Archive for Etymology

Genghis Khan and Burkhan Khaldun

Every five years or so, popular science magazines have a "Genghis Khan tomb" story.

Here's a current iteration:

"Where is the tomb of Genghis Khan?"

By Owen Jarus, published 12 days ago

The location of the tomb of Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – August 18/25, 1227; the founder and first great Khan [Emperor] of the Mongol Empire) was certainly meant to be kept secret by those who buried him.  

Marco Polo wrote that, even by the late 13th century, the Mongols did not know the location of the tomb. The Secret History of the Mongols has the year of Genghis Khan's death (1227) but no information concerning his burial. In the "Travels of Marco Polo" he writes that "It has been an invariable custom, that all the grand khans, and chiefs of the race of Genghis-khan, should be carried for interment to a certain lofty mountain named Altai, and in whatever place they may happen to die, although it should be at the distance of a hundred days' journey, they are nevertheless conveyed thither."

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Tocharian words for oil

We've had two consecutive posts on oil-related words (see "Selected readings" below).  julie lee made this comment on the first of the two:

Old Chinese/Old Sinitic *lew is similar in sound and meaning to Welsh OLEW "oil".

[From Middle Welsh olew, form Old Welsh oleu, from Proto-Brythonic *olew, from Vulgar Latin *olevum, from Latin oleum (oil).] (source)

julie's observation inspired me to ask Doug Adams whether there were any Tocharian words for oil.  He replied:

There are two (sort of),  There are both ṣalype and ṣmare.  The first is 'oil (particularly sesame oil); salve, ointment' (also oil in a lamp), the second is, as a noun, 'oil' (as in a lamp) and, as an adjective, 'smooth, even, slippery.'  The first is etymologically connected to English salve and the second to English smear.

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Oleomargarine: rituals and litany

In the previous post ("Oil: a partial paradigm" [6/19/22)]), we have been discussing the origins and ramifications of the derivation of the word "oil" from the ancient Greek word for olive.  The last comment (before I wrote this post), by Coby, states:  "Spanish also has the word óleo, which can mean either oil paint or the oil used in church rituals."  Reading Coby's reference to óleo immediately sparked fond childhood memories of the Mair family ritual of mixing margarine.

We were a large and not well off family, so we seldom could afford real butter.  Consequently, we used oleomargarine to spread on our bread rather than butter.  We referred to it as "oleo" instead of "margarine", since the latter seemed too fancy-fussy in our household, and "oleomargarine" would have taken too much time to pronounce and would have been considered archly pedantic among us rural Ohio folk.

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Oil: a partial paradigm

Oil is one of the most important substances used by human beings.  It can be an essential food for consumption, a medium for cooking and frying, a lubricant, a material for the transmission of pressure through closed channels, a soothing substance for the skin, a substance to burn for propulsion and illumination, a polishing agent, and so forth.  It can even be used metaphorically and literally to signify a calming agent:

The figurative expression pour oil upon the waters "appease strife or disturbance" is by 1840, from an ancient trick of sailors.

Another historical illustration which involves monolayers, was when sailors poured oil on the sea in order to calm 'troubled waters' and so protect their ship. This worked by wave damping or, more precisely, by preventing small ripples from forming in the first place so that the wind could have no effect on them. [J. Lyklema, "Fundamentals of Interface and Colloid Science," Academic Press, 2000]

The phenomenon depends on what are called Marangoni effects; Benjamin Franklin experimented with it in 1765.*

(source)

[*What did not excite the curiosity of the founder of the University of Pennsylvania?]

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"Forty" in Indo-European and Turkic

Mehmet Oguz Derin writes:

Recently, while reinspecting the numerals, I found that the case of forty in Turkic is a bit more challenging (kırk/qwrq). It made me wonder, could this possibly be a very early borrowing from Indo-European, from the same stem that produces the quaranta word with the same meaning? Maybe the base got in with the kır- part as somehow verbalized and then nominalized again within the framework of language family using -k coda, or directly from a nominal functioning base. Or would that be a too-far-fetched idea to think?

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Toponymic uncertainty: bǎo / bǔ / pù // burg / burgh

The ambiguity of how to pronounce 咀 (jǔ, zuǐ) in toponyms (see this recent post) is mirrored by the situation regarding 堡.  Is it bǎo, bǔ, or pù?

bǎo

  1. (often in placenames) town or village with walls
    /   ―    ―  Wubu (county of Yulin, Shaanxi, China)

Used in place names, as a variant of (, “courier station"

(Zhengzhang): /*puːʔ/

(source)

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Sweet, sweet sherbet drink (> frozen dessert)

What with the high heat (in the 90s) these days, at least here in Philadelphia, and all the talk of Semitic roots, especially those beginning with one or the other of the five Proto-Semitic sibilants, I feel an impulse to write about "sherbet".

Already from the time I was a little boy, I sensed that "sherbet" had an Oriental flavor, and I undoubtedly looked up the etymology of the word by the time I was in high school.  But the resources for studying the etymology of such words were not so advanced and readily available as they are now, so I probably didn't get much beyond realizing that the word was borrowed from Turkish into Western languages.

Now, we have easy access to a much fuller and deeper story of the origins and development of "sherbet".  Here I quote the complete entry for it from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed.

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Moloch and its countless congeners: the efflorescence of triliteralism

Quoting Wikipedia, Barbara Phillips Long writes:

…[S]ince 1935, scholars have debated whether or not the term refers to a type of sacrifice on the basis of a similar term, also spelled mlk, which means "sacrifice" in the Punic language. This second position has grown increasingly popular, but it remains contested.
 
Barbara was inspired to look this up by Gary Wills' article on the subject in The New York Review (12/15/12), which surfaced in some commentary she had read about the most recent school massacre. In the essay, Wills wrote "The gun is our Moloch." Leaving aside her opinions on guns and public safety in the U.S., here is the link if you are curious.
 
Barbara's question is whether there has there been any resolution of the debate about the origins, evolution, or meaning of the word Moloch. The Wiktionary entry did not clarify things for Barbara, since there's no reference to Punic, but a reference to Ammonite:

New Latin, from Μολόχ (Molókh), Greek rendition of Hebrew מולך (mólekh, Moloch), borrowed from Ammonite  (mlk), an Ammonite god mentioned in the Pentateuch, worshipped by Canaanites and Phoenicians, said to have demanded child-sacrifice.

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Languages and cultures of Central Asia

Herewith, I wish to announce the publication of a stupendous Festschrift in honor of András Róna-Tas’s 90th birthday. 

András Róna-Tas, distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Szeged, Hungary, winner of several international prestigious prizes, has devoted his long academic career to the study of Chuvash, Turkic elements in Hungarian, Mongolic-Tibetan linguistic contacts, the Para-Mongolic language Khitan and other Central Asian languages and cultures.

This book, presented to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday, contains a collection of papers in Turkic and Mongolic Studies, with a focus on the literacy, culture, and languages of the steppe civilizations. It is organized in three sections: Turkic Studies, Mongolic Studies, and Linguistic and cultural contacts of Altaic languages. It contains papers by some of the most renowned experts in Central Asia Studies.

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Midwife

"A person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth."  AHDEL

But not always a woman:

Men rarely practice midwifery for cultural and historical reasons. In ancient Greece, midwives were required by law to have given birth themselves, which prevented men from joining their ranks. In 17th century Europe, some barber surgeons, all of whom were male, specialized in births, especially births requiring the use of surgical instruments. This eventually developed into a professional split, with women serving as midwives and men becoming obstetricians. Men who work as midwives are called midwives (or male midwives, if it is necessary to identify them further) or accoucheurs; the term midhusband (based on a misunderstanding of the etymology of midwife) is occasionally encountered, mostly as a joke. In previous centuries, they were called man-midwives in English.

(source)

I have often wondered about the meaning and origins of the term "midwife".  My wonderment was piqued recently by several comments on this post:  "Wondrous blue" (5/9/22).

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Sailor's bed

If I were a cruciverbalist, I might use that as a clue for "hammock", though it didn't turn up here:

https://www.wordplays.com/crossword-solver/sailor%27s-bed

nor here:

http://crosswordtracker.com/clue/sailors-bed/

but it was first here:

https://crossword-solver.io/clue/sailor%27s-bed/

With somer a-comin' — though spryng has barely sprung, at least not in these parts — it's time to drag out our dusty, trusty hammocks and hang them between two trees.  But, historically, just what is a "hammock", and where did the word come from?

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Wondrous blue

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Jaapie

A comment to this post:  "Accents you expect to hear" (4/6/22):

From Rob:

I was born and brought up in Zambia, a then-British colony. My (mainly) British parents made it clear that I was not to speak like a "jaapie", although that was the natural accent to use with my friends.

It's a name, but I never heard of it before.  So I had to look it up, and it was worth the effort, because it raises some interesting questions.

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