, and here).  Hebrew קְצִיעָה‎ ("cassia tree"). Compare cassia. From Latin cassia ("cinnamon"), from Ancient Greek κασσία, κασία, κάσια (kassía, kasía, kásia), from Hebrew קְצִיעָה‎ (qəṣīʿā), from Aramaic קְצִיעֲתָא‎ (qəṣīʿătā), from קְצַע‎ (qṣaʿ, "to cut off") (source).

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Errant v. Arrant

Several people have emailed me to point out an apparent malapropism in a CBS News online headline: Melissa Quinn, "Nadler calls White House's impeachment rebuttal 'errant nonsense'", Face the Nation, 1/19/2020. In current usage, this should probably be "arrant nonsense".

But curiously, arrant and errant are the historically the same word, with an interesting and tangled history.

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The Hu: a wildly successful Mongolian rock band

Here's the official video of their viral hit, "Wolf Totem":

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Bear words

In "Dynamic stew" (10/24/13) and the comments thereto, we had a vigorous discussion of words for "bear" in Korean, Sinitic, Tibetan, and Japanese,  And now Diana Shuheng Zhang has written a densely philological study on "Three Ancient Words for Bear," Sino-Platonic Papers, 294 (November, 2019), 21 pages (free pdf).

Let's start with the basic word for "bear" in Sinitic:  xióng (MSM) 熊.

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Mare, mǎ ("horse"), etc.

[This is a guest post by Robert Hymes]

I just happened to be reading your Language Log post from April, "Of horseriding and Old Sinitic reconstructions." I too have always been sympathetic to the possibility of a mare-馬 connection, which I've tended to assume would have happened through a Chinese borrowing from Indo-European either directly or mediatedly, though as you point out the problem of the "mare" root's presence in only Germanic and Celtic is, well, a problem.

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Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China

Two of the best known displays of Chinese culture worldwide are the Lion Dance and Dragon Boat Races.  The former, including the Chinese word for "lion", is actually an import from the Western Regions (Central Asia, or East Central Asia more specifically).

Compare Old Persian * (*šagra-) (sgl /sagr, sēr/) (> Persian سیر(sīr)). The Middle Persian word is cognate with Parthian (šarg, "Leo; Lion"), Khotanese [script (šarau, "Leo; Lion"), Khwarezmian شرغ(šrγ /šarγ/, "Leo; Lion") and Sogdian (šrwγ /šruγ/) , ܫܪܘܮ(šrwγ /šruγ/, "Leo; Lion")

Middle Persian:

Manichaean: ‎ (šgr)

Source

Kipling-Disney:  Shere Khan (" Tiger Lion" — from Persian and Mongolian)

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Brogue

Compiling references to the Ocracoke "brogue", I wondered about the origins of the word. The Wikipedia entry confirms the possibilities that I recall:

Multiple etymologies have been proposed: it may derive from the Irish bróg ("shoe"), the type of shoe traditionally worn by the people of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, and hence possibly originally meant "the speech of those who call a shoe a 'brogue'". It is also possible that the term comes from the Irish word barróg, meaning "a hold (on the tongue)", thus "accent" or "speech impediment". A famous false etymology states that the word stems from the supposed perception that the Irish spoke English so peculiarly that it was as if they did so "with a shoe in their mouths".

The OED (entry from 1888) has the shoe story:

Derivation unknown: from the frequent mention of 'Irish brogue', it has been conjectured that this may be the same word as the brogue n.2, as if 'the speech of those who wear brogues', or 'who call their shoes brogues'; but of this there is no evidence.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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Blue-Green Iranian "Danube"

A curious phenomenon of Old European hydronymy that I've noticed for a long time is that many of the most important rivers in Central and Eastern Europe — Danube, Don, Donets, Dnieper, Dniester, and others — all have names that derive from the ancient Iranian (Scythian) word for "river" (cf. don, "river, water" in modern Ossetic).  Source

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Lord Millet and the empty orchestra

Every week I bring floral arrangements to the main office of the UPenn Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.  This week, one of the vases will have two spikes of beautiful ornamental millet ("foxtail" is certainly an appropriate descriptor).

Millet has special significance for East Asia, since — along with rice — it is one of the earliest domesticated grains from that part of the world, dating back nearly 9,000 years ago.  Moreover, East Asian varieties of millet had spread to the area around the Black Sea by about 7,000 years ago, affording evidence of very early trans-Eurasian cultural exchange (wheat came in the opposite direction, from west to east, around the third millennium BC).  Before the introduction of wheat, millet was the original staple grain of North China.  No wonder that the mythical culture hero Hou Ji 后稷 ("Lord Millet"), the god of cereals or minister of agriculture, had that name.

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