In the words of the Intute: Arts and Humanities page about it:

The Glosas Croniquenses website stems from the research of an academic at the University of Arizona to trace the presence and interpret the use of Andean and Caribbean words in 16th century Spanish American chronicles. The result is a collection of glossaries, listing all the native words in seven different key texts (including Juan de Betanzos, ‘Suma y narración’; Pedro de Cieza, ‘Crónica del Perú: segunda parte: el Señorío de los Incas’; and Polo Ondegardo, ‘Notables daños de no guardar a los indios sus fueros’. Each glossary entry is accompanied by a quotation from the text (in Spanish) and its Spanish equivalent. This allows users to understand how the particular word is being used, its interpretation by the text’s author, and what this reveals about the Spanish perception of Andean culture. A detailed introduction to each text, and the metholodogy used to collate data, is provided. In short, this is a rich and valuable resource for anyone interested in indigenous languages of South America and the history of Spanish colonialism in this continent.

It looks like a good idea well carried out; thanks for the link, Paul!


  1. Very cool. Maybe someone could go back over the data and link to facsimiles of the original works, which have shown up online since the site was done.

  2. Somewhere I read that “shark” is the only Mayan word in English. Is’t true?

  3. No, shark is of unknown etymology. The only Mayan-derived word that occurs to me is pok-ta-pok ‘A ball game formerly played by Central and South American Indian peoples,’ but that is just barely part of the English vocabulary. (I wrote about it here.)

  4. cenote, another word used almost exclusively in Mayan contexts.
    I’ve seen the claim that cacao (and so chocolate), which comes from Nahuatl, might have gotten there from Mayan.

  5. Found it! Michael D Coe “Breaking the Maya Code”, Thames and Hudsom, 1992, p 141. “Tom Jones has recently proved that ‘xoc’ [in Maya] is the origin of the English word “shark”.”

  6. David Marjanović says:

    The TV told me shark came from Middle English shurker “villain” — compare German Schurke “villain”. It does look odd phonetically, though.

  7. “Tom Jones has recently proved that ‘xoc’ [in Maya] is the origin of the English word “shark”.”
    “Proved” is a strong word. Google tells me the reference is to Tom Jones, “The Xoc, the Sharke, and the Sea Dogs: An Historical Encounter,” in Fifth Palenque Round Table, 1983, Palenque Round Table Series, vol. 7, ed. Merle Greene Robertson and Virginia M. Fields (San Francisco: Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, 1985), 211—22. Google Books doesn’t even have the execrable snippet preview. Anybody have access to the book? It certainly sounds like an interesting paper, and I’d love to know how plausible the etymology is.

  8. Sharks eat vegetarians, right? Okay, close enough.
    There is an update: Jones, T. 1986. Jaws II: Return of the XOC. Sixth Palenque Round Table 246-54. They do have that one at the BPL. I’ll try to look it up next time I’m over there, if no one else gets to it first. Fifth looks harder to find around where I am.
    This article summarizes the earlier one. (You may need a university with a decent marine biology department, since Springer is so greedy.) There seems to be solid evidence that xoc meant ‘shark’ at that time: Thompson thought so (that’s what the section in Coe’s book is about) and Jones finds several other early dictionary references. The main question is how Hawkins’ men would have gotten the word. Jones speculates that Hawkins’ men may have acquired from a Spanish pilot they had captured and who had guided Hawkins’ vessels for four days into San Juan de Ulua.
    The London broadside in which sharke first occurs (see OED entry) is in EEBO.

  9. I tracked down both Jones articles in local research libraries.
    I think I can more easily summarize what the second one concerning the question of the proposed etymology of English shark from Yucatec Maya xoc. Nothing.
    It is more focused on matters of concern to Mayanists. If Stuart’s reconsideration of directional count glyphs (only online reference I can find here) indicates that Thompson’s xoc ‘count’ isn’t xoc, are we still sure that Yucatec xoc ‘shark’ shows up in Classic Mayan fish glyphs? Short answer: probably.
    I’ll try to see what I can do summarizing the more relevant first Jones article, beyond my summary of Castro’s tiburón & xoc article.

  10. I will take a stab at summarizing the case for Mayan xoc as the source of English shark. Since this form requires the text to be light, I’ll make it link-heavy.

    There are sharks all over the world. But the big ones are in the warm places. There are sharks in the Mediterranean and they were known to the Ancients. Pliny describes canīcula or canis marinus. (Latin English) Greek had a word καρχαρίας for some kind of shark, on account of its saw-like teeth. Salt water sharks are even more sensitive to salinity than other fishes and stay away from rivers, where the Europeans of the Middle Ages did most of their fishing. As a result, when the Spanish encountered new giant sharks in the New World, they borrowed the Arawak word tiburon (Spanish tiburón, Portuguese tuburão, Catalan tauró). This word passed to the English for a while. Then, suddenly, in 1569, a broadside appears in London advertising a big dead fish, “Ther is no proper name for it that I knowe but that sertayne men of Captayne Haukinses, doth call it a Sharke. And it is to bee seene in London, at the red Lyon, in Fletestreete.” (EEBO) So, it appears that the new word shark was picked up by John Hawkins‘ men on his disastrous last voyage. (OT, but to be clear: Hawkins was a slave trader and one of his backers was the Queen. In addition to parrots and new words, he mostly brought back Spanish gold and silver, gotten by hardly better means.) For a time, both words existed, but as general knowledge of sharks increased, it was shark that won in English.

    In tracking it, the first thing to note is that there are several senses to the word, and perhaps several words. In addition to the noun shark, ‘a fish’, there is the obsolete noun shark, ‘a cheat or parasite’, and the associated verb shark, ‘to swindle or sponge off of’. There is ample room for metaphors in both directions, so the two words are never fully separated. In fact, the earliest occurrence of the verb is in the 1596 play Booke of Sir Thomas Moore (part of which might have been written by Shakespeare) and involves a play on words with the fishy sense. (text)

    An historical survey of etymologies:

    • 1668 Wilkins An Essay Toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (scan): connects a specific carcharias name with shark.
    • 1689 Skinner Gazophylacium Anglicanum (EEBO): person < search < chercher.
    • 1721 Nathan Bailey‘s Universal Etymological English Dictionary (not online?): ditto verb; fish < scearan ‘to cut to pieces’.
    • 1783 George Lemon English Etymology (text): < carcharias ‘canis marinus’.
    • 1828 Webster (text): < carcharius.
    • 1836 David Booth Analytical Dictionary (text): doubts the derivation from carcharias because of the nearly obsolete verb.
    • 1890 A. S. Palmer Folk-Etymology (text): fish < carcharus; person < German Schurke.
    • 1893 Skeat (text): supposed from carcharus, with a missing intermediate OF form; Schurke vowel unexplained.
    • 1903 Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (online): intermediate OF between carcharus and shark missing; perhaps person sense came first.
    • 1958 Partridge: fish < person < Schurke.
    • 1989 The OED (s.v.): points out that the fish cannot come from the verb, because of the allusion in its first use (above); that shirk meant almost the same thing, as did German schurke, calling that a not unlikely source, with assimilation from the fish; and that there are likely two words involved with so many mixed notions that they are hard to distinguish.

    Some relevant texts:

    • 1525 A partial French translation of Antonio Pigafetta‘s account of Magellan’s voyage : tiburins for tiburoni. The entire Italian original was not published until the end of the 18th century. (Italian; French; English preview)
    • 1526 Oviedo‘s Sumario de la natural historia de las indias (snippet): first use of tiburón in Spanish.
    • c1530 Bartolomé de las CasasApologética historia de las indias (snippet): explicitly indicates the origin, “que los indios llamaron tiburones.”
    • 1555 Eden’s translation in Decades of the Newe World (EEBO; text): first use of tiburon in English.
    • 1554 Guillaume Rondelet‘s Libri de piscibus marinis (scan): De Tiburone.
    • 1558 His successor Laurent Joubert‘s translation Histoire entière des poissons (scan).
    • 1585 Mendoza Historia de China (Spanish; 1588 translation: EEBO; reprint): still says, “llamado … Tyburon” / “called tiburones,” indicating that the word is not fully assimilated.
    • 1590 José de Acosta Historia natural y moral de las Indias (scan; modern translation preview).
    • 1604 English translation of that (EEBO): “incredible rauening of the Tiburons, or sharkes.”
    • 1589 John Hawkins in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (EEBO; text): “many sharkes or Tiburons.” (I must also shamelessly point out that there is an important quote about potatoes on the facing page.)
    • 1593 Richard HawkinsObservations (EEBO; text): “The Sharke or Tiberune, is a Fish like vnto those which wee call Dogge-fishes, but that he is farre greater.”

    A good deal of the space in Jones 85 is used to present epigraphic and linguistic evidence to place the word xoc in time and space. This is to be expected, since it was a conference of Mayanists. But I will just skip to the punch line: at that time, along the coast from Río Dulce to Río Grijalva, one would encounter that word to designate a shark. This is where the 86 paper would impact the English etymology, if it dramatically revised the distribution. But as I said in earlier comments, it does not.

    So, this leaves open the question that is the main weakness of the whole argument. How did English slavers in 1568 pick up a Yucatec Maya word that does not ever make it into Spanish? The earliest recorded English presence in the Yucatán is William Parker’s 1597 attack on Campeche. (EEBO; text; JSTOR on the history)

    Here Jones presents an essentially fictionalized account of picking up a resident Spanish pilot on board the Jesus from Campeche to San Juan de Ulua. And points out that at the end of his 1569 True Declaration of the Troublesome Voyage, Hawkins declines to elaborate “all the miseries and troublesome affayres of this sorowefull voyadge.” (EEBO; preview)

  11. Actually, there are a number of editions of Bailey’s dictionary in ECCO, which probably explains why nothing has been done about the defective one in Google Books.
    The entries in the 2nd (1724) and 28th (1800) are identical (beyond capitalization). I misunderstood Jones’ description. He takes chercher for the verb as well as applying it to the fish, and then suggests a second possiblity for that.

    [probably of chercher, F. to seek, or scearan, Sax. to cut in pieces]

  12. anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth, I recently asked one Mayanist about the xoc/shark connection. He was very skeptical, since, he said, the Yucatec do not have much of a maritime culture, and do not have separate terms for different ocean fishes.

  13. To be clear, the question of what xoc was occupies the bulk of Jones’ two papers, since they are from Mayanist conferences. I don’t really think I’m qualified to effectively summarize them, let alone weigh judgment. But the arguments do address questions of fresh-water varieties and larger classes of undiscriminated marine fishes (and cetaceans).
    That Anonymous’ Mayanist contact is very skeptical is still extremely telling, since no doubt he is familiar with all the Round Table papers, as well as a subsequent couple decades of research that we amateurs haven’t seen.
    But just so no one thinks that part of the argument was presented as an axiom.

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