Mycological meandering: vernacular variora

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The surname of the mayor of Prague is Hřib (Zdeněk Hřib [b. May 21, 1981]):

"Zdeněk Hřib: the Czech mayor who defied China"

By refusing to expel a Taiwanese diplomat, the Prague mayor has joined the ranks of local politicians confronting contentious national policies

Robert Tait in Prague
The Guardian, Wed 3 Jul 2019 01.00 EDT

The surname Hřib, though unusual, struck me as familiar.  Jichang Lulu observes:

Hřib is the regular Czech reflex of the Proto-Slavic source of, e.g., the Russian and Polish words for "mushroom" (гриб, grzyb). The Czech form, however, has a more specific meaning (certain mushrooms, e.g., Boletus). On the other hand, the further origin of Slavic gribъ has long been a matter of much debate, and I'm not aware of a generally accepted Proto-Indo-European (or other) etymology.

That set me to wondering whether there are cognates in other IE branches.

Ákos Bertalan Apatóczky informed me that the word does exist in Romanian, but it was probably borrowed from Rusyn (spoken by Rusyns, also known as Carpatho-Ruthenians or Carpatho-Russians), one among a whole cluster of Carpathian and Pannonian East Slavic languages and topolects with roots in the Early Middle Ages that I'd never heard of before:

The word hriba is present in Transylvanian Hungarian with the exact meaning 'boletus' but it is a loan from Romanian hribi, hriba 'boletus, bovinus' and to the best of my knowledge is from Rusyn. The narrowing of semantics seemingly took place during the Rusyn>Romanian borrowing, but that, again, is my own assumption.

Although it's unrelated to the Slavic words, I've often pondered the vernacular Chinese word for "mushroom", which is mógu 蘑菇, also 摩姑, 磨菇, 蘑菰, etc. (the classical, literary Sinitic word for "mushroom" [also "fungus; bacteria; germ; microbe; mold"] is jūn 菌; see also the comment by Diana Shuheng Zhang below).  From its shape and sound, plus the multiplicity of it Sinographic transcriptions, it makes me think that mógu may have come from some foreign word.  Cf.

I guess, though, that these words were borrowed from the Chinese, but I still wonder where the vernacular Chinese word came from.

Ákos Bertalan Apatóczky remarks:

Off the top of my head I'm unable to find any possible candidate cognates of mógu 蘑菇 that could serve as a donor, and as you pointed out Mongolic and other reflections in the neighboring languages look like they were borrowed from Chinese. What makes things a bit more complicated is that Chinese is treating 菇 itself as a word for mushroom and forms like xiānggū 香菇 ("shiitake [Lentinus edodes], an edible mushroom") also support that. Yet it is not an improbable assumption to think of mógu 蘑菇 as an early loan into Chinese and its separation and the lexicalization of gu as a later development.

The earliest written attestation of mógu 蘑菇 I know of is in the Materia Medica (Běncǎo gāngmù 本草綱目) of Li Shizhen (1518–1593).  Nonetheless, it is quite possible that, like the word gūlu 軲轆 for "wheel" (cf. Greek Late Latin cyclus, from Ancient Greek κύκλος [kúklos], from Proto-Indo-European *kʷékʷlos ["circle, wheel"]; see here and here), mógu 蘑菇 was an old colloquial word for "mushroom" that was borrowed into Sintic early on, but only established in writing during the last millennium.

This made me think of Greek μύκης mukēs ("mushroom; fungus").  Some etymologists would pursue that further as derived from Proto-Indo-European *mew-k- ("slip, slime"). Cognates include Latin mucus (Wiktionary:  see here and here).

I am not asserting a direct Greek origin for vernacular Sinitic gūlu 軲轆 ("wheel") nor for mógu 蘑菇 ("mushroom"), since words in the spoken language like this could have dispersed through the oral realm via any number of transmitters.

Then we have kombucha, from Japanese 昆布茶, which supposedly means "kelp tea", but I often hear it referred to as "tea mushroom", "tea fungus", or "Manchurian mushroom".  When we start to look more deeply into the Japanese and the English words for this drink, it becomes all the more puzzling, since what we consume as "kombucha" in the West has nothing to do with kelp, nor is it made from mushrooms.

In Japanese, the term kombucha (昆布茶, "kelp tea") refers to a kelp tea made with powdered konbu (an edible kelp from the Laminariaceae family) and is a completely different beverage from the fermented tea usually associated with kombucha elsewhere in the world.

The etymology of kombucha is uncertain; however, it is speculated that it is a misapplied loanword from Japanese. It has been hypothesized that English speakers mistook the Japanese word kombucha to mean fermented tea, when in fact, fermented tea in Japanese is called kōcha kinoko (紅茶キノコ, "red tea mushroom"). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary maintains that the use of kombucha in the English language likely stems from the misapplication of Japanese words: konbucha, kobucha (which translate to "tea made from kelp"), kobu, konbu (which mean "kelp") and cha (meaning "tea"). The American Heritage Dictionary offers further insight into the etymology of kombucha, stating that it was "perhaps […] used by English speakers to designate fermented tea due to confusion or because the thick gelatinous film produced by the kombucha culture was thought to resemble seaweed."

The first known use in the English language of the word kombucha to describe "a gelatinous mass of symbiotic bacteria (as Acetobacter xylinum) and yeasts (as of the genera Brettanomycesand Saccharomyces) grown to produce a fermented beverage held to confer health benefits" was in 1944.


Spoken language is not nearly so neat and tidy as scientific minds might wish it to be, especially when words are passing from one language to another (and another) over long stretches of space and time.  Yet, words do travel and they do persist, albeit transformed, which only makes their recognition all the more interesting and challenging.



  1. Chris Button said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 9:40 am

    My hunch is that the etymology for 菇 might be found in the variant form菰 with 孤 via 瓜 "melon" as phonetic. It seems to go back to a word family based on the concept of self-contained globularity. Even 孤 *kʷáɣ "orphan" itself might perhaps be included if we go with a similar semantic extension to that found between "orb" and "orphan" in English. We can also include words like 球 *gə̀w (from *gʷə̀ɣ) "ball" and 軌 *krə̀wʔ (from *kʷrə̀ɣʔ) "track, rut" (cf. Latin "orbita") via the ə/a ablaut.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 10:10 am

    From Peter Golden:

    The Turkic data is summarized in Edward Tryjarski, "Turkic Names for Mushrooms. Native Terms and Loanwords" Altaica. Proceedings of the 19th Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference held in Helsinki 7-1 June 1976. Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 158 (Helsinki, 1977): 241-254, which is still useful.

  3. Ronan Maye said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 10:23 am

    I think the potential connection to the Greek μύκης seems promising and intuitive. Mushrooms and fungus are very slimy, especially when you pick them in the wild rather than the supermarket. Also, the slimy SCOBY on top of kombucha is called 紅茶菌,紅茶菇、or 茶菇 in Chinese; it's not a mushroom, just a slimy aggregate of fungus and bacteria, so maybe mogu had something to do with slime, but the gu later separated like you wrote above.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 10:51 am

    From Nicholas Tursi:

    A fascinating post for sure. You're absolutely right. For a science-minded person such as myself, language can be frustratingly complicated and interwoven. But, I think that's part of the fun.

    I know that this may be slightly tangential from the original spirit of the post, but I find it interesting that upon looking at 蘑菇 in Pleco, it gives me multiple other definitions:

    1. Noun. Mushroom
    2. Verb. Colloquial. Worry; pester; keep on at
    3. Verb. Colloquial. Dawdle; dillydally

    Is this a modern variant of the word? I wonder how "colloquial" it may be, and/or how prevalent. Interesting to see how different these verb forms are from "mushroom, n." itself.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 11:05 am


  6. Victor Mair said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 11:11 am

    Yes, I thought about that a lot.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 11:51 am

    From Peter Golden:

    I could have added a few entries to Tryjarski's article, but Turkic has not been the focal point of the discussion (Uyghur also has atqulaq [not only the Chin. mogu/mögü). Turkic is all over the map with terms, i.e. lacks a common term. Chuvash, allegedly, has the largest number of words for mushrooms. Tatar, Bashkir gömbä, Chuvash kănpa are an areal phenomenon. Conflicting etymologies are offered – as well as Finnic correspondences with respect to the Chuvash form (see M.R. Fedotov, Etimologičeskij slovar' čuvašskogo jazyka, Čeboksary, 1996, I: 253). These are probably not related to Känčäkī (a Saka dialect from around Kashghar, cited several times by al-Kāšġarī) känpä "a plant."

    [VHM: Thanks for this too, Peter. It's all гриб for the mill!]

  8. Victor Mair said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 4:30 pm

    Lithuanian grybas ("fungus; mushroom")

    Samogitian (another Baltic language) grībā

  9. cameron said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 5:54 pm

    There's a brief discussion online about a possible turkic origin for the Persian word qārch. Here:
    Comparison is made to the Kurdish words, but nothing conclusive was determined.

  10. Chris Button said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 8:25 pm

    Given the late attestation of 菇, it's probably worth noting that an Old Chinese reconstruction could just as well be *kʷáɣ (as in the 孤 *kʷáɣ in 菰) as opposed to *káɣ (as in the 姑 *káɣ in 菇) since *kʷáɣ and *káɣ would both have merged by Early Middle Chinese as kɔ. On the basis of my earlier comment, I would probably favor *kʷáɣ.

  11. Chris Button said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 8:36 pm

    There's a brief discussion online about a possible turkic origin for the Persian word qārch.

    That's interesting–particularly if the root goes back to kar/qar- as one of the commenters suggests. Regarding the coda of 菇 *kʷáɣ/*káɣ (notably an OC uvular *q- here, as in *qáɣ would have merged with *kʷ- in its reflexes in any case), we briefly discussed the notion of 絲 (糸) *sə̀ɣ "silk" possibly being related to to Greek sḗr (from whence Latin Sēres "Chinese/China") here:

  12. Victor Mair said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 10:17 am

    From Diana Shuheng Zhang:

    Mushrooms are xùn 蕈 ("mushrooms; fungus; mildew; mold") in traditional Classical Chinese. Not until the Ming Dynasty was the word mógū 蘑菇 used (need to further check upon it). So mógū 蘑菇 may indeed have something to do with foreign (Mongolian, likely) borrowing.

    One more fun thing about mógū 蘑菇 is that in my own Northeastern dialect / topolect Dōngběi huà 東北話, "mógu" has the meaning of "sluggish, slow, slack, procrastinative". E.g. Bié mógule 別蘑菇了!"Don't be so sluggish!" or Qímò lùnwén bùnéng mógū 期末論文不能蘑菇 "Final papers should not be procrastinated." Some write the orthography as 磨咕. I wonder about its etyma. It's interesting to think of such an alternative "mushroom".

  13. Chris Button said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 4:45 pm

    The earliest written attestation of mógu 蘑菇 I know of is in the Materia Medica (Běncǎo gāngmù 本草綱目) of Li Shizhen (1518–1593)….

    From its shape and sound, plus the multiplicity of it Sinographic transcriptions, it makes me think that mógu may have come from some foreign word. Cf.

    → Mongolian: ᠮᠥᠭᠦ (mögü) / мөөг (möög)
    → Uyghur: موگۇ‎ (mogu)

    I guess, though, that these words were borrowed from the Chinese,

    So mógū 蘑菇 may indeed have something to do with foreign (Mongolian, likely) borrowing

    The late attestation in Chinese does make the borrowing from Mongolian into Chinese entirely reasonable in terms of how Early Mandarin would have sounded at the time. Presumably no one has been able to trace an etymology for the Mongolian word?

    Separately, it's interesting that the variant 菰 for 菇 is included way back in the Shijing but that the sense is different.

  14. Chris Button said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 4:48 pm

    Sorry I meant Shuowen for Shijing

  15. Chris Button said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 4:56 pm

    Incidentally, Baxter & Sagart (p.177) actually give an OC reconstruction for 菇 as *mə.kˤa "mushroom". I don't believe their reconstruction of a pre-initial *mə is based on any assumed connection with the first syllable of 蘑菇. If we do accept the notion that 菇 can even be reconstructed in Old Chinese (since it quite possibly can't), I would then at least challenge them to consider *kʷ- as the root initial rather than *k- based on my earlier comments.

  16. Chris Button said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 9:13 pm

    Nonetheless, it is quite possible that… mógu 蘑菇 was an old colloquial word for "mushroom" that was borrowed into Sintic early on, but only established in writing during the last millennium.

    This made me think of Greek μύκης mukēs ("mushroom; fungus").

    The PIE root *məwg- (and by extension Greek múkēs) seems too far removed phonologically from any Chinese forms reconstructed at any depth. Having said that, somehow getting from Ancient Greek via an intermediary or two to Mongolian and then ultimately much later to Chinese is, I suppose, somewhat plausible. I'm thinking of cases like Greek nómos "law" and Mongolian nom "book" as discussed here:

  17. Victor Mair said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 11:26 pm

    @Chris Button

    Excellent thoughts!

    That would kill two birds with one stone — the Mongolian and relatively late (Ming) vernacular Sinitic words for "mushroom", which clearly resemble each other in sound and meaning.

  18. Chris Button said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 6:07 am

    @ Victor Mair

    I think that's the most likely scenario at least.

    One of the rules I have for my dictionary is that word family associations need to be supported elsewhere to avoid any conjecture at all on my part. I can't find any external support for putting 菇 in the 瓜 word family as I tentatively suggested in my first post (the closest I can get in English is "orchid" which, while epiphytic–grows on the surface of things–like a mushroom, is apparently named for its testicle-shaped roots instead). Hence it doesn't qualify for inclusion on those grounds. Furthermore, its very late attestation and occurrence as a binome suggests that looking for an internal etymology is probably futile. Since the Mongolian word doesn't appear to have an internal etymology either (perhaps a Mongolian specialist could chime in here) and that theoretically tracing some kind of an association with the Greek form (regardless of the actual specifics of the process) is plausible, I think that's our best bet.

    Separately, the Tyrjarski article may be found here: . Rakhimov's suggestion that the Uyghur (and hence Mongolian) form come from Chinese is cited on p.249. As noted above, on phonological grounds, I think we're probably safer assuming the direction is from Uyghur/Mongolian to Chinese.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 1:08 pm

    From Matt Anderson:

    That's an interesting question about xùn and jūn. Their MS pronunciations would have been very different, but it's certainly possible that jūn, say, could have been adapted to write a topolectal pronunciation. I remember going to Yunnan when I was 18, when my Mandarin wasn't very good, and being very confused by this word jùnzi (with fourth, not first, tone, I think), which I heard constantly, only eventually figuring out it what word it was exactly and that it meant 'mushroom' (I'd only ever heard mógu in Beijing, but there are certainly many, many more mushrooms in Yunnan!).

  20. Victor Mair said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 1:21 pm

    Hřib smrkový / Boletus edulis

    Not sure, but I think that smrkový means "spruce".

    Edulis means "edible".

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

    "Spruce" would make sense, since although (in Poland at least) B. edulis tends to favour silver birch, it can also be found under under beech, Scots pine and spruce.

  22. Chris Button said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 5:22 pm

    Sorry I meant Shuowen…

    So it turns out the form in the Shuowen is actually 苽 which is apparently a variant of 菰. Curious as to the connection of its "Zizania latifolia" (Manchurian Wild Rice) gloss with 菇 "mushroom" I took a look at wikipedia and found the following interesting remark: "The success of the crop depends on the smut fungus Ustilago esculenta. The grass is not grown for its grain, as are other wild rice species, but for the stems, which swell into juicy galls when infected with the smut. When the fungus invades the host plant it causes it to hypertrophy; its cells increasing in size and number."

  23. Chris Button said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 5:30 pm

    A "gall" in this case being a "a blister or tumor-like growth found on the surface of plants"–now I'm thinking about those ballockwort/orchid roots again…

  24. Christopher Atwood said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 6:03 pm

    The general consensus among Mongolists is that Mongolian möögü "mushroom" is more likely to be a loan word from Chinese than the other way around. This is because of the way it is written.

    Modern Mongolian is möög (with the double vowels representing a long vowel). But ancient Mongolian did not have phonemic vowel length, and modern Mongolian long vowels generally derive from diphthongs created with the elision of intervocalic -g- (whether in front or back allophones, i.e. g or gh) or less often -b- or -m-. Thus, ancient jegün > Middle Mongolian jewün > modern Mongolian dzüün "left; east", or ancient qubur' > middle Mongolian quwur > modern Mongolian xuur "fiddle."

    Now the transition from ancient to middle Mongolian took place right around the time of the Mongol empire, when Mongolian was reduced to writing in the Uyghur script, and there was clearly some knowledge on the part of the unknown savants who designed the script of this on-going process of creation of diphthongs by elision of intervocalic consonants. Thus, if there is a long vowel in modern Mongolian, it usually has a consonant and two vowels in the writing system (although in a few cases they got the consonant wrong, thus xuur is spelled qughur in classical Mongolian, not correct qubur — we know qubur is correct from the Turkic cognate qobuz)

    But loan words into modern Mongolian frequently have long vowels corresponding to (for example) stressed vowels in Russian or in Chinese words. Thus when we see möög written as möögü, and not expected *mögögü or *mögegü, it has the appearance of a loan word from Chinese. There is, moreover, in Mongolian no family of words connected with this — it appears to have no derivatives and not be derived from any other word.

    The oldest example I could find in a not very systematic search appeared in the Qianlong 45 (1790) trilingual Manchu-Mongolian-Chinese dictionary. In it 蘑菇 is defined in Manchu as "sence" and in Mongolian as "mögü" with a short vowel. It is very common in early loans from Chinese to be written first with a single vowel, and then with a double vowel as the spelling begins to reflect the actual Mongolian pronunciation. This would indicate not only that it is loan word, but that it is not a very old one either.

    So in sum, möögü looks exactly like a loan from Chinese and I doubt very much if it is very old in the Mongolian plateau. I find Manchu sence a rather more interesting possibility for an ancient mushroom word, but then it wouldn't help to explain Chinese "mogu."

  25. Chris Button said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 7:05 am

    @ Christopher Atwood

    Thank you so much for that valuable input. If we're almost certainly dealing with a loan from Chinese into Mongolian, I would then propose the following:

    The native Chinese word 苽/菰 *kʷáɣ was originally used for Zizania latifolia in specific reference to its swollen roots (hence the broader word-family connections with 瓜, 球, 孤, 軌, etc. as mentioned in my earlier post–cf. the similar semantics of "orb", "orphan", "orbital" and most relevant to this case "orchid"). Over time, the sense shifted from a focus on the fungus-infected roots to simply the fungus causing the swelling, for which the new character 菇 was later coined to differentiate this sense (the addition of things like 蘑 or 香 as 蘑菇 or 香菇 was to further differentiate this semantically-evolved sense along the lines of mushrooms particularly suitable for drying/grinding vs. shiitake mushrooms, etc.). The specific word 蘑菇 was then borrowed into Mongolian from Chinese.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 11:45 am

    From Jichang Lulu:

    Primátor @ZdenekHrib se jako hrdina týdne pro své zásadové postoje v otázce Tchaj-wanu dočkal pozornosti Prof Victora Maira, který na jeho počest rozebral (s přispěním @jichanglulu) etymologické kořeny jeho jména v různých jazykových genealogiích.

    (My off-the-cuff translation, with preemptive apologies for any mistakes:

    "Mayor @ZdenekHrib, as 'hero of the week' on account of his principled position on the Taiwan question, has attracted / earned himself the attention of Professor Victor Mair, who in his honour analysed the etymological roots of his name in different language genealogies, with a contribution by @jichanglulu.")

  27. Chris Button said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 3:07 pm

    …the similar semantics of "orb", "orphan", "orbital" and most relevant to this case "orchid"…

    Seems like Calvert Watkins' tentative association of "orchid" is not generally supported; a clear account of the phonology would certainly help. In any case, the notion of a 瓜-like swollen growth as the stem of Zizania plants–as even represented graphically by 苽 with 瓜 beneath 艸–does not seem untoward.

  28. Penglin Wang said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 11:06 pm

    I often go through the Sino-Mongolian glossaries, most of which were compiled in the 14th-17th centuries and which include a section titled Flora. However, I don't recall if I encountered the word for mogu there. Dagur muəgə 'mushroom' appears to be adopted from Chinese mogu. When I did fieldwork study of the Dagur dialect spoken in Tacheng, Xingjiang in 1981, I was surprised to learn that the local Dagurs were using the word bakərt in the sense of 'mushroom' in addition to muəgə, while it means 'an edible fungus (木耳)' in the other Dagur dialects. The Dagurs in Tacheng left their home in the easternmost Inner Mongolia about 300 years ago for a military campaign launched by the Qing court. This dialectal difference may suggest that the Dagurs obtained the word muəgə relatively late, after a portion of Dagur population was dispatched to Xinjiang.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    July 8, 2019 @ 10:59 am

    From Martin Schwartz:

    Re Prof. Golden's comment:

    kämbä is comparable with the Sogdian word for 'flax', *kynpw and derivatives; see in detail J. Hamilton and N. Sims-Williams, Documents turco-sogdiens du IXe-Xe siècle de Touen-houang 1990, p. 57 top, who cite Henning,"The Sogdian Texts of Paris', BSOAS 1946. p. 724, who compares distantly related words for cannabis. I touch on hemp and flax, and (not related to these) words for 'mushroom' vel sim. with shape bilabial stop, vowel, an velar stop, in a book I co-authored (some of which is now outdated by my own research) which can be completely examined by searching online for Haoma & Harmaline, D. Flattery and M. Schwartz — Free Download.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    July 8, 2019 @ 1:08 pm

    From Peter Golden:

    Cf. also Tremblay, 2007: X. Tremblay, "Kanjakī and Kāšɣarian Saka" Central Asiatic Journal 51/1: 63-76/ p. 73: knb' Khotanese kuṃba, Sogd. kynp' "flax" // känpä "a plant" (Kašġarī (ms. 210, Dankoff, Kelly ed. I: 317). Tremblay considers "Kanǰakī" the name given by Maḥmūd al-Kāšġarī to the Turkic dialect spoken in Kašġar that supplanted Kašġarian Saka, but retained some Saka words, such as känpä.

    The topic is quite interesting. Many thanks, Martin, for the link to your Haoma & Harmaline, which I have downloaded.

    Ephedra/wormwood (yabčan in Turkic with numerous variants) was well known in the Turkic world. Babur in the Bābūrnāma, regularly refers to Šibānī Khan, his nemesis, as Šïbāq Khan (šïbaq "wormwood" borrowed from Mongol šibaġ), a play on words.

  31. Chris Button said,

    July 10, 2019 @ 5:05 pm

    @ Martin Schwartz

    I touch on hemp and flax, and (not related to these) words for 'mushroom' vel sim…

    Thanks for the link. I wonder if the connections you note there between "sponge" and "mushroom" elucidate the question of 蕈 below…

    @ Matt Anderson

    That's an interesting question about xùn and jūn. Their MS pronunciations would have been very different…

    I think simply on the basis of their very different sounds, there cannot have been any original connection between them. The origin of 蕈 is possibly in the same "sweet, soft" word family as 恬, 甜, 簟 (compare douce, dulcet/dolce, French doucette "fine cloth") on the basis of the common association between soft sponginess and mushrooms.

  32. Chris Button said,

    July 10, 2019 @ 7:48 pm

    Incidentally, the phonetic in 恬 *lʲám "tranquil" and 甜 *lʲám "sweet" is 㐁 which was graphically corrupted to phonetically unrelated 舌 "tongue" (particularly semantically apropos in the case of 甜). The character 㐁 is the original form for the word now represented by 簟 *lʲámʔ "mat" with the phonetic 覃 *lə́m via the ə/a ablaut.

  33. Chris Button said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 7:30 am

    Apparently orb in Catalan may be used for a fungal infection of cereals… It seems through its more common sense of "blind" to ultimately go back to the same root as orphan and hence orb, orbit, etc. , although I would love to be pointed in the direction of some more information in that regard.

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