The Lesser Prince of the Night.

I recently came across the Polish word księżyc ‘moon’ and thought “That’s odd — the other Slavic languages have reflexes of either Proto-Slavic *luna (like Russian) or *měsęcь (like Serbo-Croatian and Czech). Where did this come from?

It turns out (and this is a great etymology) that it’s originally a diminutive of książę ‘prince’; to quote Buck’s Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages: “As the sun was the lord of the day, the moon of the night, the latter was the lesser ‘prince’.” What I want to know is, is that transparent to Poles, or is it something they learn with at least mild surprise when they see it pointed out?

Comments

  1. FWIW, in Russian, княжич (kn’azhich) is not a lesser prince (prince being князь/kn’az’), but prince’s son.

  2. Was the sun called by a non-diminutive form of the word for “prince”, or does a lord outrank a princeling?

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    So the moon is male in Polish? Must be the Germans …

  4. A Polish acquaintance wrote me to say:

    When it comes to księżyc, for most Poles the association is not automatic. Książę (prince or duke), ksiądz (priest), and księżyc (Moon) all have the same root in the word that in old Slavic designated a non-crowned ruler. However, that’s not common knowledge. I suspect that most Poles would be surprised upon learning that these words are connected (I was when I looked it up for myself some years ago…)

    So that would seem to answer my question, and a very satisfying answer it is.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:
    So the moon is male in Polish? Must be the Germans …

    In Croatian “Mjesec” (moon) is also masculine while “Sunce” (sun) is neuter.

  6. Charles Perry says:

    In the Semitic languages, the word for sun is feminine. Grammatical gender is arbitrary. (Or it may start out with a rational basis of some kind, but time passes.)

  7. In Tolkien, the moon was masculine and the sun feminine. In universe,* there was an extremely good reason for that; those were the sexes of the maiar that bore and steered the vessels carrying the last flower and last fruit of the two trees. Out of universe, I wonder whether this was determined by working backwards from the Man in the Moon, and choosing the sex of the sun to complement that.

    *I have recently become aware that there are traditional terms for in universe and out of universe: “Watsonian” and “Doylist,” obviously making reference to the Sherlock Holmes stories. And, as did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Tolkien** employed a literary agent hypothesis to explain the stories, while sometimes forgetting about it and narrating events that the fictional authors could not possibly have known. One notable example where the “literary agent” did take careful account of what his narrator could actually have known came with the Rumpole of the Bailey stories. Most of the stories were written first for television; afterwards, John Mortimer rewrote them in prose, narrated by Rumpole himself. This posed a problem when there were certain events that Horace Rumpole could not possibly have witnessed or even heard about second- or third-hand. In “Rumpole and the Judge’s Elbow,” the narrator states that, for the first time is the series of stories, he is guessing about what happened and elaborating based on his inferences to provide an approximation to what must have occurred between Judge Featherstone and his wife.

    **I wonder now why Tolkien was never knighted. I suspect the reason was that he could not afford it. In modern times, being knighted was an expensive proposition for a British subject. The knight has to foot the bill for all the festivities associated with the granting of knighthood. John Couch Adams, one of the two scientists to predicte the existence of Neptune based on anomalies in Uranus’s orbit, had to decline a knighthood because he could not afford to be knighted. Given that Tolkien had to sell the film rights for his works to pay an unexpected tax bill late in his life, I doubt that he ever could have afforded to become a knight.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    Many cultures consider the sun and the moon to have (or have had) some sort of close relationship, as opposite-sex siblings or as lovers or spouses, with myths explaining how they ended up in the sky and/or why they now never meet. Which of them is male or female varies according to the culture. Surely the current gender of each word in grammatically gendered languages must come from such ancient beliefs. Since the IE languages do not agree on this point, in some cases the genders must reflect pre-IE beliefs in cultures that adopted IE languages in the distant past.

  9. In modern times, being knighted was an expensive proposition for a British subject. The knight has to foot the bill for all the festivities associated with the granting of knighthood.

    I did not know that!

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    In the Mossi cultural zone, and neighbouring areas in West Africa, the moon is female and the sun is male. (I found this out by accident, having been wakened one night by the funeral drumming for the death of a woman, and discovering on asking in the morning who had died that it had in fact been for an eclipse of the moon.) None of the relevant languages have a grammatical distinction of masculine/feminine; unfortunately I have no idea if there is a mythological belief about the sun and moon at the back of it all.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    David E, you don’t need a grammatical distinction to view mythologized inanimates as male or female. But if that is your mythology, and your language makes a distinction, the mythologized characters will be given the grammatical gender appropriate to their mythological role.

  12. Well, technically more of a translator/editor hypothesis. Considering that this was what he did in his professional life as well, it must have come easily to invent the Red Book of Westmarch and explain how the lack of T/V distinction in Modern English made his life harder, and why he made the choices about thou that he did. Quotation with commentary.

  13. “Literary agent hypothesis” is the term of art used on TV Tropes,* so that’s what I went with. With Tolkien, I think it’s fascinating to puzzle out which of the details of the framing device he decided on ahead of time, and which were tacked on later, to address possible inconsistencies. (We have discussed here previously the question of how Elvish languages evolved.)

  14. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Brett, I’m skeptical that knighthood carries any financial burden any more, though I don’t doubt it did in the Victorian age. Tolkien was awarded a CBE at the end of his life. It seems more likely that the Honours Committee thought he should be a Commander but not a Knight. I’m neither an expert nor a Briton, but how many literary knighthoods have been conferred by Queen Elizabeth anyway?

  15. marie-lucie says:

    David E, if there is a ritual for an eclipse of the moon, identical to that for the funeral of a woman, I would be very surprised if there was not a mythological belief (conscious or forgotten) at the back of it.

  16. The connection is by no means obvious to native speakes of Polish. They (my students, for example) are invariably surprised to learn that ksiądz ‘priest’ originally meant ‘prince’, that książę ‘prince, duke’ is an old diminutive of ksiądz, and that księżyc ‘moon’ contains a patronymic suffix added to ksiądz. The phonological processes involved are non-productive and quite opaque, and Old Polish -ic/-yc ‘son of’ has been almost completely substituted by -icz/-ycz (East Slavic influence). They are all the more surprised when I tell them that English king is strictly cognate to ksiądz.

    To be sure, ksiądz still keeps its archaic vocative księże, but as it’s synchronically irregular, it isn’t a very helpful cue. Książę, in turn, has a whole set of irregular case-forms in the singular. The internal -ż- has been deleted and the flanking vowels contracted: gen. księcia rather than (archaic) książęcia etc. They are old allegro variants of the word used as a title. That’s enough complication to leave any layperson confused.

  17. It certainly is!

  18. @Giacomo Ponzetto: You are probably right that the situation has changed within the last several decades. However, I am pretty sure I have read about instances as late as the 1950s or 1960s when people were unable to accept knighthoods because of the expense. (Adams was just the one earlier example that I particularly remembered.) It would certainly make sense that there would have been changes to defray the costs for those unable to afford them and/or the opulence of the required receptions for the honorees may have been markedly decreased. Tolkien was apparently honored very late in his life. (I was up to now unaware that he was knighted at all, and he is never referred to by knightly title, in my experience.) So maybe the date of his knighthood may be indicative of the point at which the rules were relaxed. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that some rich people still do pay for their own knighthood festivities; I recall reading a news story about one particular banker’s knighting within the last fifteen or twenty years.

  19. Grauniad:
    Authors CS Lewis, Roald Dahl and Aldous Huxley all turned down honours from the Queen, newly released documents have revealed.

    A freedom of information request saw the list of people to have rejected an honour between 1951 and 1999 and since died published last night [i.e. 25 January, 2012] by the Cabinet Office.

    Tolkien is not on the list.

    Addendum in response to Brett: CBE is one step below knighthood.

    I looked also through the British honors system and found these two incredible specimen, Most Exalted Order of the Star of India and Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire now thankfully defunct.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    In Tolkien, the moon was masculine and the sun feminine. […] Out of universe, I wonder whether this was determined by working backwards from the Man in the Moon, and choosing the sex of the sun to complement that.

    Much simpler: outside of Middle and later English, the moon is masculine throughout Germanic, and one of the two (related) sun words is feminine. That’s the situation in German today: der Mond, die Sonne.

    It seems to be a testament to the mythological near-irrelevance of sun and moon in IE religions, unlike a long list of others in the world, that their genders vary so much (including neuter for the sun in Slavic). The important roles you might expect for them were instead taken up the sky itself, much like in the Kazakh and Ukrainian flags today.

  21. The ‘sun’ word was originally neuter (inanimate) in PIE, as demonstrated by its heteroclitic declension. In the daughter languages, it spawned neuter, masculine and feminine reflexes. The inherited ‘moon’ word is usually masculine in the (non-Anatolian) branches except where supplanted by an unrelated feminine lexeme (as in Latin and Greek). Anatolian has its own unique words for both concepts, though at least the ‘sun’ word of the rest of the family looks too archaic to be a non-Anatolian innovation. Pan-Anatolian arma- ‘moon’ (animate) is etymologically obscure, Hittite astanu- ~ istanu- ‘sun’ is a Hattic loan, and the other Anatolian languages have Sun-god names derived from PIE ‘day, daylight’.

    The poetic personification of the Sun as ‘he’ and the Moon as ‘she’ in English must be due to Latin influence.

  22. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    @Brett, I admit 1950-60 is later than I thought. As a foreigner I may be overreliant on Yes Minister as a guide to what the British honours system is all about.

    I’ve also been confusing: Tolkien was never knighted. He was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), which falls short of a knighthood. For some reason, great British writers seem more likely to get honors other than knighthoods — though it might also be that they tend not to be called Sir this and Dame that, and thus I remain ignorant of the knighthoods they did receive.

  23. Of course, when I get my way over spelling reform, moone will be spelled with a feminine ending (really because the vowel is tense and that’s how we mark other tense vowels in English).

    CBE is short for “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire“. But being invited to join one of those orders, even at knighthood rank (there are five ranks, Knight Grand Cross/KCG, Knight Commander/KCE, Commander/CBE, Officer/OBE, Member/MBE) is not the same as being knighted: no personal ceremony with dubbing.

    And it’s “J.R.R. Tolkien, CBE”, not “Sir John R.R. Tolkien”. If he had been made a KBE, he might be referred to as “Sir John”, but an honoree can tell people not to: Tim Berners-Lee (who was dubbed) remains Tim Berners-Lee or TimBL (rhymes with thimble) socially, not Sir Tim or Sir Timothy.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    outside of Middle and later English, the moon is masculine throughout GermanicThe poetic personification of the Sun as ‘he’ and the Moon as ‘she’ in English must be due to Latin influence.

    Latin and French.

  25. Oh, well, French is Latin plus a bit of local history. 😉

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Since “feminine moon” apparently started with Middle English, French influence is the most likely.

  27. Jim Parish says:

    Lewis mentions the reason he turned down the honor in one of his letters; the then-government was Conservative, and he was concerned that the award would be regarded as merely political.

  28. I think there must have been another word for sun in Polish in opposition to księżyc.

    Can’t quite figure out what it could have been.

    Lord Swaróg, perhaps.

  29. The sun is a she in Japanese mythology, natürlich, and a pretty important goddess at that. The moon-god, Tsukuyomi, is relatively minor (at least compared to She-who-illuminates-the-heavens); in the earliest sources there’s no definite indicator of their gender, but from ancient times tradition considers them to be male, perhaps on account of them carrying a sword and killing people for no reason.

    I was once intrigued when I noticed that “lightning”, though to fertilize rice-fields, derived from “wife of the paddy”: inazuma. Wouldn’t expect lightning to be female. Upon closer look, however, it turns out that tsuma is only “wife” in modern Japanese; it was originally “consort”, of either gender.

  30. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Of course, when I get my way over spelling reform, moone will be spelled with a feminine ending (really because the vowel is tense and that’s how we mark other tense vowels in English).

    I’m curious what your spelling reform is. Based on this hint, am I right in thinking, your spelling would have ‘foot’ and ‘foode’?

  31. Sir JCass says:

    On the subject of spelling reform, in Olde Worlde Polish księżyc, ksiądz and książę were xiężyc, xiądz and xiążę.

  32. Stephen: Yes, absolutely. For more details, see my blog: sample text, theory, wordlists.

  33. I think there must have been another word for sun in Polish in opposition to księżyc.

    There’s no trace of it anywhere. Admittedly, very little authentic pre-Christian folklore has survived in Poland, but I know of no folk stories in which the Moon would be portrayed as the Sun’s son (excuse the homophony). The Polabian Slavs worshipped Svarožicь (possibly an epithet of Dadjьbogъ), apparently the son of Svarogъ, but again there’s no evidence that he had anything to do with the Moon. In Old Polish, księżyc was a synonym of miesiąc in the meaning ‘moon’ (but not ‘month’). As an astronomical term, it replaced miesiąc in the course of the 18th century. Since the diminutive miesiączek was used with reference to the “young” moon (the waxing crescent) [see Footnote], perhaps the most natural explanation of księżyc is as the epithet of the “reborn” Moon at the beginning of the lunar period: *księżyc miesiączek ‘the young Lord Crescent’, or something to that effect.

    [Footnote: the waning crescent was called wiotek in Old Polish — an interesting archaism, from PSl. *vetъxъ ‘old, ancient’, cognate to Lat. vetus.]

  34. On the subject of spelling reform, in Olde Worlde Polish księżyc, ksiądz and książę were xiężyc, xiądz and xiążę.

    And in fact Tadeusz Miciński had a 1913 novel called Xiądz Faust [Priest Faust].

    …And I just realized that’s where commenter Ксёнѕ Фаўст got that nom de blog!

  35. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    …And I just realized that’s where commenter Ксёнѕ Фаўст got that nom de blog!

    Congrats! Have kvass and pickles!

  36. A well known, somewhat humorous ballad by the Polish/Lithuanian national bard Adam Mickiewicz, “The Three Budrys Brothers” (which plays a role in Prosper Merimée’s Lokis), mentions ksiądz Kiejstut as a Lithuanian military leader. Of course the historical figure referred to is Kęstutis, the son of Gediminas. Kęstutis was the Duke of Trakai, and therefore an Old Lithuanian kunigas ‘prince’, or książę in Polish terms. Mickiewicz’s use of ksiądz with this meaning was a deliberate poetic archaism. I remember my own puzzlement as a schoolboy: why was the raid of a pagan Lithuanian army (against the Teutonic Knights in this case) commanded by a Christian priest? Incidentally, Lithuanian kunigas has undergone the same semantic change as its Polish cognate — it also means ‘priest’ in Modern Lithuanian.

  37. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    In Old Polish, księżyc was a synonym of miesiąc in the meaning ‘moon’ (but not ‘month’).

    I believe both had both meanings in the Polish of old. In Powieść rzeczy istey, a description of the early history of the Holy Cross monastery near Kielce you read [about Tatars] “całe dwa księżyca w Polszcze burzyli” [for whole two months they laid waste to Poland].

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Lithuanian kunigas

    I know about this word and its cognacy with German könig, English king etc, but what is the PIE form (or at least the oldest reconstructed one)?

  39. In Baltic and Slavic (as well as Finnish and Estonian) it’s a Germanic loan. PGmc. *kuninɣaz (with the highly productive -ing suffix) is related to *kunja- ‘family, clan’ (cf. English kin) < *ǵn̥h₁-jo-. The verb root here is *ǵenh₁- ‘beget, give birth to’, as in Lat. gignō, gēns, genus, (g)nātus, (g)nāscor, nātūra etc.

  40. …całe dwa księżyca…

    That’s true, but this extended use is only occasional, like moon for month in English (for many moons, in many a moon, and of course in honeymoon).

  41. January First-of-May says:

    In Russian, месяц is the standard (and essentially only) word for “month” but can also mean “moon” (by now usually poetic), while луна is the standard word for “moon” and isn’t used to mean “month” except as an indirect reference to the culture being discussed conflating the two (typically in fantasy stories, some translations of ancient texts, and the occasional historical fiction).

    Incidentally, the Russian word for “crescent” is полумесяц, originally literally “half-moon”. I wonder if anyone had been punning on it being literally “half-month”…

  42. Come to think of it, Lat. lūna and Gk. σελήνη can also OCCASIONALLY mean ‘month’.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    PG: Thanks for the etymology of kuninGaz (approximate transcription). It makes good sense.

    Lat. lūna and Gk. σελήνη can also OCCASIONALLY mean ‘month

    In French there is an old-fashioned, just about obsolete use of lune as a unit of time corresponding to a month but (I think) in a less precise manner, e.g. Il y a des lunes ‘A long time ago” (once literally Many months ago). I don’t think anyone would write Il y a trois lunes ‘Three moons ago’, for instance, unless perhaps in a fairy tale or similar legend written in a pseudo-archaic style.

  44. Lars (the original one) says:

    Ксёнѕ Фаўст — what is the ѕ?

  45. January First-of-May says:

    Ксёнѕ Фаўст — what is the ѕ?

    It’s a zelo, presumably.

  46. As the name zelo rather than dzelo indicates, /dz/ and /z/ merged in Russian; consequently, Peter the Great abolished ѕ — but in his first cut he abolished з instead, despite the fact that it was much more common. Fortunately he changed his mind. The Macedonian usage is modern.

  47. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Stephen: Yes, absolutely. For more details, see my blog
    Thanks, very interesting. Why ‘ov’ insted of ‘uv’?

  48. David Marjanović says:

    but in his first cut he abolished з instead, despite the fact that it was much more common.

    That would have made Russian look a lot more like Dutch, which wouldn’t have been a coincidence.

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