Namus.

I was reading Victoria Lomasko’s “In Tbilisi,” an excerpt from her new book Other Russias (out March 7 from n+1), which I’m very much looking forward to, and was struck by this passage:

In the Caucasus, there is a term for correct behavior on the part of the individual in society: namus, in Azerbaijani and Armenian, and namusi in Georgian. For men, namus means honor and conscience. For women, namus is bound up only with their sexual behavior, with their availability to men.

I assumed it was originally Arabic, and so it is, but of course it was transmitted to the Caucasus via Persian, and Platts (A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English) has the following entry:

ناموس nāmūs (v.n. fr. نمس ‘to conceal (a secret),’ &c.), s.f. Reputation, fame, renown; esteem, honour, grace, dignity;—disgrace, reproach, shame;—the female part of a family:—nāmus-ě-akbar, ‘The great secretary,’ the angel Gabriel.

Both ‘esteem, honour’ and ‘disgrace, shame’: a classic antonym!

Comments

  1. Both ‘esteem, honour’ and ‘disgrace, shame’: a classic antonym!

    These paradoxical antonyms are called اضداد (azdaad, or aḍdād if you prefer) and are very common in Arabic. Another famous one is mawla.

  2. Interesting how the caption of the final picture got mistranslated. The Russian activist there is waiting for an elusive chance that Russia will become its former, nice self again, perhaps with the help of his work … rather than for a chance to return there, I suppose (вернуть родину vs. вернуться на родину).
    Interesting also that the author didn’t see Aysors, or Yezidis, or indeed all the ethnic variety of the Georgians themselves.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    In our culture, virtus “masculinity” has ended up meaning “chastity” in regard to women.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Isn’t the Arabic ultimately from νόμος? (via Syriac, I would guess)
    “Renown” does not seem plausibly derived from “conceal” (lucus a non lucendo…)

  5. Interesting how the caption of the final picture got mistranslated.

    Oh yeah, I meant to mention that but forgot — thanks for doing so!

    Interesting also that the author didn’t see Aysors, or Yezidis, or indeed all the ethnic variety of the Georgians themselves.

    Since the author is going to a whole bunch of ex-Soviet places and doing her best to report on the diversity she finds, I think maybe we can cut her some slack on not being an expert on any given place.

  6. Isn’t the Arabic ultimately from νόμος? (via Syriac, I would guess)

    Huh, is that true? Fascinating, if so.

  7. Certainly the underlying Arabic meaning “law of nature” aligns it quite well with νόμος

  8. I’m reading Young Stalin. Yours seems a less depressing introduction to the Caucasus. Maybe next.

    It’s startling that such a core concept as honor, not inherently religious but closely related, would have come to Georgian from Arabic. Not implausible, but surprising. If David Eddyshaw’s theory is correct, might there have been some sort of parallel evolution contingent on both contact with Persians and other Muslim peoples and some use of the concept of nomos in the Orthodox church? You’ve anchored the Arabic interpretation in a citation from an English HIndi-Urdu dictionary. Is there something more there that makes you feel that’s definitive for Azeri (in which that development admittedly seems more natural) or for Georgian?

    Having now followed the link, I’ll bring my comment full circle by suggesting that Soso, the squatter/docent at the Stalin Printing Press Memorial may have been dissembling in his failure to recognize a bust of Lenin. Given that Soso was the nickname Stalin used through much of his early life and young adulthood, though Ms. Lomasko doesn’t seem to be familiar with it, this Soso could have a greater familiarity with Soviet history and affection for Soviet leaders than he lets on to just anyone who stumbles through the doors.

    Or it may be coincidence. But I thought it was an interesting factoid.

    PS – Hat, I hope you don’t get notifications every time someone posts/updates. On any blog that allows updates, I tend to be dissatisfied with what I’ve written. I’ve updated 5 times. If you do get notified, sorry!

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m just guessing. Only Lameen will actually Know.
    But there are plenty of Aramaic loans in Arabic, and Syriac itself certainly borrowed the Greek word, so it’s not implausible a priori. And the supposed internal-Arabic etymology looks very improbable; you’d have to suppose that the “modesty” sense was in fact primary, and that this somehow developed into “renown.” Can’t see it.

    If my guess is right, it’s not really an auto-antonym; the different meanings all fall out naturally enough (alas) from preconceptions about the proper behaviour of the sexes.

  10. Gah, it wasn’t Soso who said he didn’t recognize the bust. Still an interesting factoid, I hope. And anyway, what a wonderful illustrated travelogue that is.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s not an attitude confined to Persians and Muslims:

    εἰ δέ με δεῖ καὶ γυναικείας τι ἀρετῆς, ὅσαι νῦν ἐν χηρείᾳ ἔσονται, μνησθῆναι, βραχείᾳ παραινέσει ἅπαν σημανῶ. τῆς τε γὰρ ὑπαρχούσης φύσεως μὴ χείροσι γενέσθαι ὑμῖν μεγάλη ἡ δόξα καὶ ἧς ἂν ἐπ’ ἐλάχιστον ἀρετῆς πέρι ἢ ψόγου ἐν τοῖς ἄρσεσι κλέος ᾖ.

    And, if I am to speak of womanly virtues to those of you who will henceforth be widows, let me sum them up in one short admonition: To a woman not to show more weakness than is natural to her sex is a great glory, and not to be talked about for good or for evil among men.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pericles'_Funeral_Oration#External_links

    As all Hatters will already know, the kicker with this dismissive footnote is that it comes at the end of a deservedly famous and really quite wonderful justification of Democracy and real Virtue.

  12. Nimus is Modern Hebrew for “politeness, good manners”. I assume it’s related.

    Both ‘esteem, honour’ and ‘disgrace, shame’: a classic antonym! — a lot like Greek αἰδώς.

  13. My favorite such word is Latin sacer: ‘holy/accursed’. Like altus, this can be generalized to a single term, something like ‘numinous’.

  14. PS – Hat, I hope you don’t get notifications every time someone posts/updates. On any blog that allows updates, I tend to be dissatisfied with what I’ve written. I’ve updated 5 times. If you do get notified, sorry!

    No, no, I just get a general e-mail no matter how many additions there have been to the thread — no worries!

    And anyway, what a wonderful illustrated travelogue that is.

    Isn’t it, though?

    a lot like Greek αἰδώς.

    I knew it was reminding me of something, and I’ll bet that was it!

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    My Modern Hebrew is largely bluff, but this seems to substantiate נִימוּס < νόμος

    https://he.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D7%A0%D7%99%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%A1

  16. David Marjanović says:

    The idea that gods are by definition good, like Superman, is a lot younger than auri sacra fames. Cthulhu and Godzilla would have been self-evidently gods to the ancient Romans.

  17. ناموس الطَبيعةِ , namus al-tabye, is the stable Arabic expression for “Law of Nature”. Tabi’ah, roughly corresponding to Nature, is a complex philosophical concept in both Farsi and Arabic, maybe in the meaning of English “nature” ~~ “underlying status”.

  18. Klein goes into detail (uncharacteristically) to support נִימוֹס < νόμος, relying on something called Philippi’s law to explain the dissimilation, which he illustrates with some other examples. The earlier meaning, ‘custom, law’ fits the Greek, and in fact נומוס nomos is the earliest attestation, in the letters of Bar Kochba.

    N.B. The form nīmūs ~ nimmūs is modern, I believe.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    antonymous words

    There are a number of examples of a single word with two apparently antonymous meanings,which can be shown to derive from a single meaning which became extended in opposite ways. JC above mentions Latin altus ‘high, deep’ a well-known example which refers to extremes along a vertical dimension. Similarly Latin sacer ‘holy, accursed’ is another one, probably referring to “taboo”: holy if respected, accursed if flouted. One can add the French equivalent sacré ‘sanctified, holy’ which (in slangy speech) became closer in meaning and usage to English “damn(ed)” (or worse).

    In this context I think that DE’s example virtus “masculinity” has ended up meaning “chastity” in regard to women must have had a somewhat similar development. The meaning of Latin virtus must have started as ‘valued masculine behaviour’ (rather than the more general ‘masculinity’), perhaps something like ‘self-control’, carried over from masculine to feminine ‘valued behaviour’ in a patriarchal society and becoming almost the de facto meaning and usage.

  20. Namus is obviously the concept behind what are known in English as ‘honour killings‘. The Wikipedia articles linked to the English-language page include Azərbaycanca Namus qətli, Turkish Töre ve names suçları, Urdu ناموسی قتل (nạmwsy̰ qty (?)), and Persian قتل ناموسی (qty nạmwsy̰ (?)). (I don’t know the correct readings for the Urdu or the Persian).

  21. In the only relevant context where I’ve heard the word, it seems very clear that ناموس naamuus must have been a borrowing from Greek nomos, namely in Waraqah ibn Nawfal’s reported reaction to the first news of the Qur’an: “هذا الناموس الذي أنزل على موسى”, “this is the naamuus that was brought down unto Moses”. It is, however, not obvious to me at all how from there it got all the other meanings ascribed to it, and I wonder if some of the relevant semantic shifts actually took place in Persian rather than in Arabic.

    In Algeria and many other areas, ناموس naamuus means “mosquito”, which I assume is unrelated. Searching for the quote above, I was bemused to find a fatwa on whether or not it is religiously acceptable to call a mosquito “naamuus” in light of the fact that an-naamuus al-‘akbar can refer to the Angel Gabriel. Fortunately, the mufti did not share his questioner’s misgivings, and said that it’s fine – although he based his argumentation on the etymology from “secret”, so it might need a bit of polishing.

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    I can understand a certain uneasiness about worrying if you were inadvertently referring to an archangel as “the Great Mosquito.”

    Payne-Smith’s Syriac dictionary has nemsa: “ichneumon” but unhelpfully doesn’t specify whether it means the insect or the mammal.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    Years of miserable failure in swatting mosquitoes leave me favourably inclined to an etymology deriving “mosquito” from “secret.” They warp away from the swatter’s hand via a hidden dimension. There may be implications for string theory.

  24. Interestingly, the Mongolian word for ‘book’, ном, is also derived from Greek. From Wiktionary:

    From Proto-Mongolic *nom, borrowed from Old Uighur ᠨᠤᠮ ‎(nom, “book, Buddhist scripture”) into pre-Classical Mongolian, from Sogdian 𐫗𐫇𐫖 ‎(nōm, “law, canon”), from Ancient Greek νόμος ‎(nómos, “law”) from Proto-Indo-European *nem-.

  25. Actually, ном has several meanings according to Wiktionary:
    book
    knowledge, education, wisdom
    canon, dogma
    religious law, religion
    (Buddhism) dharma

  26. Fascinating! I’m sure glad I made this post.

  27. To take this out of moderation, I’m reproducing it without the link to Wikipedia.

    Namus is obviously the concept behind what are known in English as ‘honour killings’. The Wikipedia articles linked to ‘honour killings’ include Azərbaycanca Namus qətli, Turkish Töre ve names suçları, Urdu ناموسی قتل (nạmwsy̰ qty (?)), and Persian قتل ناموسی (qty nạmwsy̰ (?)). (I don’t know the correct readings for the Urdu or the Persian).

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is it linking to Wikipedia that triggers the moderation? I was wondering what the problem was with Thucydides …

    (Although, on reflection, I could get behind a moderation policy that banned all excessively pretentious praying-in-aid of the classics, which would inevitably and rightly include all citing of Thucydides. I repent of it now.)

  29. Persian قتل ناموسی (qty nạmwsy̰ (?)).

    That’s /katal nāmusi/, where /a/ is more or less like English a in cat and /ā/ more or less like English aw in saw (and stress is on the final syllables). Interesting fact: Arabic gh and q have completely merged in Persian.

  30. I’ve approved everybody’s comments in moderation, but they haven’t shown up yet. Makes me nervous (what fresh hell is this?), and I apologize to all and sundry.

  31. the insect or the mammal

    the latter.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed yes. Mustela. Thanks.
    Nothing mosquitoesque about that, then.

  33. > , namus al-tabye, is the stable Arabic expression for “Law of Nature”. Tabi’ah, roughly corresponding to Nature, is a complex philosophical concept in both Farsi and Arabic, maybe in the meaning of English “nature” ~~ “underlying status”.

    Assuming the derivation is Greek, interesting that namus would be conscripted into a phrase meaning exactly what physis meant in Greek, in opposition or at least contrasting connotation to nomos. But that sort of drift isn’t surprising.

  34. Philo of Alexandria did it first: I wonder if nāmūs al-ṭabī`a is a calque of his νόμος φύσεως.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    As all Hatters will already know

    I didn’t. I still learned Latin lest the Occident decline & fall, but Greek had already been quietly dropped at almost all schools. I’ve never taken the time to read translations of classics either…

    Interesting fact: Arabic gh and q have completely merged in Persian.

    One strange new sound is enough. See also Greek /θ/ and /f/ becoming a single loanword phoneme /f/ in Russian.

  36. قتل is pronounced /qætl/ in that phrase. Top tip, if there is an Azeri interwiki link that looks much like the Persian, that’s a reasonable place to start for a reading for a given Persian word.

    The authoritative source is Dehxoda’s dictionary, available online at http://www.parsi.wiki/ , and not very usable if you’re not comfortable with the vowel movements. The most usable source for a westerner for readings is probably http://www.loghatnameh.de/ ; you need to rest the mouse cursor on the Persian and it’ll pop up in two separate scripts.

    Yes, <ق> and <غ> have merged in (Iranian) Persian. The area is a vale of tears if you’re not a native though:

    — There’s no particular way to predict what an orthographic <ق> or <غ> is pronounced as; it could be [ɣ], [x], maybe [k], more likely [g] if the speaker is Turkic (as something like 35% of Iranians are).
    — There’s still the occasional [q], but sure, rare among ethnic Persians (but again, if you travel much, you won’t be talking to ethnic Persians all the time).
    — There’s no particular way to predict what a spoken [ɣ] or [q] will be written as. ( [x] is probably <خ> though, outside some very common words).
    — Afghanistan, Tajikistan are better about the distinction (in that they say what they read and read what they say to a greater extent). So you do need to be able to understand it, if you talk to Afghans.

    I mostly convince myself that <ک> and the <ق> slash <غ> sound are distinct, but I cannot usefully say how. Maybe they aren’t!

  37. marie-lucie says:

    David E: Years of miserable failure in swatting mosquitoes … They warp away from the swatter’s hand via a hidden dimension.

    Swatting is counterproductive as the “wind” produced blows the mosquito away. A friend in Northern BC showed me a much better method: use a wet facecloth and gently wave it in the direction of the nearest mosquito, which will stick to it.

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    Had I but known …

  39. I was bemused to find a fatwa on whether or not it is religiously acceptable to call a mosquito “naamuus” in light of the fact that an-naamuus al-‘akbar can refer to the Angel Gabriel.

    A suggested fake etymology: “mosquito” from the diminutive form of “mosque”, because of the similarity between the high-pitched noise of a mosquito in flight and the imagined noise made by a tiny little muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

  40. Ajay: That etymology may not be totally misled, actually. “Mosque” is from Italian moschetto via Spanish, and moschetto is from Egyptian Arabic masgid, but there’s no obvious explanation for the o in that word: why isn’t it meschetto, like Spanish mezquita? It seems plausible that, in the general climate of inter-religious hostility that characterized the era, Italians deliberately reshaped the word to sound more like mosca, fly – which is also, of course, the source of “mosquito”.

    I remember Ghil`ad Zuckermann giving a similar example from a Yiddish writer who wasn’t too fond of America, and decided to spell the word throughout his publication as `amma riqa, Aramaic (more or less) for “empty people”.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    For supportive evidence, muezzin is obviously a diminutive of a borrowing of the unattested Gothic word for mosquito.

  42. It seems plausible that, in the general climate of inter-religious hostility that characterized the era, Italians deliberately reshaped the word to sound more like mosca, fly

    Israelis did something similar with the Khomeini beetle, an annoying if mostly harmless insect which seems to have gotten its Hebrew name from being brown (khum) and having spread to Israel from Iran.

  43. רֵיקָא reika, Aramaic ’empty’, has been borrowed into Hebrew in the sense of ’empty-headed’, ‘useless fool’. עַם רֵיקָא am reika, ‘airhead nation’ or such, is one of many puns along this line. It was probably coined not out of the desire to insult Americans, but because the pun was too good to waste.

    A hoary joke on these lines goes like this:
    — I’d like to change my name from Lichtenstein to something Hebrew.
    ——How about lekh tashtin? [לֵךְ תַּשְׁתִּין, ‘go piss’]
    — I don’t know… it doesn’t have a ring to it.
    —— Then go piss on sheet metal! [לֵךְ תַּשְׁתִּין עַל פַּח lekh tashtin al pakh]

    P.S. am reika is the form Zuckerman has in the compilation in the back of his first book.

  44. Another jokey Hebrewization I just remembered: Eau de Cologne > אֵדֵי קָלוֹן edei kalon ‘vapors of disgrace’.

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