Taboo Deformation and the Bear.

Dan Nosowitz has an Atlas Obscura piece on what linguists call taboo deformation; he starts and ends with “dagnabbit,” along the way discussing the idea that “if someone finds out your true name […] that person will have all sorts of power over you,” the Jewish name of God, and “mother-in-law languages,” but the bit Trevor excerpted, quite understandably, when he sent me the link is this:

“Bear” is not the true name of the bear. That name, which I am free to use because the only bear near where I live is the decidedly unthreatening American black bear, is h₂ŕ̥tḱos. Or at least it was in Proto-Indo-European, the hypothesized base language for languages including English, French, Hindi, and Russian. The bear, along with the wolf, was the scariest and most dangerous animal in the northern areas where Proto-Indo-European was spoken. “Because bears were so bad, you didn’t want to talk about them directly, so you referred to them in an oblique way,” says Byrd.

H₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is pronounced with a lot of guttural noises, became the basis for a bunch of other words. “Arctic,” for example, which probably means something like “land of the bear.” Same with Arthur, a name probably constructed to snag some of the bear’s power. But in Germanic languages, the bear is called…bear. Or something similar. (In German, it’s Bär.) The predominant theory is that this name came from a simple description, meaning “the brown one.”

In Slavic languages, the descriptions got even better: the Russian word for bear is medved, which means “honey eater.” These names weren’t done to be cute; they were created out of fear.

It’s worth noting that not everyone was that scared of bears. Some languages allowed the true name of the bear to evolve in a normal fashion with minor changes; the Greek name was arktos, the Latin ursos. Still the true name. Today in French, it’s ours, and in Spanish it’s oso. The bear simply wasn’t that big of a threat in the warmer climes of Romance language speakers, so they didn’t bother being scared of its true name.

Of course, the idea of a “true name” of the bear or anything else is untenable (and the PIE word itself may have been a taboo deformation or euphemism), and the hypothesis that “the bear simply wasn’t that big of a threat in the warmer climes of Romance language speakers, so they didn’t bother being scared of its true name” shouldn’t be presented as settled fact, but hey, it’s just a blog post, and it’s a fun roundup. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    The wolf is known in Mongolian as чоно (ᠴᠢᠨᠣ᠎ᠠ), but its avoidance names include хээрийн нохой (ᠬᠡᠭᠡᠷ᠎ᠡ ᠵᠢᠨ ᠨᠣᠬᠠᠢ) kheeriin nokhoi ‘dog of the steppes/wilderness’ and хээрийн юм (ᠬᠡᠭᠡᠷ᠎ᠡ ᠵᠢᠨ ᠶᠠᠭᠤᠮ᠎ᠠ) kheeriin yum ‘thing of the steppes/wilderness’. The two are marked as euph. in my Mongolian-English dictionary and the former as 讳称 huìchēng ‘taboo name’ in my Mongolian-Chinese dictionary.

    The wolf is also called боохой (ᠪᠣᠬᠠᠢ) bookhoi, another euphemistic name.

    The bear in English is also called ‘bruin’, which, according to Wiktionary, is from “Middle Dutch bruin ‘brown’ via William Caxton’s 1485 translation of a Dutch version of the legend of Reynard the Fox. Bruin is the bear, named for his brown color”. Didn’t know that!

  2. Would modern French renard (fox, from Reynard the Fox) fall into the same category?

    And, on an Easter theme: Where does “bunny” for rabbit (or is it hare?) come from? Are there any cognates for “bunny”?

    On “wolf”: the Hungarian word, farkas, apparently refers to the tail. This too is possibly taboo avoidance.

  3. I doubt if goupil, the older French word for ‘fox’, became taboo. Rather, Reynard was so popular that in telling a story one no longer needed to say Renard le goupil, as everyone knew he was a fox, and so lower-case renard became a word for any fox. The character in German is Reinecke, -icke, though the French form presumably comes from Reginhard ‘strong counsel’, later folk-etymologized as ‘rain-resistant’ in the sense of rain of blows.

    Nobody knows the etymology of bunny, except that it is obviously a diminutive and that it once referred to squirrels rather than rabbits. Emerson (not our guy) wrote a little poem about a squirrel named Bun:

    The mountain and the squirrel
    Had a quarrel,
    And the former called the latter
    “Little prig.”
    Bun replied,
    “You are doubtless very big;
    But all sorts of things and weather
    Must be taken in together
    To make up a year
    And a sphere.
    And I think it no disgrace
    To occupy my place.
    If I’m not so large as you,
    You are not so small as I,
    And not half so spry:
    I’ll not deny you make
    A very pretty squirrel track.
    Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
    If I cannot carry forests on my back,
    Neither can you crack a nut.”

    Similarly, the lullaby:

    Bye, baby Bunting,
    Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
    Gone to get a rabbit skin
    To wrap the baby Bunting in.

    was often sung to me as a child at my request, and “Bun” became my family nickname.

  4. There’s a Simon Armitage poem that tries to work with this:
    https://thelifeofwords.uwaterloo.ca/origins-of-bears/

  5. Mongolian word for bear is likely an euphemism too. From a word meaning “father, grandfather, ancestor”

  6. marie-lucie says:

    zyxt: Would modern French renard (fox, from Reynard the Fox) fall into the same category?

    I don’t think so. The old noun meaning ‘fox’ was le goupil, from Latin vulpillus, a diminutive of vulpis ‘fox’. In the Middle Ages there was a very popular series of tales called le Roman de Renart, with animal rather than human characters. The main ones were the fox, the wolf and the bear, with many others as well, both wild and domestic. I think that country people continued to use le goupil for a long time to talk about the animal they knew very well, but urban dwellers who rarely saw a fox were more familiar with the name Renard than with the actual animal. So the character Renard eventually became the generic le renard.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    I see that JC wrote faster than I did! But we agreed, which is the main thing.

  8. Thanks, SF, I was wondering about that one. I assume that it is:

    Баавай ᠪᠠᠪᠠᠢ baavai term of respect for elderly male relatives.

    Баавгай ᠪᠠᠭᠠᠪᠠᠭᠠᠢ baavgai ‘bear’.

    The old word for ‘bear’ was өтөг ᠥᠲᠡᠭᠡ ötög.

    (I hope I’m not annoying people with the traditional script. Cyrillic seems somehow … inauthentic.)

  9. Greg Pandatshang says:

    We had some bear etymology talk a few months ago, e.g. http://languagehat.com/med-vay-deva-whatever/#comment-2763082 about Ringe’s theory that English “bear” is from PIE *ǵʰwē̆r- and there is no *bʰer- root at all. *ǵʰwē̆r- would also be taboo avoidance; it would mean they simply called the bear “beast”. The same root gives us feral/ferocious and Greek θηρίον.

  10. So… logically, doesn’t this mean that we can fix the point at which bears stopped being a supernaturally scary threat as when “brown” and “honey eater” stabilised in the lexicon? Because once Brownie becomes the normal word, with no sense of being a taboo avoidance strategy, and the so-called true name is forgotten, you’d expect that absent a cultural change, it too would become a taboo word that needs a new avoidance strategy.

  11. That’s probably what happened to Slavic bear.

    Cause it was originally called in Slavic just like in Germanic language – ber (brownie).

  12. I’m a bit of a fan of historical nature artwork, and you can kind of see when bears became (nearly) extinct in various countries. Illustrators who have never seen a live bear tend to draw their faces wrong, so that they resemble canids, felids, or mustelids.

    For example, look at this drawing of polar bears from Georg Hartwig’s The Polar World. The two snouts shown in profile do not look right. The book was published in 1874, and this particular illustration is not as inaccurate as many pictures of bears from a couple centuries earlier; but the shape of the face retains some of the traditional inaccuracies of western European depictions. (I tried to find an earlier picture, ideally from around 1700, in which the problems would be more glaring, but my Google-fu failed me; so I had to go with the image from Hartwig’s book, which I remembered specifically, because I own a copy.)

  13. January First-of-May says:

    There were plenty of avoidance words for the bear in Slavic, they just didn’t happen to be stabilized in most of the extant branches (even then, I’m not sure about Bulgarian mechka).

  14. Medved was also tabooized into a honorific Mikhail Potapych

  15. Is there any actual proof of this theory, or is it all based on the fact that there is more than one root for bear among Indo-European languages. “Brownie” could as easily become the name because northern Europeans were aware of white bears further north. What kind of bear did you see, a white one? No, a brownie.

    By the way, the rock-solid reason that renard is not a taboo-avoidance word is that foxes just aren’t frightening. If you’re larger than a rabbit. Some of the nature-word etymology I see seems uninformed by any actual experience of nature. I recently followed a link to someone supposing that the etymology of beaver was something like “carrier.” You would have to ignore a lot, about beavers, about other creatures, and about what it means to carry or bear something, to settle on carrying as the defining quality of a beaver. Even when they do transport a branch, they are overwhelmingly pullers or draggers.

  16. Trond Engen says:

    What’s the evidence for Slavic ber? What would it do to Ringe’s etymology?

  17. SFReader says:

    eg Russian ‘berloga’ “bear’s lair”, West Slavic placename Berlin.

  18. Trond Engen says:

    That someone with the ‘carry’ etymology for beaver is Piotr Gąsiorowski. I love it, but I do agree that “carry” in a strict, modern sense would miss the target. You might think “transport” or even “work”. Anyway, his formal derivation is so solid, not at least with the variation in placement of stress on the reduplicated stem, that in order to avoid the “carry” word I think one would have to come up with a homonymous verbal root.

  19. For tens, if not hundreds, of taboo names for ‘bear’ in Ob-Ugric see Marianne Bakró-Nagy’s 1979 book ‘Die Sprache des Bärenkultes im Obugrischen’, Budapest.

  20. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    The etymological dictionaries I have connect берлога with a verb *bьrliti ‘litter, scatter garbage’ (attested in several daughter languages), probably of ‘onomatopoeic’ (ideophonic?) origin. Seeking connection with Germanic ‘bear’ (via borrowing or cognacy) seems to have gone out of fashion a long time ago. Btw, the word doesn’t refer just to bears in other Slavic languages. How/Whether all of this relates to Berlin, I have no idea.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Fred: ‘Die Sprache des Bärenkultes im Obugrischen’

    Yes. Taboo replacement has as much to do with cult and supernatural powers as with real-life danger. But no doubt the two are intertwined.

    I remember hearing something about Russian bear tamers being descended from an old class of bear priests. Probably very speculative, but I think there was some linguistic evidence for it.

    SFReader: eg Russian ‘berloga’ “bear’s lair”, West Slavic placename Berlin.

    Ксёнѕ Фаўст: The etymological dictionaries I have connect берлога with a verb *bьrliti ‘litter, scatter garbage’ (attested in several daughter languages), probably of ‘onomatopoeic’ (ideophonic?) origin.

    Onomatopoetic origins are common, but litter is not a bird. Shouldn’t sound at least be a defining characteristics of the object? Ideophonic is a bit wider, but I don’t much like sound-symbolic origin for anything either. It may change the semantics, though, as a source of contamination.

    Seeking connection with Germanic ‘bear’ (via borrowing or cognacy) seems to have gone out of fashion a long time ago. Btw, the word doesn’t refer just to bears in other Slavic languages. How/Whether all of this relates to Berlin, I have no idea.

    I should have remembered ‘berloga’, but if it can’t be analysed within Slavic, it’s not really evidence of anything. Superficially it looks rather Germanic, fashion or not. Ber having a wider use in other Slavic languages would be supportive of Ringe’s etymology, if it weren’t for the inconvenience that *gʷʰ- doesn’t yield Slavic b-.

    I thought the “bear” of Berlin was a Germanic folk etymology.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    [Corrected version of comment in moderation, which I tried to edit twice and was then told “you can no longer edit this comment” – it contains a link and was therefore sent to moderation when I edited it the first time, I think.]

    And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    H₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is pronounced with a lot of guttural noises,

    Just one 🙂

    “Arctic,” for example, which probably means something like “land of the bear.”

    Ursa minor contains the north star.

    Same with Arthur, a name probably constructed to snag some of the bear’s power. But in Germanic languages, the bear is called…bear. Or something similar. (In German, it’s Bär.)

    This is one of the very few cases of a completely unetymological ä.

    The predominant theory is that this name came from a simple description, meaning “the brown one.”

    This suffers from the massive flaw that the very concept of “brown” is completely newfangled. Much more likely, Ringe is almost right and the bear is derived from an exact cognate of ferus.

    the PIE word itself may have been a taboo deformation or euphemism

    With its stress on the zero-grade first syllable, not to mention the “thematic vowel”, it certainly looks like a nominalization of some adjective.

    The character in German is Reinecke, -icke, though the French form presumably comes from Reginhard ‘strong counsel’,

    Same thing – let the [ɣ ~ j] drop out, truncate and add the Low German diminutive suffix -ken.

    later folk-etymologized as ‘rain-resistant’ in the sense of rain of blows.

    R[e]ginhard (from ragn-) reinterpreted as R/ɛ/ginhard… nice, that might help date a merger that doesn’t show up in spelling!

    Later yet, folk-etymologized as containing German rein “pure”. This is how Rainhard/Reinhard, Rainer/Reiner (historically a nickname like Heiner < Heinrich) and probably Raimund are interpreted today.

    Is there any actual proof of this theory

    Proof? What do you expect? It’s only science!

    “Brownie” could as easily become the name because northern Europeans were aware of white bears further north. What kind of bear did you see, a white one? No, a brownie.

    Aware of white bears in southern Sweden?

    foxes just aren’t frightening

    Well, unless they’re rabid. But if they’re not, you can simply imagine that they’re frightening anyway. They’re the personification of cunning* – surely they’re secretly plotting to kill you, just like your cat is?

    * Except in England, apparently, where they’ve been somehow replaced with weasels…?

    I recently followed a link to someone supposing that the etymology of beaver was something like “carrier.” You would have to ignore a lot, about beavers, about other creatures, and about what it means to carry or bear something, to settle on carrying as the defining quality of a beaver. Even when they do transport a branch, they are overwhelmingly pullers or draggers.

    So? Schleppen is a dysphemism for “carry” over here, but in the US it refers to dragging stuff (or oneself) along on the ground. Perhaps *bʰer- shifted in the opposite direction, or covered both to begin with?

    West Slavic placename Berlin

    After all!?! Wikipedia gives the standard explanation: “may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- (‘swamp’).” The area certainly is flat and full of water.

  23. There is also a tradition of giving protective names to children, using the names of these so-called taboo animals. So in Croatian: Medo, Metko, (bear); Vuk, Vukan (wolf). Slovenian: Metka. Italian: Urso, Ursula (bear). Gothic: Ulfila (wolf).

  24. the decidedly unthreatening American black bear

    Whoa there friend. It’s not a grizzly or a polar bear, but that bear is not to be trifled with. (my keyboard doesn’t have that, replaces with “trolled”; no trolling bears either)

  25. January First-of-May says:

    And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    My Latin sucks, but as far as I could guess from what I could figure out from Wiktionary, it should probably be atlas obscurorum.

    I might be misinterpreting what they intended by it, however.
    (Besides, chances are it’s probably a direct quote from somewhere.)

  26. Trond Engen says:

    Aware of white bears in southern Sweden?

    Incidentally I just read the Venetian Pietro Querini‘s report of his shipwrecking on the coast of Northern Norway in the winter of 1431-32 and his travel south through Norway and Sweden that summer. The placement of a huge fell of a white bear in the Cathedral of Trondheim makes pretty clear that this was still considered a treasure and a marvel 400 years after the settlement of Greenland.

    (Also, this happened almost exactly at the time when the Norse settlement in Greenland was abandoned. This is probably not coincidental. Increased international activity in the North Atlantic has been evoked as a major factor in the collapse of Norse Greenland. Strange, since you’d think international activity would be a lifeline after the demise of the traditional Norse Atlantic trade. But it included stiff competion between traders, up to and including destroying what you’d otherwise leave for your competitors – and those who came to an empty packhouse looted and took slaves, or raided other ships, to have some return on the investment.)

  27. If the “true name” was genuinely taboo (never uttered), how did it get handed down the generations?

    And how do we know there weren’t many iterations of a “true name” falling into disuse; being replaced by a euphemism; and that becoming taboo?

  28. @ryan, have you ever heard foxes fighting?

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qPLJ0Gbu5D8

    You’ll want your headphones on and the volume down low for that link. It’s a whining sound that sounds almost too human.

    When I was visiting family in Delaware last year, two foxes started fighting outside the house late one night, and it startled everyone there, as none of us recognized what the noise was.

    Unlike our ancestors however, we could start from natural rather than supernatural assumptions and then use YouTube to confirm our speculations.

  29. @David Marjanović: In America, schlepp just means transport wearily. There’s no particular implication of the burden being dragged, although drag itself is often metonymic with the same meaning.

  30. Illustrators who have never seen a live bear tend to draw their faces wrong, so that they resemble canids, felids, or mustelids.

    I love Wiley Miller’s comic Non Sequitur in general, but I especially love his bears, e.g.

  31. And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    Good point; their (hideously corporate) “About Us” page says nothing about the name. I’d send them an e-mail except I’m afraid they’d just tell me to “Like us on Facebook!”

  32. Trond Engen says:

    I should have added a link to Piotr’s post on the etymology of beaver. But read the whole series on reduplication.

    It’s also been a recurring theme here at the Hattery.

    Here’s Etienne five years ago making the first mention of a connection of beaver and the root *bher-.

    Here’s John Cowan bringing it up the year after.

    (Adding multiple links against my better judgment. I’m hoping for a quick rescue from the spam trap.)

  33. And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    Per WP, “In late 2017, following another funding boost of $7.5m, the site launched Gastro Obscura, a food section covering ‘the distinctive food locations of the world.'” [Bold added.] Yuk.

  34. Yuk indeed.

  35. Beowulf

    How do you know taboo deformations are not kennings and vice versa?

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    Nudity is obviously a taboo-attracting topic in many cultures and I am pleased to see that at least one on-line source confirms my vague recollection of something some professor mentioned to me some decades back, namely that the Gk word for nekkid, i.e. γυμνός, is “from a metathesis of PIE *nogw-mo-, suffixed form of *nogw- ‘naked'” — and thus plausibly deformed by that taboo (metathesis being one common deformation strategy).

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Brett: I’m a bit of a fan of historical nature artwork, and you can kind of see when bears became (nearly) extinct in various countries. Illustrators who have never seen a live bear tend to draw their faces wrong, so that they resemble canids, felids, or mustelids.

    I like those too, and I am especially interested in depictions of the tiger, then and now. You can find hundreds of tiger pictures on the internet, but popular representations (“a tiger in your tank”, etc), including children’s toys, are not at all tiger-like, they tend to look like dogs with stripes. A few years ago WWF (I think) promised a tiger toy to people who donated a certain amount of money. I would gladly have done so but the photograph of the toy was all wrong, basically a (not very resemblant) dog.

  38. The fall of the Soviet Union was also a blow to the appearance of realistically illustrated bears.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    northern Europeans were aware of white bears further north. What kind of bear did you see, a white one? No, a brownie.

    Polar bears are very large, and so are the Kodiak bears of coastal Alaska, which are dark brown. But their heads and necks are quite different in shape, and they don’t have the same habitat. I would be surprised if indigenous people who might be familiar with both did not have quite different words for the two subspecies.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: Nudity is obviously a taboo-attracting topic in many cultures …. some professor mentioned to me some decades back … that the Gk word for nekkid, i.e. γυμνός, is “from a metathesis of PIE *nogw-mo-, suffixed form of *nogw- ‘naked’” ….

    I can’t comment on the alleged etymology, but if nudity is taboo, why are there so many statues of naked humans in Greece, especially men? Fully naked, or with some skimpy accessory leaving nothing to the imagination?

  41. David Marjanović says:

    (Besides, chances are it’s probably a direct quote from somewhere.)

    I bet it’s from camera obscura.

    If the “true name” was genuinely taboo (never uttered), how did it get handed down the generations?

    Evidently it became more taboo in some branches than in others, and in those it really was lost.

    And how do we know there weren’t many iterations of a “true name” falling into disuse; being replaced by a euphemism; and that becoming taboo?

    We don’t. See above on the morphological complexity of h₂ŕ̥tḱos as evidence that it’s already a replacement.

    Here’s John Cowan bringing it up the year after.

    A bit farther down there’s more on berloga, notably its lack of *e, followed by “runaway euphemisation” of bears in Russian, by foxes being taboo in Irish, by wolves being taboo in Turkic and Mongolic and of course by bears being taboo in Baltic and Welsh.

  42. J.W. Brewer says:

    marie-lucie: well, that’s what makes it funny, especially since gymnos then comes in to English via words like “gymnasium” (originally, “place where ancient Greek dudes worked out w/o even wearing loincloths”). As Stephen suggested way upthread, once a word stabilizes and the “original” word it alludes to in a minced way is forgotten, either there’s still a taboo which will make the cycle repeat (a version of the “euphemism treadmill”) or the taboo is faded, so gymnos just means “naked” and not “the minced word we use to evade saying the real one in polite company,” just as English “bear” means “that animal conventionally called ‘bear'”
    and not “deliberately evasive word we use to avoid the Wrath of Bearkind descendng on our clan and eating us all up.”

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Merci JWB!

  44. Badger is a large and common European and Asian animal. It would be reasonable to expect that its original Proto Indo-European name would not vary much in the daughter languages. But its name does vary considerably. Is this for the same alleged reason as the name of the bear? What is the reconstructed Proto Indoeuropean name?

    By way of example, here is a list of some of the names for the badger:

    – English: badger, brock
    – Irish: broc
    – Welsh: broch, mochyn daear
    – Breton: broc’h
    – Slovenian: jazvec
    – Croatian: jazavac
    – Czech: jezevec
    – Macedonian: jazovec
    – Sorbian: šwinc
    – Polish: borsuk
    – Ukrainian: borsuk
    – Russian: barsuk
    – Romanian: bursuc, viezure
    – Albanian: vjedulla, baldosa
    – Latvian: āpsis
    – Lithuanian: opšrus
    – Modern Greek: asvos
    – Latin: meles
    – French: blaireau
    – Picard: grizàr (according to Wikipedia)
    – Neapolitan: melogna (according to Wikipedia)
    – Catalan: toixó
    – Spanish: tejón
    – Portuguese: texugo
    – Italian: tasso
    – German: Dachs
    – Dutch: das
    – Norwegian: grevling, svintoks
    – Swedish: grävling
    – Danish: grævling
    – Armenian: goršuk
    – Kurdish: kurbeşk

  45. marie-lucie says:

    Picard: grizàr

    Picard is a Northern French dialect. This word is obviously equivalent to Standard French grisard, a derivative of French gris ‘grey’ (with the often derogatory adjectival/nominal suffix -ard, of Germanic origin).

  46. marie-lucie says:

    PIE *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, Greek arktos, etc

    The consonants are the same, but the medial ones seem to have been subject to metathesis in Greek (and Latin, etc), thus PIE *-tk- ending up as Greek -kt-, the latter a common sequence in Greek, with -tos a common suffix.

    This means that the original root is approximately (h)art-, as in Hittite hartagga (if I remember correctly). Is the same root in Greek Artemis, a goddess whose cult included a rite where little girls were disguised as bear cubs? And what about the Basque word for ‘bear’, arth? a coincidence, or a borrowing from, perhaps, Celtiberian?

  47. Trond Engen says:

    zyxt: Badger is a large and common European and Asian animal. It would be reasonable to expect that its original Proto Indo-European name would not vary much in the daughter languages. But its name does vary considerably. Is this for the same alleged reason as the name of the bear?

    There’s more than taboo that could cause frequent replacement — a reason to be careful about invoking taboo. In the case of e.g. the badger or the fox, it might just as well be that they lived close to humans, giving rise to a more nuanced vocabulary of both eu- and dysphemisms, cutesie nicknames and technical terminology. Also words for domestic animals tend to be replaced by specialized terms or by words for offspring.

    What is the reconstructed Proto Indoeuropean name?

    Just looking at your list without retreating to reference works, I’d say:

    1) Greek, Baltic and southwestern Slavic share a word.

    2. Armenian, Romanian and northeast Slavic share another word. Armenian has a different onset, but otherwise almost identical. If the Kurdish form belongs here, it’s more deviant.

    3. Continental Germanic and Western Romance share a third word. It’s head of a compound in one of the Norwegian words.

    4. The Sorbian form and the Norwegian compound look similar.

    5. Celtic and English share a word.

    6. Latin, Neapolitan and possibly Albanian share a word.

    The rest seem to be transparent late coinages.

    Vetting out borrowings:

    1. The Greek form might be borrowed from Slavo-Macedonian, but it looks too different. The Slavic suffix is secondary. If this is common heritage, it’s old.

    2. The distribution suggests a Turkic or Iranian borrowing. The Kurd form might point to Iranian, but thanks to juha we know it’s Turkic, at least as an immediate source.

    3. Germanic borrowed from Latin. Western Romance borrowed from Germanic. Both borrowed form Celtic. But we know a different Celtic word, and the Germanic form is also in Norwegian.

    4. The Sorbian word might conceivably be a borrowing from Germanic.

    5. The English word would be borrowed from Celtic.

    6. Albanian borrowed heavily from Latin. The suffixes are secondary.

    This yields:

    1. aps-/asv- Balto-Slavic, Greek

    2. borsuk/gorsuk Turkic, possibly from Iranian

    3. toks Germanic

    4. svintoks Germanic compound from toks

    5. broc Celtic

    6. meles Latin

    Of these, only the first is found in more than a single branch after vetting.

  48. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    I can’t comment on the alleged etymology, but if nudity is taboo, why are there so many statues of naked humans in Greece, especially men? Fully naked, or with some skimpy accessory leaving nothing to the imagination?

    Sometimes metathesis just happened for reasons no longer recoverable, cf. Slavic *zьdati ‘build’, Lithuanian žiesti ‘form from clay’ from *ǵʰ(e)idʰ- vs Slavic *děža ‘kneading trough’ from *dʰoiǵʰ- (cf. English dough with no metathesis). Somehow Proto-Balto-Slavic speakers saw it fit to swap the consonants in the verb but not in the noun. Was this connected to some construction magic or taboo? To me it’s as good an explanation as none.

    I should have remembered ‘berloga’, but if it can’t be analysed within Slavic, it’s not really evidence of anything.

    Берлога totally can be analysed within Slavic; the suffix -ogъ (feminine variant: -oga), while not very common, is found in several other deverbal nouns, e.g.: rarogъ [kind of falcon or mythological bird] from *rarati ‘make loud, shrill noises’, Ukrainian вертьог ‘burrowed hole’ from вертіти ‘bore, turn’, Serbo-Croatian krtog ‘garbage (dump)’, Bulgarian крътога ‘animal lair’ vs къртя ‘I tear off’.

    Onomatopoetic origins are common, but litter is not a bird.

    In my experience, using ‘onomatopoeic’ to mean something like ‘sound symbolism’, ‘ideophone’ is a widespread disease of etymological dictionaries, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the word where one clearly cannot speak about natural sound imitation. Somehow eminent linguists appear to be ignorant of the latter terms. Maybe they are only fit for Native American and African savages?

  49. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: This means that the original root is approximately (h)art-, as in Hittite hartagga (if I remember correctly).

    The standard reconstruction is *hṛtḱo-, also based on e.g. OInd. ṛkṣaḥ, Av. arša, Lat. ursus and Celt. art(h).

    I believe the regular modern Germanic forms would be something like Eng. urrow, Scand. urr. One of the Norwegian variant words for bear is rugg “bear; big, strong man” < ON ruggr “big man”. This is usually seen as a taboo replacement, but I think it could be a Kluge variant with the Vr- metathesis known from Eng, arse, No. rass. And how about Tyrolian ork, which Wikipedia on Orc helpfully links to the Serbian mythological creature bauk with very similar features? The bauk is in turn explained as the bear turned mythological after going extinct.

  50. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Wikipedia gives the standard explanation: “may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- (‘swamp’).”

    The root bьrl-, if that’s what is meant, does occur in words meaning ‘puddle’ or ‘mud’ in some Slavic languages, but also ‘seethe’, ‘bubble’, ‘garbage’ and ‘dirt’ (generally, it describes various intense/chaotic/disorderly phenomena). It looks like ‘swamp’ is a huge oversimplification, although I suppose it’s better PR for the city than ‘garbage’.

  51. Trond Engen says:

    Берлога totally can be analysed within Slavic; the suffix -ogъ (feminine variant: -oga), while not very common, is found in several other deverbal nouns

    Thanks. I see that I overinterpreted your statement. But it can’t be parsed as ber-loga using known Slavic elements, which effectively does away with *ber- and rather suggests the *berl- “swamp” of Berlin and the verb *bьrliti “litter”, quoted by you above. If the similarity with Germanic is more than coincidental, it could be by folk-etymology in the Germano-Slavic contact zone.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    The consonants are the same, but the medial ones seem to have been subject to metathesis in Greek (and Latin, etc), thus PIE *-tk- ending up as Greek -kt-, the latter a common sequence in Greek, with -tos<i< a common suffix.

    The metathesis is regular. It seems to have happened at the base of the crown-group; Anatolian and Tocharian lack it.

    This means that the original root is approximately (h)art-, as in Hittite hartagga (if I remember correctly).

    Well. *h₂ertḱ- (morphophonemic transcription; *e next to *h₂ came out as [a]) and *h₂retḱ- both wouldn’t fit the phonotactic restrictions on roots, but I’m at a loss to explain what a suffix *-ḱ- or *-ḱo- could be doing here, and neither *h₂ert- nor *h₂ret- are known to Wiktionary at any rate. We seem to be looking at something with a complex history. Wiktionary does know a root *h₂er-, but it means… “nut”.

    Is the same root in Greek Artemis, a goddess whose cult included a rite where little girls were disguised as bear cubs?

    Perhaps, but if so, the name can’t be of Greek origin because it lacks the *-ḱ-.

    And what about the Basque word for ‘bear’, arth? a coincidence, or a borrowing from, perhaps, Celtiberian?

    That’s Welsh, not Basque. 🙂 The Basque word is hartz, though, which is certainly similar. A correspondence PIE *h₂ ~ Basque h might have one precedent in the PIE “white/bright/silver” root *h₂erǵ-, which makes me appreciate just how incomplete the Wiktionary appendix is, and Basque hargi “light, bright”.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    I believe the regular modern Germanic forms would be something like Eng. urrow, Scand. urr.

    Not at least urk? Sending *h₂ŕ̩tḱos into Proto-Germanic would mechanically give *urþkaz. I don’t know what would happen to the three-consonant cluster.

    One of the Norwegian variant words for bear is rugg “bear; big, strong man” < ON ruggr “big man”. This is usually seen as a taboo replacement, but I think it could be a Kluge variant with the Vr- metathesis known from Eng, arse, No. rass.

    But that requires a *-n- somewhere, either in an adjective or in a deverbal noun as far as I know.

    Tyrolian ork

    Huh.

    I had no idea of it, but it does fit phonologically: *u…a gives Northwest Germanic *o, and if the survived into OHG times, it would have become d which could have been assimilated.

    but also ‘seethe’, ‘bubble’, ‘garbage’ and ‘dirt’ (generally, it describes various intense/chaotic/disorderly phenomena). It looks like ‘swamp’ is a huge oversimplification, although I suppose it’s better PR for the city than ‘garbage’.

    Morpork, then. 🙂

    (But Bonn isn’t exactly Ankh either, is it?)

  54. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks David for the corrections.

    I had recently read something on Basque and was struck by the “bear” word. Obviously I did not remember it correctly.

    About “Artemis”: With the survival, adoption and other manipulation of deities in ancient mythologies, it would not be surprising if this name was not Greek nor based on a Greek root.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    Not at least urk? Sending *h₂ŕ̩tḱos into Proto-Germanic would mechanically give *urþkaz.I don’t know what would happen to the three-consonant cluster.

    *urþxaz, I think, though I imagined that the þ would go, leaving *urxaz. But you’re right that this would yield NWG *o-, so Eng. orrow and Scand. orr. (And orre / orr(fugl) “black grouse” is “bear bird”? Probably not.).

    Turning to rugg, I’m not saying it’s possible, just that I think it’s worth trying. But I agree that Kluge was the wrong man to ask. If metathesis accounts for the gemination, like in rass, by preserving vowel length, the one we need is Verner, to account for the g by *urxaz ~ *ur'[ɣ]az. But he’s only helping on his own specific conditions, which he says aren’t met. Or could *-x-have become voiced between the voiced consonant and the apocopated suffix, *urxz ~ *ur[ɣ]z? At least I can’t think of any counter-examples.

    Edit: Forgot the closing paragraph. A better way would probably be to work backwards from the attested forms, rugg and ork, and see what that would do to the reconstruction.

  56. Trask’s Etymological Dictionary of Basque says, s.v. hartz, artz: “Possibly attested as Aq[uitanian] HARS- in male names like HARSUS (M. 1961a: 219). Scholars from Schuchardt onward have tried to see this as a loan from Celtic, but the probable Celtic nom. *artos should have yielded *(h)artotz, not the observed form.”

  57. CuConnacht says:

    Comparable to renard becoming the standard word for fox is English robin for the bird earlier called the redbreast, then given the nickname Robin Redbreast (Robin being a nickname for Robert), then shortened.

  58. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    In some rural Polish the stork is known as wojtek, which is a diminutive for Wojciech.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    *urþxaz, I think

    No – as in modern Greek, plosive clusters became fricative + plosive. But never mind, because I overlooked the metathesis, too! We’d actually land at a much less weird-looking *urxtaz.

    There is a name element Ort- in the names Ortwin and Ortrun. It’s explained as yet another term for the edge of a sword, but who knows?

  60. @ryan: Besides fear, another reason for taboo replacements was avoiding to alert prey by naming it. That’s why traditional hunters’ language has special names for hunted animals.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Personal names as generic terms for animals… including humans. We talked about the Alpha-Kevin not that long ago, but the tradition is much older, spanning across the Vollhorst (modeled on Vollidiot “moron”) to the rather alpine [ˈhɪɐ̯sl̩] “silly/stupid guy” < Matthias.

  62. Trond Engen says:

    No – as in modern Greek, plosive clusters became fricative + plosive.

    Oh, right. I picked the counterfactuals from memory of previous play with the word and forgot. What I assumed then was that the *t would have fallen off before Grimm. But…

    But never mind, because I overlooked the metathesis, too!

    I’ve not been aware that the metathesis is considered regular in Core IE (or maybe Core Core IE). I may have wasted a lot of time, then. But does the metathesis work for Celtic?

    We’d actually land at a much less weird-looking *urxtaz.

    It does look better, but it’s still a rare cluster in Germanic. The only example I can think of is Cont. Gmc. *furhta- “fear”, and even here the attested forms are a mess of u and o and Vr and rV. Modern German has Furcht.

    There is a name element Ort- in the names Ortwin and Ortrun. It’s explained as yet another term for the edge of a sword, but who knows?

    Would the *x disappear between PGmc and German, or would it have to have been lost earlier?

  63. But [the badger’s] name does vary considerably. Is this for the same alleged reason as the name of the bear?

    I don’t think I’ve heard of any substantial badger taboo, but I have heard that this would be a typical substrate term across languages. Though, the widespread but clearly non-substratal borsuk group shows that this cannot be the full story.

    I believe I originally mentioned Finnic *mäkrä to Dan as a word of unknown etymology, but I’ve since then come to think that the proposed etymology from the Germanic Marder (*marþraz) group can be probably modified a bit to be acceptable. (The main hitch in this is *-kr- versus *-(r)þr-, for which I have figured out a new line of explanation.)

  64. I’m impressed by Trond Engen’s etymologies! The Turkish for badger is “porsuk”, and Nişanyan’s etymological dictionary gives it as being from old Turkish (possibly derived from ‘boz’, meaning ‘gray’, usually referring to animals).

  65. From Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic:

    *þahsu- m. ‘badger’ — MDu. das m. ‘id.’, Du. das c. ‘id.’, MHG dahs m. ‘id.’, G Dachs m. ‘id.’ ⇒ *taks- (WEUR/NIE).
    Most WGm. forms can straightforwardly be derived from *dahsa-, but dial. Nw. toks implies ON *þǫx < *þahsu-. This u-stem may have split off from a dat.pl. of an n-stem *þahsan- (cf. *uhsan- ‘ox’) that can be postulated on the basis of the late Latin loanword taxo (beside taxus), the source of Fr. dial. taisson, It. tasso, Sp. tejón ‘badger’ (EWAhd: II, 498-501) and possibly also Basque dial. azkoin ‘id.’ (with loss of initial t, cf. Trask 2008: 122). Out­side Germanic, one compares MIr. Tadg, the name of a king whose totem was a badger. The underlying proto-form *tazgo- is further retrieved from the Gaulish proper names Tascos and Tasco-uanus. In view of the irregular alternation of Pre-Gm. *taks- and PCelt. *tazg-, the word may be of non-IE provenance (Watkins 1985: 69). Unrelated to Hitt. tašku-, an unspecified subcaudal bodypart (pace Katz 1998 [Hittite tašku- and the Indo-European word for ‘badger’. Historische
    Sprachforschung
    111/1, 61-82]).

  66. Matasović, in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, writes on *tasko: “OIr tadg < *tazgo-. It is unknown why Goidelic replaced the cluster *sk with *zg (dissimilation in voicing with the initial *t?).” Also, “There are also reflexes of the Gaulish word for ‘badger’ in VLat taxo and in various Romance dialects [taisson, tasso, tejón] (some believe these words were borrowed from Germanic, but initial t- points to Gaulish).”

    He also has *brokko- ‘badger’ (MIr brocc, MW broch, MoBret broc’h, Gaul. Broco-magus). “The word has no known cognates in other IE languages, and it has all but replaced the inherited word for ‘badger’, *tasko-. It may have been borrowed from some non-IE language into Proto-Celtic.”

  67. More in Joshua Katz, Aristotle’s Badger, in The Frontiers of Ancient Science: Essays in Honor of Heinrich von Staden, 2015, p. 267 (here). He quotes a paper by Irene Balles which proposes that *brokko- reflects PIE *bʰrog-ko ‘the stinky one’.

  68. David Marjanović says:

    But does the metathesis work for Celtic?

    I guess so… I don’t really know.

    It does look better, but it’s still a rare cluster in Germanic. The only example I can think of is Cont. Gmc. *furhta- “fear”, and even here the attested forms are a mess of u and o and Vr and rV. Modern German has Furcht.

    u/o messes are common due to paradigmatic levelings. Ringe 2013 has several pages about them, IIRC. One is northern *wulf- vs. southern *wolf-.

    *berxt- immediately comes to mind, where German has both (-)bert(-) and -brecht in names (sometimes in the same name: Albert, Albrecht) and full preservation in the Perchten.

    (The main hitch in this is *-kr- versus *-(r)þr-, for which I have figured out a new line of explanation.)

    Intriguing.

  69. Trond Engen says:

    j.: I don’t think I’ve heard of any substantial badger taboo, but I have heard that this would be a typical substrate term across languages.

    Thanks for the link. Very handy. Not sure how well-sifted the list is, but it’s meant to have force by number, not by the individual quality of each member.

    Y: From Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic: “[…] Unrelated to Hitt. tašku-, an unspecified subcaudal bodypart (pace Katz 1998 [Hittite tašku- and the Indo-European word for ‘badger’. Historische Sprachforschung 111/1, 61-82]).”

    Heh. I read that as Katz being dismissive of the Hittite link. Bjorvand & Lindeman say that “According to Katz’ perceptive analysis in HS 111 (1998:61ff.), this word for ‘badger’ may be an old derivation of a word for a bodypart which in Hittite had the form tasku-.” But I agree that without further evidence it’s best treated as unrelated. The words are too far apart in time, space and semantics.

    [Joshua Katz] quotes a paper by Irene Balles which proposes that *brokko- reflects PIE *bʰrog-ko ‘the stinky one’.

    I remember encountering that etymology. I think it’s what I had vaguely in mind when I said dysphemism.

  70. The expected outcome of *h₂ŕ̥tḱos in Germanic depends on the expected development of the “thorny” clusters. The evidence is sparse. PGmc. *ɣuman- ‘human being’ must be ruled out because we know that DG-type clusters were simplified to G- word-initially before nasals (also syllabic ones). The same may have happened before *j in the etymon of ‘yesterday’ (cf. Skt. hyas). *tetḱ-tlom ~ *-tlah₂ ‘adze’ probably lost the *t of the suffix early (cf. Slavic *teslo ~ *tesla). OIc. þexla, OHG dehsala suggest that *-tḱ- yields Germanic *-xs- word-medially. If so, one could expect *urxsaz in Proto-Germanic. Which makes me wonder if Lat. ursus isn’t by any chance a loan from Germanic.

  71. A mysterious animal called Al-Wark

    The paper examines the mysterious term al-wark, which–according to Maḥmūd of Kāşğarī (11th century AD)–denotes a small animal similar to a badger (Turk. borsmuk) in the Xakani language. This animal was treated as a symbol of fatness. It is suggested that the term in question was borrowed from a Tocharian source. The Indo-European term *wṛḱos (m.) ‘badger’ (originally ‘fat animal’, cf. Hittite warkant- adj. ‘fat’) is reconstructed on the basis of Indic, Greek and Anatolian lexical data.

    http://real.mtak.hu/37262/

  72. I read that as Katz being dismissive of the Hittite link.

    The key word there is pace ‘we respectfully disagree with’.

    *brokko-

    English brock is of course a loan from Celtic into OE rather than a cognate. There is a family of hobbits, living both in the Shire and in Bree, called Brockhouse, alluding to the resemblance between hobbit-holes and badger setts.

    Which leads to Kevin Wald’s mnemonic for the Celtic borrowings in OE, to the tune of “Do, a deer, a female deer”:

    Dunn, a broc or assa‘s hue;
    Staer, what dry and ambeht tell!
    Rice, carr-strewn torr and cumb;
    Clucge,cross-decked ancor‘s bell!

    Bratt, a cloak not cine-thin;
    Luh, a funta‘s overrun!
    Bannoc, cake kept in a binn;
    And with gafeluc we’re done, done, done, done . . .

    These words are respectively ‘brown, dun’, ‘badger’, ‘donkey, ass’, ‘story’, ‘magician’, ‘service’, ‘power, kingdom’, ‘stone’, ‘tower’, ‘narrow valley, coombe, cwm’, ‘bell’, ‘cross’, ‘anchor’, ‘cloak > ragged garment > unruly child’, ‘folded sheet of parchment’, ‘pool, loch/lough’, ‘spring’, ‘cake, bannock’, ‘bin’, ‘kind of spear’. Some may be directly or ultimately from Latin, or routed into English from Old Norse.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    CuConnacht: English robin for the bird earlier called the redbreast, then given the nickname Robin Redbreast (Robin being a nickname for Robert), then shortened.

    “Redbreast” seems to be a calque of French le rouge-gorge, the name of the same bird.

    I wonder what the names are in Germanic languages.

  74. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Does the Persian word for bear keep the initial laryngeal of PIE?

  75. Yes, it’s Middle (and Modern) Persian xirs (cf. Av. arša-). It is debatable whether the x- really reflects *h₂, but Martin Kümmel’s explanation of West Iranian x- ~ h- in laryngeal terms makes sense to me. There are occasional exceptions, though.

  76. Danish had rødkælk after German Rotkehlchen = ‘red throat.DIM’ which is the same idea as in French. (-kælk is a cranberry morpheme in Danish).

    For some reason this was deemed incompatible with modern scientific principles and we are now supposed to say rødhals. But a pox on that.

  77. @marie-lucie: “Robin Redbreast” is definitely a calque from French, and the progression redbreast > Robin Redbreast > robin probably took place before 1500.

    I was going to cite “Who Shot Cock Robin” as evidence of the medieval provenance of bare robin, but things actually turn out to be a bit more complicated. There is evidence that a version of the rhyme is medieval, including a fifteenth-century stained glass depiction of Cock Robin shot with an arrow, and the use of the rhyme

    Who’ll dig his grave?
    I, said the owl,
    with my little shovel,
    I’ll dig his grave.

    which appears to require middle English pronunciation. (Many modern versions, actually including the earliest 1770 attestation of this verse, get around this by replacing “shovel” with “trowel.”)

    However, the actual text mentioning “Cock Robin” is not attested until 1744, so it is possible that the medieval versions of the rhyme might have used a different version of the dead bird’s name. I suspect that the whole rhyme, in something very close to its modern form, is hundreds of years older, but I don’t know for sure. The OED’s earliest citation for robin without redbreast is from 1550.

  78. It doesn’t have to be ME. The owl word had /uː/ until the GVS (even it was spelt ou or ow), while shovel comes from OE sċofl ~ *sċufl, whose intervocalic [v] was variably vocalised/lost in ME, hence the numerous variants (which survived well into Modern times). Outcomes with /uː(ə)/, /oː/ or /ɔʊ(ə)/ seem to have coexisted in ME (in addition to those with /-v-/) and their reflexes continued to be used later (cf. Scots shuil, earlier also shoul).

  79. So is modern shovel with unvocalized /v/ a spelling pronunciation or what? The OED doesn’t say.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    suggest that *-tḱ- yields Germanic *-xs- word-medially.

    Oh, that makes sense: PIE *|TT| = */TsT/ > PGmc. *ss; PIE *tḱ > *tsḱ > *ḱts > PGmc. *xs (**xss being phonotactically impossible).

    If so, one could expect *urxsaz in Proto-Germanic. Which makes me wonder if Lat. ursus isn’t by any chance a loan from Germanic.

    I was wondering about that u-

    While I’m at it: the German cognate of shovel, Schaufel, is one of the few words that has a short /f/ south of the White Sausage Equator (where consonant length is generally kept). Being attested with both f ~ v and with b in OHG*, it seems to be an example of “Bahder’s law”, a strange devoicing of PGmc. fricatives (before the West Germanic *[ð] > *[d] change!) before resonants in most but not all of the speculative dialects that ended up contributing to OHG. Google seems to think nobody has ever mentioned this except for Guus Kroonen in his 2011 book; IIRC, Bahder’s publication dates from 1901.

    * Oh, and the Swabian-looking last name Schäuble looks like it’s the diminutive of this word in b-form.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    Bahder’s law very briefly shows up here on the last slide of 1.1, so Kümmel knows about it and doesn’t say it’s bunk. Also, Bahder’s publication dates from 1903.

  82. Marja Erwin says:

    John Cowan,

    Good and helpful poem!

    Doesn’t ambeht originally refer to the person, a retainer –with Welsh amaeth, Latin ambactus, Gothic andbahts, etc. from the same Celtic root– rather than to the services one may provide?

    But if we include (other) Celtic borrowings into common Germanic, then we would have a much longer list…

  83. Makes sense to me. German Amt is a cognate, I see.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    So is French ambassadeur!

  85. is modern shovel with unvocalized /v/ a spelling pronunciation or what?

    The vocalisation was sporadic, not regular. It produced a number of doublets which existed more or less in free variation and were subject to dialectal sorting.

  86. Marie wrote
    > I would be surprised if indigenous people who might be familiar with both (Polar bears and brown bears) did not have quite different words for the two subspecies.

    Meet the Naskapi. Their word for Polar bear IS different from the word for brown bears. But … the Naskapi word for Polar bear (waapiskw) comes from the root for white (waap-). In other words, they’ve actually done exactly what I predicted: “which bear did you see?” “I saw a whitey.”

    But David M. objects “aware of white bears, in southern Sweden?”
    Polar bear fossils from the Younger Dryas have been found not far from Copenhagen, and the researcher who summarized the evidence for a southerly range suggests these conditions persisted through 10K bp. A long time before any IE incursions. But how long Polar Bears may have lasted in the northern Baltic, where sea ice is still an annual occurrence, I don’t know. There are polar bears in similar habitats in Canada today. But that’s idle speculation. The reality is that in the 800s Vikings are attested receiving polar bear pelts from the Sami as tribute and selling them south. There’s no reason to think the trade, or for that matter, the suzerainty, had just begun then. Polar bear skins would have been an extraordinary luxury good. So yeah, I think people were aware.

    In the middle ages, captured bears themselves were brought south!!

    Trond, in relation to beaver, you suggest if not *bher = carry, we would have to postulate a homonym. Did you read the beaver blogpost? The etymologist in question concedes two homonyms, one of which is in the semantic field for cutting. Not sawing or chopping, but engraving is within the semantic range.

    When you’re in beaver habitat, you see far more beaver sticks than beavers. If you pick one up, you’ll see it’s absolutely covered with teeth-marks — engravings.

    There are, of course, two other important avenues that weren’t explored. First, beaver skins would have been an amazingly important item of trade — one medieval text suggests they were worth 15 wolf pelts or 5 marten pelts.. And they would have been something which the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware folks or whoever would have obtained the way the British did in North America – buying them from hunters who probably weren’t IE speakers. The assumption that beaver must be derived from an Indo-European root is not a strong one.

    Second, beaver may have been a visual description. Someone will retort “But he did explore that idea … he pointed out that in older Germanic sources, bruna didn’t even mean brown. It meant swarthy, and also shiny and bright, as with metal items.” But whoever makes that retort is someone who doesn’t see beaver very often. If you do, you think – swarthy and shiny with a color that might be brown but might not? yep, that’s be a beaver. To arrive at “Bruna didn’t mean brown, it meant swarthy and shiny” and think you’ve excluded a beaver suggests you don’t know beaver.

    I doubt that the name comes from a visual desciptor. My point is just that knowledge of the thing itself is awfully useful in thinking about derivations.

    I own a canoe rental business. I’ve spent a surprising amount of time observing beavers, thinking about what is interesting and distinctive about them in order to amuse our customers. It would never occur to me to describe the beaver with any of the nouns the distinguished etymologist offers – not the piler, the heaper, the collector, the carrier, the dragger, the toter. None of those are interesting features of beavers. The builder, the sawyer, possibly the plugger, since it’s plugging holes in their dams that actually make them look busy; maybe, just maybe, the etcher or engraver, if I lived in a culture where the skill of engraving was prized, and looking for an avatar of that skill.

    The heaper? The collector? Honestly, I have trouble even acknowledging that as a serious effort.

  87. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Yes, it’s Middle (and Modern) Persian xirs (cf. Av. arša-). It is debatable whether the x- really reflects *h₂, but Martin Kümmel’s explanation of West Iranian x- ~ h- in laryngeal terms makes sense to me. There are occasional exceptions, though.

    Thanks, it’s fascinating to see a tangible reflex like that in a modern language.

  88. David Marjanović says:

    But how long Polar Bears may have lasted in the northern Baltic, where sea ice is still an annual occurrence, I don’t know. There are polar bears in similar habitats in Canada today.

    Really? Because the northern Baltic is almost freshwater. The diversity of marine animals there is way low. Are there even enough seals for a population of polar bears?

    But that’s idle speculation. The reality is that in the 800s Vikings are attested receiving polar bear pelts from the Sami as tribute and selling them south. There’s no reason to think the trade, or for that matter, the suzerainty, had just begun then. Polar bear skins would have been an extraordinary luxury good. So yeah, I think people were aware.

    But the skins, let alone the rest, of polar bears were much too rare to necessitate specifying the default bear as “brown” or “dark”.

    Trond, in relation to beaver, you suggest if not *bher = carry, we would have to postulate a homonym. Did you read the beaver blogpost? The etymologist in question concedes two homonyms, one of which is in the semantic field for cutting. Not sawing or chopping, but engraving is within the semantic range.

    When you’re in beaver habitat, you see far more beaver sticks than beavers. If you pick one up, you’ll see it’s absolutely covered with teeth-marks — engravings.

    That particular beaver blogpost, one out of several in a series, is this one. It says:

    But wait a moment: *bʰé-bʰr-o- and *bʰi-bʰr-ú- look exactly like the reconstructed variants of the ‘beaver’ word. If beavers owe their Indo-European name not to their coat colour but to some characteristic habitual activity, the verb describing that activity should be similar to *bʰer- ‘carry’. There are, for example, a couple of known roots of the shape *bʰerH-, one meaning ‘cut, strike, pierce, fight’ (with an unspecified laryngeal) and the other ‘move rapidly, rush, chase’ (in which *H = *h₂ or *h₃). The laryngeal would have been lost in a reduplication containing the root in zero-grade, so we would not be able to see any difference between the outcomes of *-bʰr- and *-bʰrH-.

    Stretching the imagination a little, one would be able to connect the meaning of any of these roots with the beaver’s habits. For example, the first *bʰerH- is glossed ‘mit s[c]harfem Werkzeug bearbeiten’[footnote 7] in the LIV; and what are the beaver’s incisors if not “ein s[c]harfes Werkzeug”?

    Footnote 7 is:

    That is, ‘work on (something) with a sharp tool’ – a bit conjecturally, to be sure, since most of the attested meanings suggest the use of a weapon rather than a carpenter’s tool, or are figurative: ‘scold, rebuke’, etc.

    And then in the author’s first comment (this isn’t YouTube – always read the comments!):

    I’m torn between what you expected [*bʰerH- ‘to handle with a sharp tool’] and good old *bʰer-, but looking at the data I don’t see much evidence for this “sharp tool” thing (and if there’s any, the tools are those for drilling, boring or piercing rather than chisels). It’s certainly a possibility, and would be my second choice at the moment.

    So, while “cutting ~ engraving” is certainly attractive, interpreting any of the available *bʰer(H)- roots as meaning that is a bit of a stretch. That leaves “carry”, reduplicated to “collect”, as the next best hypothesis.

    First, beaver skins would have been an amazingly important item of trade — one medieval text suggests they were worth 15 wolf pelts or 5 marten pelts.. And they would have been something which the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware folks or whoever would have obtained the way the British did in North America – buying them from hunters who probably weren’t IE speakers. The assumption that beaver must be derived from an Indo-European root is not a strong one.

    Why? Beavers are native to the whole range of Yamnaya & Corded Ware. And if the word isn’t IE, why does it fit IE morphology so well?

    What are Uralic “beaver” words like?

    If you do, you think – swarthy and shiny with a color that might be brown but might not? yep, that’s be a beaver. To arrive at “Bruna didn’t mean brown, it meant swarthy and shiny” and think you’ve excluded a beaver suggests you don’t know beaver.

    Have you read that post (which isn’t the one I’m linking to, but the preceding one)? 🙂 One of its points is that brown is a Germanic word that doesn’t have any identified cognates outside of Germanic, very much unlike beaver.

    The heaper? The collector? Honestly, I have trouble even acknowledging that as a serious effort.

    Collecting stuff and heaping it up is unique to beavers and ants in Europe. It’s a rather conspicuous feature.

    “Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals!… Except the weasels.”
    – Homer Simpson

  89. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks, it’s fascinating to see a tangible reflex like that in a modern language.

    It is! I just hope for a thorough investigation of this, and of the idea that *h₂- survives as Armenian h- in some environments but not others, and of the mystery of Albanian h-

  90. What are Uralic “beaver” words like?

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/majava

  91. A SHORTER
    FINNISH DICTIONARY
    [with etymologies]
    compiled by Andras Rajki
    2008

    http://toimeentulo.blogspot.com/2011/01/etymologinen-sanalista.html

  92. Trond Engen says:

    Wow! Thanks.

    majava [from FPrm *maya. Cf. Kar majaj, Lap madjit] : beaver

    and two lines up:

    maja [from Bal. Cf. Est maja (house), Ltv maja] : hut

    Chance resemblance?

  93. Hardly.

    This suffix latches itself onto nouns (liha ‘meat’ ~ lihava ‘fat’, maja ‘hut, house’ ~ majava ‘beaver’) and it also provides the present participle morpheme (aja-ya, above).

    Raimo Anttila
    Greek and Indo-European Etymology in Action
    Proto-Indo-European *ag

  94. Trond Engen says:

    ryan: But how long Polar Bears may have lasted in the northern Baltic, where sea ice is still an annual occurrence, I don’t know. There are polar bears in similar habitats in Canada today.

    David M.: Really? Because the northern Baltic is almost freshwater. The diversity of marine animals there is way low. Are there even enough seals for a population of polar bears?

    There are viable populations of seals in the Baltic. There are even small populations of ringed seals in Ladoga and in the Finnish lake system. Before modern human activity these could well have supported a population of polar bears.*) The same could probably be said of the White Sea. Maybe the large mammal predator was an early victim when human activity increased. But (arguing from ignorance) there are no archaeological traces of post Ice Age polar bears from the Baltic. I would guess that the limiting factor is summer temperatures. The polar bear is not built for temperatures staying much above 0°C for long periods of time.

    ryan: But that’s idle speculation. The reality is that in the 800s Vikings are attested receiving polar bear pelts from the Sami as tribute and selling them south. There’s no reason to think the trade, or for that matter, the suzerainty, had just begun then. Polar bear skins would have been an extraordinary luxury good. So yeah, I think people were aware.

    David M.: But the skins, let alone the rest, of polar bears were much too rare to necessitate specifying the default bear as “brown” or “dark”.

    The polar bear was clearly known in Medieval Norway. There may have been one arriving on a drifting iceberg on the Finnmark coast every other generation, and even before the discovery of Greenland it may have been occasionally traded from the regions east of the White Sea, but it was too rare for any regular payment of Finnskatt tribute in skins of polar bears. Regular brown bears would be ubiquitous in the forests and along the fishing rivers of modern day Finnmark and the Kola Peninsula.

    *) After all, Baltic marine mammals are said to have supported the Pitted Ware Culture, a late blooming mesolithic culture resisting, even pushing back against, and coexisting with incoming neolitihic farmers.

  95. Trond Engen says:

    Piotr: If so, one could expect *urxsaz in Proto-Germanic. Which makes me wonder if Lat. ursus isn’t by any chance a loan from Germanic.

    David M.: I was wondering about that u-…

    So was I. How early is ursus attested in Latin? Is it known from other branches of Italic?

  96. The polar bear is not built for temperatures staying much above 0°C for long periods of time.

    And yet Gus the Polar Bear lived with his partners Lily and Ida in the Central Park Zoo here in NYC for more than twenty years in a habitat that included a tank of fresh water kept close to ambient outdoor temperature, ranging from 7 to 45 C, though he had an air-conditioned den on the worst days. Granted, Gus was a bit neurotic, but what New Yorker isn’t? (He was eventually treated with Prozac when he became seriously depressed.)

    You wouldn’t expect to find a large semi-aquatic tropical mammal up in polar bear country either, but you do.

  97. majava ~ maja: oh, that’s an idea I don’t think I’ve heard before. The Proto-Finnic form is *majaga though, cf. Veps majag, Olonetsian majai < *majaja, Finnish dialectal variant majaa. So not **majaba as we’d expect if this were an adjectival derivative ‘housey’. But, a general diminutive in *-ka is just about as workable here as well.

    (The agent noun suffix *-ja also has nothing to do with either of these; Anttila probably is confusing this with the suffix *-ba > -va, as in ajava ‘driving’)

    There’s a small distributional problem too. ‘Beaver’ has cognates stretching into Mordvinic and Permic: Erzya мияв /mijav/, Komi мой /moj/, Udmurt мый /mɨj/ (and also Sami, but perhaps as loans from Finnic in there), while ‘hut’ is limited to Finnic and has no established etymology (but with interesting similarity to paja ‘workshop’, vaja ‘shed’).

    More on cast(o)ronyms in Uralic, Hungarian and Mansi have a root *kuNt-, borrowed at a very old time from Turkic — or, why not, vice versa. Proto-Samoyedic has *pučə, with no known good etymology (it’s been compared with Moksha пача /pača/ ‘otter’, but this doesn’t look very likely to me).

  98. Trond Engen says:

    The etymological dictionary that juha linked to and I quoted says

    maja [from Bal. Cf. Est maja (house), Ltv maja] : hut

    But no reference to the reconstructed Baltic form. Without a further etymology it could just as well have been borrowed the other way.

    If the “hut” word is an old Baltic loan, a distribution in Finnic and Mordvinic is as expected. The Permic word for beaver could (as the Sami) have spread through fur trade. The buyer’s word tend to wander upstream.

  99. Trond Engen says:

    John C.: And yet Gus the Polar Bear lived with his partners Lily and Ida in the Central Park Zoo here in NYC for more than twenty years in a habitat that included a tank of fresh water kept close to ambient outdoor temperature, ranging from 7 to 45 C, though he had an air-conditioned den on the worst days.

    Can’t argue with that, but would they have survived if they had to do anything at all to sustain their existence in summer? Polar bears on the coast of Labrador or even Newfoundland have access to cold water all year. On the Norwegian coast less so, and in the shallow waters of the Baltic the water temperature often exceeds 20°C in summer.

  100. David Marjanović says:

    paja – vaja – maja is too good to be true!

    45 C

    I hope you mean 35?

  101. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would be surprised if indigenous people who might be familiar with both (Polar bears and brown bears) did not have quite different words for the two subspecies.

    Iñupiatun has iyyaġriq “black bear” akłaq “brown bear, grizzly bear” nanuq “polar bear” (and also pisruktuaq “bear, black or brown”, literally “one that walks”, which looks pretty euphemism-y.)

    (They may not have all that many words for “snow”, but they can do “bear” proud. Also “seal.”)

  102. My fingers were misaligned: the temperature range was 7 to 23 C. Still warmer than the Baltic.

  103. How early is ursus attested in Latin? Is it known from other branches of Italic?

    The first known use was by the comedy-writer Titus Quinctius Atta (died 77 BC). I don’t think it’s attested anywhere else in Italic. For what it’s worth, Varro says this of ursus (On the Latin language V):

    Ursi Lucana origo vel, unde illi, nostri ab ipsius voce.Ursus is of Lucanian origin, or the ancestors of the Lucani called it from its voice, and so did ours.’

    The Lucani, who lived in southern Italy (in what is now Basilicata), spoke a variety of Oscan. But before you believe Varro, remember that he etymologises volpēs ‘fox’ as that which volat with its pedes.

  104. Piotr, what do you think of the idea (due to Kortlandt) that the initial u- of ursus can be explained through analogy with urcāre ‘to roar’?

  105. Trond Engen says:

    Piotr: But before you believe Varro, remember that he etymologises volpēs ‘fox’ as that which volat with its pedes.

    But he does give valuable information on the pronunciation of intervocalic d.

  106. >Collecting stuff and heaping it up is unique to beavers and ants in Europe. It’s a rather conspicuous feature.

    Eurasian cranes nests would be found in the same wetlands. Many large wetland birds heap mud and grasses.

    Regardless, the word is just inapt for what beavers do. Most people don’t think of heaps as hollow with a living place inside. A beaver lodge is more wigwam than pile of stuff. That’s why no one calls them beaver-heaps. They’re called lodges or dens. I just don’t think any of the proffered meanings (and it was quite a shotgun approach – “it must have been *berh, though I have no idea which of the dozen wide-ranging meanings of *berh it derived from”) … none of those meanings make much sense to me as someone who has paid a lot of attention to wildlife.

    >More on cast(o)ronyms in Uralic, Hungarian and Mansi have a root *kuNt-, borrowed at a very old time from Turkic

    Gah! At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive, that’s exactly where my googling of beaver pile led me.

    >On the Norwegian coast less so, and in the shallow waters of the Baltic the water temperature often exceeds 20°C in summer.

    Perhaps, but I’m talking about the Gulf of Bothnia, where temps don’t get above 14 C. And that’s today. We’re presumably talking about the time when IE came to the Baltic, on the order of 5,000 years BP. How did the currents flow, if Doggerland was perhaps not yet sunk to current Dogger Banks levels? I’m not sure we know what Baltic water temps would have been. Maybe we do, and maybe the answer is warmer than today, for all I know.

    The skeletal remains of the south Swedish bear were just found recently, in a fairly well peopled area that must get much more attention than the northern Baltic. We would expect that polar bears were there at SOME point since the last glacial maximum, no? So the failure to find remains may have more to do with the infrequency of investigations.

  107. David Marjanović says:

    They’re called lodges or dens.

    In German they’re called castles, medieval-type defensive castles consisting mostly of thick walls… And it’s not just the lodges, it’s also the dams!

    Eurasian cranes nests would be found in the same wetlands. Many large wetland birds heap mud and grasses.

    Cranes are rather found in open areas. Gray herons nest in trees, storks (black/forest and white/open) nest in trees or on rocks, swans don’t make much of a heap, and that’s pretty much it.

    And how did you drift to “heap”? The claim is “carry repeatedly/all the time”.

    Gah! At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive, that’s exactly where my googling of beaver pile led me.

    *minute of silence*

    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    We would expect that polar bears were there at SOME point since the last glacial maximum, no?

    Sure, but not after the Gulf Stream was restored at the end of the Younger Dryas 11784 years BP.

  108. Trond Engen says:

    On beaver: I do think your observation of the life of beavers is relevant. But the linguistic deduction is also solid. So how do we reconcile the differences? The frequentive/iterative things beavers are known for are 1) piling and building, 2) gnawing and felling trees, and 3) (by extension) being restless or industrious. I imagined the latter. The name wouldn’t have to be derived from the unreduplicated root but could rather have been formed from the reduplicated verb, which had its own range of extended meanings. I’ve pointed out before that it could be the origin of Latin febris “fever” and ON bifra “shake”.

    On polar bears: Well, actually, I did check the temperatures of the public beaches in the municipalities of Kalix and Haparanda, and several of them were measured to 20°C, or nearly so, last July. Granted, that’s the shallow waters on the sandy beaches, but that’s where a hot polar bear would go to catch seals too. It’s all shallow up there.

  109. Piotr, what do you think of the idea (due to Kortlandt) that the initial u- of ursus can be explained through analogy with urcāre ‘to roar’?

    But urcāre was used of the lynx, so it probably meant something like ‘yowl’ or ‘scream’. Another verb, uncāre, referred to the roaring of the bear. The Latin reflex of *h₂ŕ̥tḱos would probably be something like *arxus. I find it hard to believe that it was contaminated with uncāre or even urcāre (if one ignores the semantic difficulties) to yield ursus.

  110. Trond Engen says:

    j: More on cast(o)ronyms in Uralic, Hungarian and Mansi have a root *kuNt-, borrowed at a very old time from Turkic — or, why not, vice versa.

    ryan: Gah! At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive, that’s exactly where my googling of beaver pile led me.

    Just adding to the awe! And asking if this really has to be coincidental. Could the Proto-Ugric beaver be a wickerworker? There’s a Uralic word for birchbark basket, *konte, that survived almost unchanged into Finnish and Sami — and was borrowed into Scandinavian as kont “pouch made of birchbark or wicker”.

  111. Trond Engen says:

    ursus

    Looking it up in a Latin dictionary, my eyes fall on ūrus “auerox”. Surely this is another Germanic word? As is alces “(European) elk”, coming to think of it. Are we starting to see a whole semantic field here? Did the Romans import all these beasts for public display in the arena?

  112. That’s more or less what I’ve been thinking. Of course Italy had its own bears and even aurochs (as opposed to elk, whose earliest Latin description we owe to Julius Caesar), but all these animals could still have been part of Germania’s exotic beast package.

    By the way, importing elk so that they might be butchered in the Colosseum seems a crazy idea, but we know that the Romans did it.

  113. Marja Erwin says:

    What about bison?

    When Atta used ursus, Celtic-speakers still dominated central Europe, including Hercynia. So I’d expect Celtic languages to dominate the trade.

    So is there evidence against:

    1. a very early borrowing from PGmc to PIt in central Europe?

    2. a borrowing from Venetic? Or a poorly-known Balkan language? Or Temematic?

  114. When the ancestors of the Italici lived in Central Europe, there was no Germanic as we know it (that is, with Grimm’s and Verner’s laws, and all that jazz). The Romans did encounter Germanic tribes during Atta’s lifetime; they only didn’t quite realise that those marauding, fierce Northerners defeated by Gaius Marius in 101 BC were a separate linguistic group rather than Celts of a sort.

    The only known word for ‘bear’ in an “indigenous” Balkan language (other than Greek) is Albanian ar ~ ari, but it doesn’t look like ursus.

  115. David Marjanović says:

    but we know that the Romans did it.

    Delirant isti Romani…

    101 BC

    Oh, speaking of which: should we consider the Teutones as evidence that Verner’s law hadn’t been passed yet? The only reason I can come up with for why they didn’t end up as *Teudones is that perhaps the word was passed through Celtic and etymologically nativized on the way, if it wasn’t Celtic to begin with; but that should have produced -ou-, which in any case wouldn’t have become -eu- in Latin either, would it?

  116. It’s like Lucan’s Teutātēs for Gaulish Toutātis. The change of *eu > *ou was rather late in Proto-Celtic; perhaps it did not spread to all Continental dialects, or the Romans used an archaising substitution pattern inherited from an earlier period. Whatever the reason, the substitution was possible, so Teuton- is probably the Latin rendering of a Celticised version of Germanic *þeuðana- — apparently the same word as OE þeoden, Goth. þiudans, ON þjóðann ‘prince, lord’ — used as a self-congratulatory ethnonym.

  117. At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive (…)

    … *facepalm*

    Could the Proto-Ugric beaver be a wickerworker? There’s a Uralic word for birchbark basket, *konte, that survived almost unchanged into Finnish and Sami

    This particular ‘basket’ word is (contra UEW) not an independent root, but a group of derivatives from *kanta- ‘to carry’. Weaving doesn’t seem to be involved. (Fi. kontti also looks like some kind of an internal loanword. Maybe first Samic *kuontēmē ‘carrying utility’ gets borrowed into Finnish, develops the more specific meaning ‘birch bark basket’, and then gets loaned back into S. with a new meaning and also new innovative /-ntt-/.)

    *kumtə ‘wide’ would be however a phonetically exact match — and the beaver has a wide tail indeed — but also: this might still have a hard time making into a top 5 of the most distinctive traits of beavers.

  118. SPQR = Sono porci, questi Romani.

  119. Thinking about the tail, I am now wondering whether there is an plausible etymology for beaver in which it means “slappy.”

  120. >how did you drift to ‘heap’? The claim is ‘carry repeatedly/all the time’.

    From the blog’s conclusion:
    >we might expect *bʰé-bʰr̥ (of perhaps collective *bʰé-bʰōr) ‘the effect of continual collecting, a growing pile’. Like, say, a beaver’s construction – a dam or a lodge

    But I can see how you’d be misled, since at different points, the blog seemed to attach the claim to a wide range of meanings of *berh. The shotgun approach. You found one meaning semi-convincing. Someone else might settle on a different one. Everyone comes away thinking “wow, what a perfect theory,” without even noticing that they’ve come up with mutually exclusive answers.

    >Cranes are found rather in open areas.

    You may need to explain that to this one.:
    https://www.savingcranes.org/species-field-guide/eurasian-crane/

    This Sandhill has nested directly on a beaver lodge.:
    http://www.mccoy.army.mil/vtriad_online/08092002/Sandhill%20Cranes.htm

    It’s of course possible that the word comes from an IE root with some other meaning than those thus far adduced. But Ockham’s razor doesn’t suggest we assume strange beliefs for ancient people, whether taboos for which we have no evidence (other than that other people have taboos), or that words may have had unattested shades of meaning that could distantly be connected with the actual characteristics of a given animal.

    Ockham’s razor instead suggests that proto-IE simply included a word more or like *bhebhros = beaver that had nothing to do with the *behr verb. This sufficiently explains the origins of words in daughter languages without having to come up with some just so story about why beavers were known to the ancients as continual carriers or Constant Gardeners rather than lodge and dam builders or tree cutters.

    Don’t most languages contain two syllables words unexplained by any of their own mono-syllabic roots, carried over from other languages or handed down from the muddy prehistory of their own development? Why would proto-IE have been such an impoverished language that it had no such?

    The idea of *behr to beaver is an interesting thought experiment. But that’s really all it is.

  121. I find it hard to believe that it was contaminated with uncāre or even urcāre (if one ignores the semantic difficulties) to yield ursus.

    Good to know, I also thought it was a bit too ad hoc.
    So how does one explain the u-?

  122. Marja Erwin says:

    If the Romans did borrow ursus, alcis, etc. from Germanic by the Late Republican period, then that complicates the linguistic situation in central Europe. Either Germanic languages predominated farther south than usually accepted, or Germanic languages were associated with living in forests where Celtic ones predominated in the towns, or– something.

  123. Oh, sorry, I missed some of the discussion above on the u-.

  124. Trond Engen says:

    Marja Erwin: Either Germanic languages predominated farther south than usually accepted, or Germanic languages were associated with living in forests where Celtic ones predominated in the towns, or– something.

    Or the Germanic intrusion into Celtic areas north of the Alps was pioneered by traders from the Baltic, who also adapted Old Italic script to make the runic alphabet. The earliest runic inscriptions are dated to the 2nd century CE, but the letter forms and the fact that two Runic characters were used in the Greek-derived Gothic alphabet are evidence that the script is older.

  125. Trond Engen says:

    Thinking about the tail, I am now wondering whether there is an plausible etymology for beaver in which it means “slappy.”

    I first read that as “sappy”. “Fat-tail” could well be a name somewhere.

  126. David Marjanović says:

    It’s like Lucan’s Teutātēs for Gaulish Toutātis.

    *facepalm* There I go quoting Asterix in Latin, when I knew full well that par Toutatis was translated as beim Teutates into German…

    Sono porci, questi Romani.

    Huh, I only knew the version with pazzi.

    The earliest runic inscriptions are dated to the 2nd century CE

    There’s one from about 50 CE where it’s not clear if the letters are Latin or runes.

  127. David Marjanović says:

    Morning thought: is the anatomical sacrum a taboo replacement? In German it’s “the cross”, presumably formed by the vertebral column and the sacral ribs meeting at right angles. (That includes dialects and Kreuzweh “lower-back pain”.)

  128. Trond Engen says:

    Me: Could the Proto-Ugric beaver be a wickerworker? There’s a Uralic word for birchbark basket, *konte, that survived almost unchanged into Finnish and Sami

    j.: This particular ‘basket’ word is (contra UEW) not an independent root, but a group of derivatives from *kanta- ‘to carry’.

    So the Proto-Ugric beaver is a carrier?

    Oh, and could this in some way be related to Germanic ‘hand’?

    (Fi. kontti also looks like some kind of an internal loanword. Maybe first Samic *kuontēmē ‘carrying utility’ gets borrowed into Finnish, develops the more specific meaning ‘birch bark basket’, and then gets loaned back into S. with a new meaning and also new innovative /-ntt-/.)

    Finnish phonology is remarkably conservative, but Sami is not, and I should have understood that this was too good to be true. Still borrowed into Scandinavian, though, in the meaning “birchbark purse”.

    *kumtə ‘wide’ would be however a phonetically exact match — and the beaver has a wide tail indeed — but also: this might still have a hard time making into a top 5 of the most distinctive traits of beavers.

    Some sort of back-formation from how it’s widening brooks? “Wide brook” -> “Beaver dam” -> “Beaver”. Or “fat”?

  129. January First-of-May says:

    at the end of the Younger Dryas 11784 years BP

    …um, where does that figure come from? The date I’ve seen for the end of the Younger Dryas is 11590 years BP.

    I suppose it could be a calibration thing, and/or refer to different sub-events (the restoration of the Gulf Stream might have happened partway through the end of the Younger Dryas).

    In the former case, however, I’m not sure where might the precision in the 11784 BP date come from (11590 BP is also a precise date, from dendrochronology, though it doesn’t look that precise due to the inconvenient zero).

  130. David Marjanović says:

    Here, except that it doesn’t actually say BP and might actually mean 11734 BP. Earlier versions featured a slightly different date and added “counting uncertainty 69 years”; the cited paper (open access) says 11650 BP “with a maximum counting error of 99 yr”, the counted objects being ice layers; I don’t know where the steady improvement comes from.

  131. January First-of-May says:

    Oh, so it’s one of the uncertain dates given with more precision than warranted by the uncertainty.

    IIRC, the source I had for the 11590 BP date promised an uncertainty of under a year; sadly I wasn’t quite able to find that paper again. (It was a dendrochronological one.)
    At this point, it becomes a bit tricky as to whether it even makes sense in the first place to date a climate shift to a specific year (since, after all, most climate shifts take place over multiple years).

  132. David Marjanović says:

    That one was really fast, with the Gulf Stream evidently changing course from one year to the next. Ice ages begin very slowly and end abruptly.

  133. Marja Erwin says:

    > Or the Germanic intrusion into Celtic areas north of the Alps was pioneered by traders from the Baltic, who also adapted Old Italic script to make the runic alphabet. The earliest runic inscriptions are dated to the 2nd century CE, but the letter forms and the fact that two Runic characters were used in the Greek-derived Gothic alphabet are evidence that the script is older.

    How would that explain ursus, alcis, and other Germanic loanwords into Middle or Late Republican Latin? Are bears and elk more strongly associated with the Baltic than with central Europe? Are these reaching Latin via sea instead of river trade?

  134. It’s worth mentioning that there are a couple polar bear skeletal remains from the Goteberg area dated more than 1,000 years after the end of the Younger Dryas. That’s still millennia away from the arrival of any IE groups. But an extant population that long after the climate change suggests that something other than the southern limit of pack ice may constrict the current territory of polar bears.
    This would be in keeping with Farley Mowat’s description of the species in North America. I’ll leave aside his discussion of polar bears in antiquity because it glibly covers things that people who give better citations seem to dismiss.
    There’s also the fact that the northern Baltic seems to have been much deeper 5,000 years ago, in an early stage of ongoing post-glacial rebound. That would have kept summer surface water temperatures colder.
    All of which leaves the possibility that the final extirpation at least from the northern Baltic happened when groups with bronze weapons began entering the region, likely speaking a form of or early descendant of proto-IE.
    Though certainly it’s also possible they were locally extinct throughout the Baltic much earlier.

  135. So the Proto-Ugric beaver is a carrier?

    No, I’m saying that there’s no visible relationship. *kanta- (also definitely with *n) cannot be equated with *kuNt- (also possibly with *m, per Turkic).

    I second ryan’s complaint that IE-ists and overly well IE-read linguistics often seem obsessed with finding “roots”, even though full stem etymologies are strictly superior to root etymologies (they explain more phonetic material and require fewer ad hoc assumptions of semantic changes). Made all the worse whenever combined with preconceived notions of what roots “should” look like, which can lead to ad hoc segmentation or even outright denial of otherwise flawless etymologies. I’ll save the full rant for another day, though…

  136. Trond Engen says:

    How would that explain ursus, alcis, and other Germanic loanwords into Middle or Late Republican Latin? Are bears and elk more strongly associated with the Baltic than with central Europe? Are these reaching Latin via sea instead of river trade?

    I don’t know. I said “the Baltic” since it’s the other end of the conventionally named Amber Road and since we know that there were Germanic tribes living around its southwestern shores at the time. It wouldn’t have to be Germanic traders going all the way to Rome. By the early 2nd century BCE the Romans controlled the entire peninsula, the Po Valley, and the Adriatic. Roman traders would be venturing into the Alpine valleys and beyond, and Germanic traders could be eliminating the middle man from their end, meeting up in Alpine trading posts like Curia or the Danubian fords of Radobona or Vindobona. Would they cater for Roman demand by bringing cubs and calves of exotic animals as well as amber, iron and hides?

  137. >the end of the Younger Dryas 11784 years BP

    >I’m not sure where might the precision in the 11784 BP

    >Oh, so it’s one of the uncertain dates given with more precision than warranted by the uncertainty.

    My understanding is that researchers have narrowed the window even further, with some believing the Younger Dryas ended in January of that year, while others date it to the First of May.

  138. The First of May! The First of May!
    Outdoor @*#$ing, impossible for the last twelve centuries, starts today!

  139. The Amber Road reached the Gulf of Venice in the general vicinity of (originally) Venetic Tergeste (Trieste) and Roman Aquileia. Business at its southern end was dominated by the Veneti, but trade goods imported from Northen Europe were known by their Germanic names — glēsum ~ glaesum = OE glǣr ‘amber’ (n.) is the most obvious example.

  140. Trond Engen says:

    ryan: All of which leaves the possibility that the final extirpation at least from the northern Baltic happened when groups with bronze weapons began entering the region, likely speaking a form of or early descendant of proto-IE.

    I’ll grant you that, but I really think absence of evidence is evidence of absence here. There are quite large corpora of rock art from northern Fennoscandia, from both the Atlantic and the Baltic side, dating back some 7000 years. They show bears. Bear paws, long-legged bears, bears in dens. They show whales, seals and fish. But no bears that can reasonably be interpreted as polar bears, either from body shape or from being hunted by boat.

    But it would be really cool if I were wrong about this. We can hope for the budding archaeology of the Baltic itself. Being brackish and cold and low on oxygene at the bottom, it has preserved sunken artifacts almost like the Black Sea. Fearing the effect of heating waters, there are now increased efforts to map and explore the seabed. Or at least talk of increased efforts.

    j.: I second ryan’s complaint that IE-ists and overly well IE-read linguistics often seem obsessed with finding “roots”, even though full stem etymologies are strictly superior to root etymologies (they explain more phonetic material and require fewer ad hoc assumptions of semantic changes).

    Point taken. I know I’m an amateur playing with roots, and especially when playing with Uralic, where I know too little about the the inner workings to venture into more detailed speculation. I’m just happy someone will play with me.

    But I don’t think it applies to professional IE-ists — at least not in general. I’ve seen the dismissal “worthless root etymology” more than once in the literature. And in the case at hand, the etymology of beaver, Piotr’s derivation from a reduplicated root is just an accidental find on the way to the understanding of a whole derivational pattern, while the “brown” etymology is a bare root deduced from shared sounds in three Germanic words.

  141. Trond, your point about rock art seems to be quite a blow to my theory. More musing than theory, I guess.

    I wonder how continued post-glacial rebound will meet up with the rising seas of climate change. Wiki still suggests that Bothnia might be split in two again. In 2,000 years.

  142. Yes, there’s surely another extreme as well, of dismissing all non-trivial morphology (or all non-trivial semantics, etc.). No particular critique at Piotr intended here either.

    Professional IE-ists don’t seem to actively posit bare roots all over the place these days, I mean more that I haven’t really seen much critical engagement with the established traditional theory of strictly monosyllabic roots either.

  143. Trond Engen says:

    One level of basic IE that could deserve more attention is the system of root extensions. Scholars named in monosyllables have surely tried their best for 200 years, and the answer may be that they are faint signals from an earlier stage, that the meaning has been irretrievably lost, but it’s still something deeply unsatisfactory about not knowing what’s going on at the most basic level of morphology.

  144. marie-lucie says:

    Saint Valpurga

    I just realized that this saint must be the one known in French as Sainte Gauburge, the patron of the village of the same name in Southern Normandy. The Germanic name sounds a lot better than the French adaptation, which sounds terrible.

    — p.s. Wikipedia.fr says that the saint (an 8th century abbess) is also known as Sainte Valburge and the region is known (by some) as le Valburgeois. These alternate names sound modern, perhaps introduced because they sound better than the name of the town.

    I suppose that the Scandinavian Saint Valpurga is associated with the German Walpurgisnacht, but how?

  145. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: I suppose that the Scandinavian Saint Valpurga is associated with the German Walpurgisnacht, but how?

    Valborg in Scandinavian. I’m not sure I get your question, but she is simply the saint whose feast is celebrated on May 1. The night before her day was Valborgsnatt in the same way as the night before Day of All Saints, November 1, was All Halloweens Night. Both nights may have become associated with witchcraft and ghosts because they were the days when civil contracts of work and rent were fulfilled and were to be renewed the next morning. Inbetween was a night of no contractual obligations.

    But is this the right thread?

  146. David Marjanović says:

    Are bears and elk more strongly associated with the Baltic than with central Europe?

    Elks, as of the 20th century, occasionally show up in northern Austria and no further south. Bears are native to Italy and even to the Atlas mountains…

    It’s worth mentioning that there are a couple polar bear skeletal remains from the Goteberg area dated more than 1,000 years after the end of the Younger Dryas. That’s still millennia away from the arrival of any IE groups. But an extant population that long after the climate change suggests that something other than the southern limit of pack ice may constrict the current territory of polar bears.

    Oh, the Fennoscandian ice shield took several thousand years to melt completely. I should have remembered that. Still, by Corded Ware times, it was long gone.

    when groups with bronze weapons began entering the region, likely speaking a form of or early descendant of proto-IE.

    Bronze weapons actually reached the northern Baltic from the east, likely together with West Uralic, explaining why the people with the highest percentage of Yamnaya ancestry today are the Estonians.

    One level of basic IE that could deserve more attention is the system of root extensions.

    Oh yes. Somewhere on academia.edu there’s a draft that convincingly suggests meanings as derivational suffixes for several of them, but I forgot where.

    However, all root extensions fit within the monosyllabic template. The unanalyzable di- or trisyllables that can be reconstructed are so few in number that they’ve long been suspected of being loanwords.

  147. David Marjanović says:

    I suppose that the Scandinavian Saint Valpurga is associated with the German Walpurgisnacht, but how?

    Easy: it’s the night after her feast day (not the day she died, but the day her relics were transferred, oddly enough). -a and -is are different Latinizations of an already endingless feminine, and the p indicates a High German voiceless /b/, which fits the fact that her monastic life, death and ever-so-slightly disgusting miracles all happened in Bavaria.

  148. St. Walpurga was born about 710 AD in Devon (then already part of Wessex) as Wealdburg. Her brothers Willibald and Winibald (Wynnbald) also became saints. Their mother Winna (Wynne) was the sister of St. Boniface, whose real name was Winfred (Wynnfriþ). Their father is known as St. Richard the Pilgrim. His real name is unknown, but we can be pretty sure that it began with W (the runic-derived letter wynn).

    By the way, the town of St. Boniface, Manitoba, was merged into the city of Winnipeg in 1971. The curse of the rune wynn is still upon the family.

  149. marie-lucie says:

    St Walpurga (etc)

    Thanks Trond, David, Piotr. I had no idea that Sainte Gauburge was so well-known! Wikipedia (English only) has her history and also a number of local names.

    I asked about her relationship to Walpurgisnacht because I remember learning the name of this event many years ago in German class, where I got the impression that it referred to a kind of witches’ sabbat, or perhaps Carnival. At that time I did not identify the -s as the genitive, or Walpurgis as the name of a person.

  150. David: Not so strange: see this google for “feast of the translation”.

  151. In English, Walpurgisnacht is indeed used to mean a witches’ sabbath, or (more generally) a night of horrors. I remember it being used in Rama Revealed (text by Gentry Lee, with plot input by Arthur C. Clarke) to refer to a night when a lot of coordinated assassinations took place.

  152. David, John,

    I wonder what happens is the relics of a saint are lost in translation.

  153. Trond Engen says:

    I see that Sainte Gaubourge was an English noblewoman related to the royal house of Kent, a niece of Saint Boniface, and a missonary nun in Franconia during the reign of Charlemagne. My impression from geography is that her veneration as a saint soon became widespread in the missionary fields in Northern Europe but less in the already christianized regions in the west. Maybe her celebration in a village in Normandy has as much to do with strengthening bonds across the channel after the Norman conquest of England. Or maybe Mayday was a good date for the village feast.

  154. David Marjanović says:

    Walpurgisnacht is indeed used to mean a witches’ sabbath

    In German, too, in that such events were thought to occur during that particular night. Compare Halloween.

    Or maybe Mayday was a good date for the village feast.

    Likely.

  155. I asked about her relationship to Walpurgisnacht because I remember learning the name of this event many years ago in German class

    Ha. I remember first encountering the word Walpurgisnacht many years ago while reading Mann’s The Magic Mountain as an undergraduate, where it’s the chapter heading given to a pivotal scene in which the hero is seduced.

    Wikipedia reminds me that it’s also the title given to Act II in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, aptly enough.

  156. My first encounter with the Walpurgisnacht was in Goethe’s Faust.

  157. Trond Engen says:

    I learned about Valborgsnatt from Otfried Preusler’s Die kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) in its Norwegian 1973 edition by Bokklubbens Barn.

  158. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: Maybe her celebration in a village in Normandy has as much to do with strengthening bonds across the channel after the Norman conquest of England

    Her lifetime coincides approximately with the period of Norman raids into France, which ended after the king (a very weak one at the time) granted the raiders the territory which became the duchy of “Normandy”. Officially the Duke of Normandy was a vassal of the king of France, but he was de facto independent, and the Norman nobles maintained contact with their relatives on the other side of the Channel. The English royals at the time intermarried with “Danes” and Normans: William the Conqueror’s grandmother was the sister of the English king of his time, which is why he considered himself a legal pretender to the throne of England. So it is not surprising that a saintly “English” princess of probably mixed ancestry, remembered from the time of the foundation of Normandy, should have been venerated in a small Norman town even if she never set foot in it.

  159. Trond Engen says:

    Piotr: I wonder what happens is the relics of a saint are lost in translation.

    Saint Benedict of Nursia was the author of the Regula Benedicti, but it’s his translation that is celebrated.

  160. Trond Engen says:

    David M.: The unanalyzable di- or trisyllables that can be reconstructed are so few in number that they’ve long been suspected of being loanwords.

    E. incidentally g. the “bear” word. But a language with no words except for a handful of borrowings that can’t be derived from monosyllabic roots, and which on top of that may have lacked phonemic vowels — what kind of process made it become like that? More than a natural language it looks like a conlang, or maybe a highly artificial register. Even if we allow for the inevitable incompleteness of reconstruction, what made only those features be recoverable?

  161. Of course, monosyllabic-root languages vary from Thai with 23,638 monosyllables to Hawaiian with 162. (I’d guess that English is somewhere about halfway between.) PIE certainly has plenty of consonants.

  162. David Marjanović says:

    Die kleine Hexe

    *high-five*

    may have lacked phonemic vowels

    That claim comes from people who either don’t know what “phonemic” means or believe ablaut was spontaneously generated out of nothing and can be internally-reconstructed away. In anything accessible to the comparative method, *nokʷts “night” and *nekʷts “night’s” are a minimal pair for /o/ vs. /e/, which lands us at two phonemic vowels as found today in Abaza or Arrernte even if [i u] never contrasted with /j w/ and even if every single *a was /e/ next to *h₂.

    With that out of the way…

    But a language with no words except for a handful of borrowings that can’t be derived from monosyllabic roots […] — what kind of process made it become like that?

    Good old reduction of unstressed syllables, I’d guess, not unlike the zero grade. Compare, if only as examples:
    – Moscow School Proto-Altaic, where most roots were (C)VC(C)V and the second syllable distinguished all 5 vowel qualities (but not the 3 diphthongs if those weren’t just *j + vowel sequences), both tones, and possibly the somewhat dubious (i.e. more dubious than most of the rest) length, while stress wasn’t phonemic and can’t be reconstructed;
    – Proto-Uralic, where most roots were again (C)VC(C)V, but the first syllable distinguished 8 vowels, while the second had a surface inventory of 3 or possibly 4, which amounts to 2 phonemes because of vowel harmony, and stress wasn’t phonemic but was very obviously initial;
    – PIE, where almost all roots were (CC)CVC(C) outside of zero-grade and stress was phonemic.

    Also, contact with West Caucasian (with its even shorter roots and just *2 vowels) could have played a role.

  163. Trond Engen says:

    I didn’t mean the typology per se, but that the typical system could be all there is. That all native IE words can be traced back to the same derivational patterns from the same roots, without any misfits and oddities. Why aren’t there borrowed verbs with their own paradigms, whether those be wholesale imports or patchwork solutions for fitting into the IE system? I don’t mean to imply that this invalidates PIE reconstruction in any way, just that there may be an important story not yet told. And I don’t know if that story will be reconstructible from linguistic evidence.

    As for the vowels, I agree that there’s evidence for IE vowels, but their distribution seems very restricted. I’ve touted the development of the Scanian (Swedish with a Danish substrate?) vowel system as a possible partial parallel. In essence stressed vowels became whatever-is-the-opposite-of-centering diphtongs. But this is weird too — and may have developed under very special socio-linguistic conditions. Another idea was the worldwide phenomenon of “royal mumbling”, as was up here a few months ago. Maybe it started as an elite pronunciation of stressed vowels as schwa + semivowel(/laryngeal) pairs.

  164. David Marjanović says:

    Why aren’t there borrowed verbs with their own paradigms, whether those be wholesale imports or patchwork solutions for fitting into the IE system?

    Verbs are generally harder to borrow than nouns. Navajo had to innovate a construction with an auxiliary verb to do that (within the last few decades).

    But who knows? Maybe some PIE verb roots really have to be reconstructed with *a or (shudder) *b; those would be prime candidates for identifiable borrowings. Maybe some CVC roots are borrowed from West Caucasian C roots plus a prefix or two. Maybe some others are borrowed from Pre-Uralic (or whatever) CVCV roots, with the final vowel reanalyzed as part of a suffix or as epenthetic. Perhaps this goes even further, and the “thematic verbs” are inspired by a bunch of borrowed CVCV roots. It’s not hard to speculate.

  165. I think there’s a bit of a begging the question going on there. I often see that when a word doesn’t fit the mould, it’s hypothesized to be a Wanderwort or substratal — so while no one comes out and says that there was a stage of purity when PIE had only nicely conformant words, and that’s the only words we accept as native, there seems to be some filtering going on that gives almost the same result.

    Let me invoke the uniformity principle here. Of course any language ancestral to the IE languages, viewed synchronically, had loanwords that didn’t fit the declensions and gnarly old words with strange case forms and suppletions and onomatopoeia and all the stuff that makes a language fun. Because we’ve never found a contemporary language that didn’t.

    But that’s not the PIE we reconstruct. Because we can’t. Even if it was possible to be sure that all the features we deduce existed at one and the same time, there must be lots of details that just happened to be regularized away on the way to the daughter languages. And if a word can plausibly be reconstructed in a way that fits neatly with most of the other words, that’s the reconstruction we pick. But plausibillity is not proof. We haven’t proven that all the words were made on the same boring cookie cutter. Actually, by the argument above, we can be sure that some of them weren’t, we just can’t tell which, or how they were different.

    (But of course there is progress, it seems to me that as the basic patterns get worked out more reliably there are little quirks that start to stand out, hinting at old irregularities. But often that’s used to try to push back the horizon and find an old regularity that became a quirk in a few words).

  166. But that’s not the PIE we reconstruct. Because we can’t.

    Well, exactly. I’m not sure what you’re pushing back against; presumably just about every IE-ist would agree with you that actual spoken PIE was more gnarly and complicated than the artificial form we reconstruct, but since there’s nothing to be done about it, what do you want them to do?

  167. I have actually seen people claiming that the reconstructed language corresponds to a single unitary stage in the development of the IE language family, and that what we can see was all there was. Forget who, though. But I guess my screed was in part a pent-up response to that.

    The other part is, in reply to Trond, that I’m not sure it’s true that only words that fit the very regular and schematic system could be reconstructed, if people were looking, but the natural human instinct to see patterns in everything creates a bias towards accepting the conlang-like reconstructions. I’m not pushing back as such — I have nowhere to stand — but I think it would be refreshing to see more gnarly PIE forms being suggested.

    (I do realize that it will need much more work to argue convincingly that some cognate set probably descended from a PIE form that didn’t fit the pattern, since the pattern is so pervasive and well-accepted, but maybe it would be more useful than the regular ones).

  168. David Marjanović says:

    I have actually seen people claiming that the reconstructed language corresponds to a single unitary stage in the development of the IE language family,

    It does – if it’s done right. Because it took so long to figure out where exactly Anatolian and Tocharian go in the tree, and because the relationships of the other branches to each other mostly still aren’t understood, plenty of things that are commonly reconstructed for PIE are not PIE at all (from slide 22 on).

    and that what we can see was all there was.

    That, on the other hand, is right next to impossible.

  169. Trond Engen says:

    Lars,
    You say it better than me..

    David,
    Thanks! Piotr’s slideshow says it even better. I don’t think we disagree much about these matters around here.

  170. and that what we can see was all there was.

    That, on the other hand, is right next to impossible.

    And all that he could see, and all that he could see, was the other side of the mountain …

  171. I mean I’ve seen claims that the handbook version which Piotr calls “a patchwork combining areas of grammar and lexicon referring to different chronological layers and different intermediate ancestors” is a close approximation to something that some actual group of people spoke at a some actual point in time. Which is at best disingenuous.

    Also see his page 21 which states my point about selective bias better than I could.

  172. Since we have come around to “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” I have a question that has bugged me from childhood. I first learned the song with the bear lyrics and then some horrible alternate ones about Cub Scouts. However, I also stumbled across another version among my mother’s old piano sheet music. Among the songs she learned when she was a kid in 1950s Connecticut, was “The Cat Went Over the Catskills,” with the same tune as the bear song.

    The cat went over the Catskills.
    The cat went over the Catskills.
    The cat went over the Catskills,
    With all the skill of a cat.

    At the time, I figured this was just an alternative set of lyrics, such as folk songs often have. It would make more sense for it to have been common in the Northeast than out in Michigan or Oregon where I had lived up to that time. I have sung it on occasion though, and nobody has ever recognized it (except my mother).

    In fact, I just Googled it, and the only online references to the song name that Google finds are directly to the Schaum duet sheet music or to old recital announcements in newspapers, stating what pairs of children played the song as their performance piece.

    So has anybody else heard of these lyrics, or were they just invented for a known tune by the Schaum music publishers?

  173. A distant cognate of the Catskills Cat, but retaining more features of the ancestral form (Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre). Note especially what the fourth officer is carrying.

    Another intermediate form is also well known in Denmark with the title For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.

    Here is a claim that the original melody is an Arabic one called malbruk, implying that the Duke of Marlborough was just a happy coincidence. (Or unhappy, if you ask his wife).

  174. marie-lucie says:

    Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre ‘Marlborough is going to war’

    This song about the death and funeral of the Duke of Marlborough is a humorous one, since the Duke was not killed in the famous battle between French and English troops, although he was defeated.

    In French the name is pronounced as if written Malbrou (my tradition) or Malbrouk.

    Several versions of the song lyrics are on the internet, starting identically but becoming more and more absurd as performers often added ludicrous verses of their own composition, some of which have survived.

    The wording is meant to suggest a medieval song. The phrase s’en va-t-en guerre is both archaic and substandard: the modern standard would be s’en va à la guerreor more commonly part à la guerre. The inserted -t- also suggests an uneducated pronunciation (adding a “false liaison”, as does also the z of Il reviendra z’ à Pâques). The second line Ne sait quand reviendra ‘Doesn’t know when (he) will come back’, with its omission of the subject pronouns, is a deliberate medievalism, perhaps copying a typical line in old songs with the similar theme of the lady in her tower watching anxiously for news of her husband.

    As for the “Arabic tune brought back from the Crusades”, it is laughable in this particular case, but the general theme of the lonely lady pining for her absent husband may have become especially popular during that time. The tune, however, is neither Arabic nor sad.

  175. I tried to edit my comment to acknowledge that John Churchill was not in fact killed in 1709, but it was in moderation then and the edits did not take. According to WIkipedia the text is attested since 1780 or so, I don’t know how archaic it was then or whether liaison was possible in more cases, like before en. (But I’m sure there was never an -s in reviendra, so the z’á cannot be a preservation).

    And the tune is a march or something close to it — it was certainly used when playing soldiers during my childhood — very far from any Arabic music I’ve heard, and not a form with medieval roots I think. (It is, however, easy to google up an Arabic language wedding song called Mabrouk).

    According to The Eighteenth-Century Vogue of “Malbrough” and Marlborough (C. D. Brenner, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 1950), pp. 177-180) the tune was probably popularized by Pierre Beaumarchais in the play Mariage de Figaro which was first staged in 1784 but may have had private readings as early as 1778. The words in the play have nothing to do with the popular text however, it’s a romance sung by a page to the object of his affections — instead of Mironton, mironton, mirontaine it has Que mon cœur, mon cœur a de peine!

    The spread to the rest of Europe may have been helped by a nice illustrated children’s edition from 1878 — it has fewer verses than most other versions, but it retains the four officers that are also found in the Danish version and the date would explain why it was translated to the Dano-Prussian war of 1864.

  176. David Marjanović says:

    a close approximation to something that some actual group of people spoke at a some actual point in time

    Again, if a reconstruction is done right, that’s what it is, except that some things are inevitably missing because they happen to be lost in all attested descendants.

  177. But can we do it right? How do we avoid creating a chimera of roots from one stage, stem formations from another, conjugations and declensions from all over? Not to speak of vocalism, accent patterns and phonation of stops…

    Reasonable men can still argue about the order of sounds changes from PIE to Germanic, and it seems to me that ordering the stages of development of so many different aspects of the language relative to each other must be a much harder problem.

  178. The words in the play have nothing to do with the popular text however — but I forgot to say that the play gives Marlbroug s’en va-t-en guerre as the name of the melody.

  179. Rodger C says:

    Attested from Appalachia:

    Moll Brooks, get out of the water, [3]
    Until you learn to swim!

    The first line is obviously based on hearing the French. It’d be interesting to know the route of transmission.

  180. Perhaps this goes even further, and the “thematic verbs” are inspired by a bunch of borrowed CVCV roots. It’s not hard to speculate.

    This comes actually close to the kind of thing I was hinting at. If it was the kind of work I’m getting paid for, I would probably be investigating hypotheses such as that maybe the lack of thematic inflection in Anatolian is actually a phonological isogloss (plain old syncope under some particular conditions) and not a primarily morphological one. To quote something I wrote on an Academia.edu session just a few days ago: the widely-attested historical trajectory in root structure is vowel stemsthematic stemsconsonant stemsshorter vowel stems → etc.; and not anything involving massive parallel vowel epentheses all over the place.

  181. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, the thematic vowel isn’t supposed to be epenthetic, but to have originally form imperfective ( > present) subjunctives from perfective verbs (root aorists). This fits the recent interpretation that PIE only had an eventive and a stative aspect, with the eventive splitting into perfective & imperfective only after Anatolian had split off*, and the observation that thematic verbs are present but very rare in Tocharian.

    * Briefly mentioned in this report from a conference in 2015, along with an interpretation of two IE *b words (one of which also contains *a) as Semitic borrowings. The eventive/stative idea has made it into print, but I can’t remember where.

  182. There is a thematic inflection in Hittite – e. g. both the type with zero grade in the root and the type -ske/o- are attested. What isn’t attested is the type with full (e) grade in the root, type bhere/o- , that becomes the most frequent type in the other IE languages, but is IIRC still rare in Tocharian.
    The idea that the thematic inflection derives from the perfect/medium system is around since at least the 60s; there is a huge discussion about the exact pathways and the structural reasons for the development.

  183. Revenir-ing à nos animaux tabou, in a moment of Diegocarcity, after reading this thread I came across a reference in an 18th century brewing manual to the word ‘fox’ being taboo in the brewhouse: if raw wort (the sugary unfermented run-off from mashed malt) was left hanging around unfermented, it could become infected, giving rise to a condition known as ‘foxed’, either because of the infected wort’s reddish tinge or its smell. The fear, evidently, was that naming the animal could bring on the condition: according to William Ellis, in The New Art of Brewing and Improving Malt Liquors to the Greatest Advantage (London, 1761) ‘it is a general Law among [brewers] to make all Servants that name the word Fox or Foxing in the Brewhouse to pay Six-pence, which obliges them to call it Reynard.’

  184. I hardly know why you would want to talk about foxes in a brewhouse at all, but so it goes. The game of able-whackets, which is both a card game (the rules of which have not been preserved) and a language game in a more formal sense than usual.

  185. David Marjanović says:

    Royal mumbling, complete with subtitles, here at 0:20 and 1:20.

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