I am watching the Nova special on Tibetan art in Mustang, and I had to share the following sentence with you: “There are many words for ‘mud’ in Lo Monthang, but none of them are as important as gyang.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard the English word “mud” mentioned so many times in an hour. Mustang is truly the Land of Mud. (The language, Lopa, is a Tibetan dialect; Ethnologue says: “The inhabitants of Lo are called ‘Lopa’. Their capital is Manthang, called Mustang by outsiders.”)


  1. I should send you my list of terms meaning ‘drunk’. I have about 190 so far…

  2. This isn’t another ‘great Eskimo vocabularly (snow) hoax’ in the making, is it?

  3. Tim: I wondered the same thing, and I await the bold researcher who will do an in-depth study/exposé of the Lopa words for ‘mud.’

  4. John Cowan says:

    It’s been a long time since this page saw a comment, but Anatoly Liberman now has a page on mud. He doesn’t like the standard etymology ‘wet’, and mentions a 1931 paper by Ivar Lundahl (Swedish Wikipedia), but doesn’t link to it, that points to ‘sand, gravel; grain; dust, haze, cloud; clay, peat’ senses for North Germanic mo- words. Liberman also connects mud with smut and friends via s-mobile.

    Have at!

  5. David Marjanović says:

    What’s odd is that Liberman doesn’t even try to explain the *-dd- and *-tt-, not to mention the *-þ- of Moder. We seem to be having ourselves a Kluge muddle.

  6. Trond Engen says:

    I thought this was the consensus view, but that’s just because I remembered a few of the pieces and nothing about wetness.

    Bjorvand & Lindeman on mo m. “sandy plain” < ON mór can’t reconstruct a definite PSc form and list the possible forms *mōha-, *mōwa-, *muha-, *mūha-, *mauwa-. Citing Lundahl (1930) as supposing a basic sense “sand”, they say that the form *mōwa- might open for a connection to the ON verb “scrape, rub, flatten”, but hasten to add that one would expect forms with -v- in the paradigm, and they are nowhere to be seen. Finally they quote Torp (1919), who supposes a *mōha-* and a relationship to Celtic words for bog and peat, acknowledging that these are without known etymology. Either way, the long vowel is a problem for the etymological connection to ‘mud’.

    Hellquist (1922) has entries on modd and mudder “mud”. They are probable borrowings from LG modde and modder, and he also refers to smuts. He does posit a root ‘mu- and a connection to Gk. mýdos “mold”, and says the gemination is expressive in the same way as Sw. dial. mugg “mold” when compared to Sw. mögel “ibid.” and Lat. mucus “ibid.”. Hellquist does not explicitly say that the two sets of words are related. For the latter set he also quotes Icel. mugga “foggy rain” and reconstructs PGmc. *mug-, *muk- “moisture” (I suppose Kluge might have something to say about this). Finally (under modd) he mentions the Finnish word muta, gen. mudan “mud”, which he says is probably unrelated though there are other opinions.

    The sense “wet, moist” looks sound in the *muK- set, so to avoid it, we must keep the two sets apart. Liberman also wants to connect the *muT- set to ON mór, whatever that might come from. I have no idea how to do that. I’m tempted to suggest a Finnish loan.

    *) In support of a reconstruction with *-h-, I’ll mention No. dialectal def. mogen.

  7. Trond Engen says:

    And yes, I meant to call on Kluge for the *muT- set too.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    I’m tempted to suggest a Finnish loan.

    Me too. I’ll look for Uralic cognates ASAP.

  9. There is a selection of cognates of Finnish muta here at the Uralonet site of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The Wiktionary, however, adds some Samoyedic cognates here:

    The Samoyedic cognates are discussed in Ante Aikio (2002), “New and Old Samoyed Etymologies”, p. 22-23, available here. Note these comments by Aikio on page 23:

    Recently, a more plausible etymology for the Samoyedic word family has
    been suggested. Abondolo (1996: 28–29) has proposed a connection with a
    group of words in the western Uralic languages, whose reflexes mean ‘mud’
    on one hand (Sami mođđi, Finnish muta) and ‘earth, land’ on the other
    (Mordvin moda). Abondolo’s etymology is convincing both phonologically
    and semantically. The Proto-Uralic form can be reconstructed as *mud’a, and
    the Samoyedic form derives from this via the regular sound changes PU *u
    > PS *q (in *a-stems) and PU *d’ > PS *j. The original meaning may be
    deduced as ‘land, earth’, which has been preserved in Nganasan and
    Mordvin; both the Finnic-Samic meaning ‘mud’ and the meanings ‘mountain’,
    ‘tundra’ etc. in South Samoyedic appear to be secondary.

    An alternative explanation of origin has also been proposed for the Finnic,
    Samic and Mordvin words: It has been suggested that they are borrowings
    from Proto-Germanic *muđ(đ)a- ‘mud’ (> English mud etc.) (LÄGLOS s.v.
    muta). However, it is worth noting that the distribution of the assumed loan
    original is confined to the Germanic languages, as no plausible cognates
    elsewhere from Indo-European have been attested to (cf. Kluge 1995 s.v.
    Moder, Klein 1966–1967 s.v. mud, IEW: 276–277). In addition to this, the
    Germanic word shows irregular variation between a single and geminate
    spirant, which points to loan origin (Petri Kallio: personal communication).
    It seems that the Germanic words are best explained as an early borrowing
    from Uralic, more precisely the predecessor of Samic and Finnic, as they
    show the same semantic innovation ‘earth’ > ‘soil’ > ‘mud’. Old Uralic loans
    in the Germanic languages are not very commonplace, but some cases have
    been pointed out (see e.g. Kallio 2001).

    The whole paper is a lot of fun!

  10. Possibly words unique to Proto-Germanic can be used to characterize the indigenous substrate language, which is where I plunk for the Ertebølle culture. Until this work is done, we’re free to theorize that the Ertebølle people spoke a sort of Finno-Ugrian, or some offshoot of ancestral Basque, or even a maritime branch of Afro-Asiatic related to Berber, on the basis of a shared megalithic cult that hopped up and down the western European coastline.

    I can’t be the only person who circled all the words Calvert Watkins identified as uniquely Proto-Germanic, and wondered what they said about the people behind this dialect. We can be certain they were thoroughly familiar with mud, especially the wet variety.

  11. Abondolo

    Hey, I know that guy — we were in grad school together!

  12. Trond Engen says:

    Xerib: Ante Aikio (2002), “New and Old Samoyed Etymologies” […] The whole paper is a lot of fun!

    Thanks! I think I’ve read it before, but not this closely.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. the immediately preceding almost homonym

    1.10. PS *mǝjǝ- ‘to become happy’ [> Nenets møyø-] < PU *muja- ‘to become happy; happiness, smile’

    The Nenets verb møyø- has no cognates elsewhere in Samoyedic, but it would go regularly back to PS *mǝjǝ-. This word can be compared to a Samic word family, whose underived root is reflected in North Sami modji, Inari Sami moje ‘smile’. Various derivatives of this word are attested in most Sami languages, e.g. North Sami moddját ‘to smile’, South Sami mujjies ‘smiling’, Skolt Sami mojjâm ‘smile’. The Proto-Sami form must be reconstructed as *mojē, which reflects an earlier form *muja-. The Samic word family thus fits perfectly as a cognate of the Nenets verb møyø-. PS *mǝjǝ- can be derived from PU *muja- via the regular shift *u > *ǝ, and the irregular but common reduction of the stem vowel (see 1.2.). The lack of cognates elsewhere in Samoyedic and the rest of Uralic gives the comparison a somewhat hypothetical nature, but the etymology is both semantically and phonologically straightforward. Moreover, one must keep in mind that the words for ‘happiness’, ‘being happy’ do not belong to the most stable part of the lexicon, but on the contrary are quite frequently replaced by innovative expressions. Therefore, it is not entirely unexpected that the assumed PU word *muja has been so poorly preserved in the Uralic languages.

    Compare this with the near-homonym on the Germanic side, English mood and its siblings, < PGmc *mōda-, which have no Indo-European etymology. A Uralic loan origin would require an original meaning ~ “state of mind”, independently narrowed to “good spirits” in Sami and Samoyedic.

    2. pp. 12-13

    1.2. PS *jǝtǝ ‘block of wood’ [> Nenets yødo ‘block of wood (e.g. under a boat, or for beating something); pole (in a trap)’, Enets (der.) дёго’ дёзозту” ‘pole in a trap’ (дёго’ ‘trap’), Selkup čati̮ ‘beater, cudgel’] (SW: 36) < PU *luta ‘block of wood? (some simple wooden tool)’

    The reflexes of PS *jǝtǝ display considerable heterogeneity in meaning, but all of them refer to some type of simple wooden tool. The word family is of Uralic origin: it is cognate with Finnic-Samic *luta, which is reflected in North Sami lohti ‘wedge’ (in Ter Sami also ‘plug’) and Finnish luta ‘a split twig with which the corners of a bark container are fastened; a wooden or bone stick with a sharp flat edge carved at the other end, used for removing birch bark’. The comparison is phonologically acceptable: PU *u > PS *ǝ (in *a-stems) and PU *l- > PS *j- are regular sound laws. The only irregularity is the sporadic reduction of the stem-final vowel (*a > *ǝ). But this does not pose a problem, as there are several other examples of such reduction in Samoyedic, e.g. PU *kuma- ‘to fall over’ > PS *kǝmǝ- (see Janhunen 1981:226–230 for a discussion on the reduction phenomenon).

    The Sami words with the meanings ‘wedge’ and ‘plug’ come especially close semantically to the Samoyedic word family. A wedge is a simple wooden tool, and the semantic derivation ‘block of wood (used as a tool)’ > ‘wedge’ is fully conceivable. The meanings of the Finnish word are apparently secondary, but they are not particularly far from the assumed original meaning, either. The development was probably ‘block of wood’ > ‘piece of wood’ > ‘pin, stick’ etc. It is also worth noting that the shape of the instrument used for removing birch bark resembles a wedge. An almost exact parallel for the semantic development of Finnish luta can also be presented: Mordvin śalgo ‘pin, stick; staff; a tool for removing linden bark (= Finnish luta)’ ~ Finnish salko ‘long pole, rod etc.’, Sami čuolggu ‘lever, crowbar; a bar for pushing nets under the ice’.

    My intended comparison with the Germanic “lot” set, which I seemed to remember was in need of an etymology beyond Germanic, is to be rejected, but it was so much work formatting the text that I can’t bring myself to erase it. The semantic bridge I had in mind was “piece of wood” -> “dice, lottery ticket”. I liked that to the point of overcoming the initial hl- (of e.g. ON hlutr) by tentatively invoking the “yule” word, but unfortunately there’s a straightforward semantic and formal connection to the strong verb ON hljóta ~ hlaut “win by draw of lots, receive, have to do”. It’s hard to argue away the Indo-European-ness of a strong verb, even if the only possible cognates are Baltic.

  13. Trond Engen says:

    Me: Bjorvand & Lindeman on mo m. “sandy plain” < ON mór can’t reconstruct a definite PSc form and list the possible forms *mōha-, *mōwa-, *muha-, *mūha-, *mauwa-. […]

    *) In support of a reconstruction with *-h-, I’ll mention No. dialectal def. mogen.

    I thought I remembered a reconstruction with *-hʷ-, which would fit the -g- even better. It’s actually not a reconstruction but Sami evidence neglected or unknown by Bjorvand & Lindeman 2007. We have discussed before the South Sami toponyms Mueffie “Mosjøen” and Måefie “Mo i Rana”, whose -f- clearly suggest *-hʷ-. (I’m reading Ante Aikio’s An Essay on Saami Ethnolinguistic History (in Riho Grünthal & Petri Kallio (eds.) 2012: A Linguistic Map of Prehistoric Northern Europe. Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 266), referring to Bergsland (1996) on the toponyms. I thought I had that, including the reference to Bergsland, from Heikkilä 2014: Bidrag till Fennoskandiens språkliga förhistoria i tid och rum, but it’s not there.)

  14. Trond Engen says:

    One page further on and I finally realized that I had read Aikio’s paper before. Google tells me that it was three years ago, in the Urchin thread,

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