As part of his online Grammar of the Polish Language, Grzegorz Jagodziński has a list of Polish etymologies, a table of numerals in some of the main IE languages, and a detailed discussion of the etymology of the Polish (and other IE) numerals, the last-named perhaps the most interesting; here’s one of the shorter sections:

Pięć (5)
PS †pętь;, originally a numeral substantive *penkʷtis (Skr. paŋktiṣ; ‘the number five’) from the proper numeral *penkʷe (Slavic languages have preserved only the numerals 1-4, cf. Gr. pénte, dial. pémpe, Lat. quīnque <*kʷenkʷe with assimilation; the contrary assimilation can be observed in Goth. fimf < *pempe, and surely in Gr. pémptos < *penkʷtos, because * before a consonant developed into k in this language under normal conditions). In the collective form pięcioro the formant -er- is present. If it is transferred from czworo, it must have happened as early as in Balto-Slavic, cf. Lith. penkerì.
The numeral pięć is connected to the substantive pięść < †pęstь;, cf. Germ. Faust, Engl. fist < †funxsti- < *pn̥kʷ-sti- (originally ‘hand’; the Slavic form can, even if need not, come from the root with full vocalism), cf. also Engl. finger < *pn̥kʷ-r-. From the same stem, piądź, piędź < *penkʷ-dhi- ‘span, inch of ground’ seems to originate, or we can have the related stem *pendh- here. Connections with Gr. pygmḗ; and Lat. pugnus ‘fist’ (<*pug- < ? *pogʷ-) would also be possible, at least in the distant past.
An interesting problem is caused by Lith. kùmštis, Prus. kuntis ‘fist’ < *kumpstis < *punkstis (metathesis) < *pn̥kʷ-sti-. however we can see further connection also to Ltv. kàmpt ‘grab, catch’, and yet further to Lat. capere ‘catch’ (probably from there Engl. keep) and PG †xabē- (cf. Engl. have). Perhaps the same stem, but with irregular phonetic changes, is present in Lat. habēre ‘have’ < *ghəbh- ~ *kəp-, cf. also modern Pol. nagabywać ‘to ply, to molest, to importune’ and OPol. gabać ‘to attack’, Lith. góbti ‘to take possession of sth.’ < *ghōbh-. An obstacle for a reconstruction of Proto-IE stems of different words meaning ‘5’, ‘hand’, ‘catch’, ‘take’ and ‘have’ is the difference of the velar kʷ ~ k (gh). We must not forget, however, that we may talk about a very distant relationship only, and during thousands of years many irregular changes might have occurred.

Lots of fun for anyone interested in Slavic and Indo-European. (The numeral etymology page via aldiboronti at Wordorigins.)


  1. The five – fist connection is interesting. I saw something similar in Austronesian – Tagalog rima is supposed to mean hand and five, and some kid told me the same thing is true in Samoan, one day when I mentioned it in class.
    Question for anyone interested – after the Samoan kid spoke up, a Cambodian kid told me that the Cambodian for five is “pream” or “pram” or some such. Is this a chance resemblance, or has someone identified this as ‘Austric”?

  2. If you find this interesting, you should check out Bernard Comrie’s paper on Balto-Slavonic numerals in “Indo-European Numerals”, ed. Werner Winter (Mouton de Gruyter, 1991), part of the “Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs” series. Its ISBN is 3110113228.

  3. Gag Halfrunt says:

    Totally off-topic, but can anyone identify this lanuage? It’s from a recycling leaflet produced by my local council, which has a panel in various languages immediately below a contact address for obtaining leaflets “in Braille, large print, audio tape or another language”. Anyway, here goes:

    Nese keni veshtersi per te kuptuar kete botim, ju lutemi ejani ne recepcionin ne adresen e shenuar me poshte ku ne mund te organizojme perkthime nepermjet telefonit.

    As a wild guess, I’m wondering if this is Albanian. The other six are all in non-Latin scripts — at a guess I’d say Hindi, Bengali and some other South Asian language, along with three in Arabic scripts (perhaps Arabic, Farsi and Urdu).

  4. Yeah, it’s Albanian, although missing the accent marks (a bunch of the e’s should have two dots over them: Nëse keni vështirësi për të…). You can see the other languages identified in this pdf file.

  5. Gag Halfrunt says:

    Thanks. You must have Googled the sentence, because that PDF comes from…my local council.

  6. Here’s a nice resource for language identification:
    (it identified this sample not just as Albanian but as the Tosk dialect)

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