Greek xénos.

In a recent Log thread on words meaning ‘foreigner,’ Iranianist Martin Schwartz (see this LH post) said:

Indeed, the late Beekes’ seeing xénos as Pre-Greek is rendered untenable by the existence of a cognate in Avestan, however Wiktionary gives no further info on this. It was I who provided that Avestan cognate (the articles may be found on the internet), first in 1982 (“The Indo-European Vocabulary of Exchange, Hospitality, and Intimacy“, Proceedings of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 8), and, among other publications, in 2003, “Gathic Compositional History, Yasna 29, and Bovine Symbolism“, pp. 213-214, in which I reconstructed PIE *ksen-w-, this time with initial velar as against my earlier suggestion of a labio-velar, based on wrong comparison with Hittite kussan-. A further, very detailed account of the etymology and its role in Gathic poetics is […] awaiting publication in a Viennese festschrift. A takeaway is that the original meaning of the word, as evidenced clearly in Homer, is that xénos/xeînos was not ‘stranger, foreigner’, but someone who, as per the archaic gift-exchange institution, was one of two parties who were mutually tied by an ongoing relationship of hospitality etc.; in Avestan the cognate verb referred to reciprocity and provision of hospitality and further (like the archaic Greek) cultic relationship. For many years Calvert Watkins contested my etymology of the Greek word, himself favoring a connection a connection with PIE *ghosti-, another term of reciprocity, but he finally conceded in public that my etymology was to be accepted for phonological reasons.

(I added links for convenience.) That’s very interesting to me; I had always accepted the *ghosti- version, but I like this one. And Schwartz has a follow-up comment on Georgian (!) borrowings from Hebrew:

As for goy, goyim: An interesting deveopment is Georgian goimi, which seems to mean ‘an old fashioned, unstylish out-of-it person, a boor or yokel’, as I have learned from a Tbilisi native speaker. The word originated from ‘gentile’ among Georgian Jews, who apparently (like speakers of Judeo-Iranian languages) use the pl. form a a singular. It is noted online, inter alia in an entry “11 Georgian slang words to help you speak like a local” [and not like a yokel, M.S.]. The latter article also gives baiti for ‘living space’, which ultimately comes from Hebrew bayit (as the article indicates); I’m reminded of Viennese beisl ‘bistro, tavern, restaurant’, from the Ashkenazic pronunciation of the Heb. word, bayis.

Unrelated, but I just learned about the phrase “splice the mainbrace,” which I’d doubtless read without understanding:

Splice the mainbrace” is an order given aboard naval vessels to issue the crew with an alcoholic drink. Originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog.

If you were as ignorant as me, now we’re both gnorant.

Comments

  1. Christopher Henrich says:

    I have known the meaning (drinks all around) of “splice the mainbrace” for a long time, from reading tales of the Royal Navy in the Age of Hornblower. But I had the origin of it all wrong. I assumed that the splice was to add some extra length to the mainbrace, and thus, in a controlled way, to relax some of the mighty forces that hold a great sailing ship together. The true origin of the phrase changes its connotation, from “let’s all relax a bit” to “we have successfully dealt with a crisis in which failure would have had dire consequences.”

  2. AJP Crown says:

    South Park and 30 Rock have both used (g)norant as a joke where the victim is told they’re norant, only to have their pride deflated with “It’s short for ignorant”.

    I knew “Splice the mainbrace”, which is probably most common in Britain and Commonwealth countries, but then there’s this odd message from the queen at the bottom of the wiki entry

    The Royal Canadian Navy can take great pride in the accomplishments of the past, in its ongoing service to Canada, and the Significant contribution to Security on the world’s oceans.

    I wonder who decided to capitalise significant & security and why. To be sure, Trump does it all the time on the Twitter but he’s a law to himself.

  3. The discussion of ksen, ghost and meitH as semantically similar roots with semantically similar children in what I might describe as matched cognate mosaics is really interesting.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Another lookalike for the supposed Proto-Albanian *ksōn(w)ja:

    Kusaal saan, Buli nIchaanoa (ni- “person” ), Nawdm saana, Gurmanche caano, Proto-Oti-Volta *ca:nwa “stranger/guest.”

  5. The discussion of ksen, ghost and meitH as semantically similar roots with semantically similar children in what I might describe as matched cognate mosaics is really interesting.

    It is, isn’t it?

  6. Trond Engen says:

    A root *ksen- must be a secondary formation. I learn from Wktionary that there are roots *kes-, *ksen- and *ksnew-, all with meanings centering on “scrape, comb”, but the latter also with an extension towards “satisfy” in Iranian.

    So is the basic idea “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”?

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    Today’s Kusaal Proverb:

    Saansʋŋ anɛ yidaan ansib. “A good guest is the householder’s uncle.”

    (Ansib “mother’s brother” is traditionally the most indulgent of one’s elder relatives.)

  8. Christopher Culver says:

    That Albanian huaj is another reflex of this PIE root, was argued in M.E. Huld’s paper “Albanian huaj and the evolution of Proto-Indo-European complex initials, especially in Greek”.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Incidentally, if anyone is looking for a Germanic cognate, it should start with *sken-. (I can’t think of anything, but…)

  10. Bathrobe says:

    I have known the meaning (drinks all around) of “splice the mainbrace” for a long time

    For a moment I thought Christopher Henrich meant “drinks all round that I know the meaning”.

  11. How did Watkins get from *ghosti- to ξένος? Zero-grade *ghs- with an unexplained suffix or two?

  12. He says “Suffixed zero-grade form *ghs-en-wo‑”; scroll down to see the entry.

  13. Thanks, I’d forgotten it would be in AHD. I hesitate to step into the ring with Watkins, but it looks fishy to me; -en- isn’t really a Greek derivational suffix of any kind AFAIK, and though -wo- is a fairly common adjective formant I don’t think it attaches to other suffixes, just to roots.

  14. I agree; that’s one reason I like Schwartz’s proposal.

  15. AJP Crown says:

    I have known the meaning (drinks all around)
    For a moment I thought Christopher Henrich meant “drinks all round that I know the meaning”.

    He’s very, very modest and very generous.

  16. Trond Engen says:

    Me: learn from Wktionary that there are roots *kes-, *ksen- and *ksnew-, all with meanings centering on “scrape, comb”

    I just read the comments again, and it struck me that these are parallel to Watkins’ suggested serial suffixation.

Speak Your Mind

*