I just ran across the word almanac in my reading and had my usual “what’s the etymology?” thought. Unable to come up with one (other than “doubtless from Arabic”) on the spur of the moment, I opened up my trusty American Heritage Dictionary and found:

Middle English almenak, from Medieval Latin almanach, from medieval scientific Arabic al-manāḫ, the calendar : Arabic al-, the + medieval scientific Arabic manāḫ, calendar (variant of Arabic munāḫ, halting place, caravan stop (probably applied metaphorically to the position of celestial bodies), abode, from ’anāḫa, to make (a camel) lie down, from nāḫa, to lie down, rest; see nwḫ in the Appendix of Semitic roots).

Which was interesting, of course, but then I thought I’d cross-check with the OED, which as it turned out had revised its entry as recently as 2012, and found this far more complicated story:

< (i) Middle French almanac, almanach, almenach (French almanach, †almanac) calendar containing astronomical data and astrological predictions (1303 in Old French),

and its etymon (ii) post-classical Latin almanac, almanach (from 12th cent. in continental sources, from 13th cent. in British sources) < Spanish Arabic al-manāḵ < al the + manāḵ calendar (13th cent. in Vocabulista, glossed ‘cubile’ and ‘kalendarium’; also 15th cent. in Pedro de Alcalá, who gives the Arabic noun as a gloss for Spanish almanaque), further etymology uncertain and disputed:

perhaps (i) a variant (with specific semantic development) of classical Arabic munāḵ place where a camel kneels, station on a journey, halt at the end of a day’s travel, hence (in extended use) place of residence (see further below);

or perhaps (ii) < Syriac lĕ-manḥay in the next year (Peshitta, Luke 13:9), with reanalysis of the preposition ‘to’ as the Arabic definite article al (so J. Bidez ‘Le nom et l’origine de nos almanachs’, in Mélanges Émile Boisacq (1937) vol. I. 77–85).

Classical Arabic munāḵ is the verbal noun of ’anāḵa to make (a camel) kneel; it functions as a noun of action (i.e. ‘halt at the end of a day’s travel’) and a noun of place (i.e. ‘stopping place’). The assumed semantic development from the concrete classical Arabic senses of the verbal noun to the sense ‘calendar’ has a parallel in the semantic development of climate n.¹; in fact, munāḵ, manāḵ is the usual modern standard Arabic word for ‘climate’.

Compare Occitan almanac (1548 as †almanatz), Catalan almanac (14th cent.), Spanish almanaque (first quarter of the 15th cent.), Portuguese almanaque (15th cent. as †almenaque), Italian almanacco (a1348 as †almanaco in sense 1, 1725 in sense 2); also Middle Dutch almanag (1426; Dutch almanak, †almanack), Middle Low German almanak, almenak, almanach, almenach, etc., German Almanach (early 15th cent.; < Middle Dutch).


Alternative suggestions for the ulterior etymology.

It has also sometimes been suggested that post-classical Latin almanac, almanach is derived < Hellenistic Greek ἀλμενιχιακά (neuter plural), denoting an astrological treatise (4th cent. a.d.: Eusebius De Praeparatio Evangelica 3. 4, citing Porphyrius concerning the Egyptian belief in astrology, in horoscopes, and so-called lords of the ascendant, ‘whose names are given in the almenichiaka, with their various powers to cure diseases, their risings and settings, and their presages of things future’). However, this Greek form in the text of Eusebius probably shows a scribal error for an original neuter plural noun σαλμεσχινιακά, which is of unknown origin.

I remember being distressed when I first learned that the final -c[h] of French almanach is silent, but I’ve gotten over it.


  1. Stu Clayton says

    I remember being distressed when I first learned that the final -c of French almanac is silent, but I’ve gotten over it.

    It’s not over yet. The final -c in tabac is silent as well.

  2. Yes, but I learned that early on, so I had no chance to develop bad habits.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    And in clerc, but you knew that.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Isn’t it almanach?

    (This is what comes of paying mediaeval copyists by the letter instead of by the word. The practice explains all of French orthography.)

  5. Oops, you’re right, of course — I got confused by all the spellings in the etymology. I’ve corrected the post. Clearly the fact that the misspelling didn’t stand out to me shows how marginal the word is in my internal French lexicon, which in turn explains why the pronunciation surprised me.

  6. And yes, the final -h is just silly (which is why I find it hard to remember). Damn those medieval copyists!

  7. Stu Clayton says

    Drop those haitches !

  8. There was also that time Irish copyists were going to erase all the extra letters, but then they went on strike.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    probably applied metaphorically to the position of celestial bodies

    My favourite Kusaal you-probably-had-to-be-there etymology is bʋtiŋ ‘cup’ (of any sort), which is an instrument noun regularly derived from bʋd ‘sow seeds.’ I mean, it’s the obvious principal use of a cup …

  10. Classical Arabic munāḵ is the verbal noun of ’anāḵa to make (a camel) kneel

    Waitamminit. نَاقَة nāqa is ‘female camel’, related to ynq ‘to suckle’. Is there an Arabist in the house?

  11. David Marjanović says

    Though I’m not an Arabist by any stretch of the imagination, Arabic seems completely devoid of developments or relationships that connect q to . I guess it makes sense because q remains strictly unaspirated in all its permutations ([g], [ʔ] etc.).

  12. And really, it’s not much of a coincidence; everything in Arabia has to do with camels. Camels and dates. Read Doughty.

  13. Oh, right. I misinterpreted ḵ as /q/ instead of spirantized /k/. And I confused the Spanish Arabic with the Classical Arabic. Concentrate!

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    Camels and dates

    I saw what you did there.

  15. My favourite Kusaal you-probably-had-to-be-there etymology is bʋtiŋ ‘cup’ (of any sort), which is an instrument noun regularly derived from bʋd ‘sow seeds.’

    Could the current meaning of bʋd be the result of a semantic narrowing of earlier *‘pour’ or *‘sprinkle, asperse’, more semantically connected to vessels for liquids?

    (Short comment because I am on the road.)

  16. David Eddyshaw says

    No, it’s readily reconstructable, always in the sense ‘sow seeds’, to proto-Oti-Volta *bʊ̂d-. In fact, although Kusaal doesn’t make the distinction, it was originally ‘sow’ in the sense ‘plant individually’, rather than ‘scatter seeds.’

    ‘Pour’ was proto-Oti-Volta *dṍɰ- or *dṍɰɹ-, where *-ɹ is a “separative” suffix (reconstructable even unto proto-Volta-Congo); thus ‘pour out.’ Remarkably, the suffixed form seems to have been borrowed into proto-Songhay, probably from (proto-)Gurma.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    The Buli word for ‘cup’ is bìerīk, from bieri ‘ladle out’, which is more the sort of thing you’d have expected; but I see that the dictionary says “small calabash bowl (for drinking; measure for sowing seed.)” It’s got a picture of a small calabash with a handle about as long as the cup is wide.

    Just to confuse the issue, Buli bíe means ‘seeds’, but I don’t think there’s any etymological connection with ‘ladle out’; the tones don’t correspond, for one thing. I can’t reconstruct the ‘ladle’ verb to POV.

  18. Incidentally, the name of the political folk group, the Almanac Singers (and you could hardly have put together a more talented group of young American folk musicians in 1940) was a reference to farmer’s almanacs. One of the co-founders, Lee Hays, said that every farmstead had an almanac and a Bible, so the almanac was one of the things that rural Americans all had in common. Farmers were one of the groups that the Almanac Singers really wanted to speak to, so they took the book as their emblem.

  19. Stu:

    It’s not over yet. The final -c in tabac is silent as well.

    And estomac. I think that’s the only other one with c silent in final -ac. And almanach (it’s not almanac; you misquoted Hat, or that is what he corrected: to ‑ach) appears to be the only French word with ch silent in final ‑ach.

  20. you misquoted Hat

    No, I corrected the post after the misspelling was pointed out.

    appears to be the only French word with ch silent in final ‑ach.

    Which is doubtless why it so shocked me.

  21. (OK Hat. As I allowed for, within my parentheses. I just wasn’t 100% certain that was the very correction you’d mentioned upthread. A profligate surfeit of caution.)

  22. Charles Perry says

    Camels and dates, right. And as everybody knows, every Arabic noun has three meanings: its unique meaning and also “lion” and “sword.”

  23. David Marjanović says

    Huh. I thought it was four: its meaning, its opposite, “camel” and a Name of God…

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    I was idly curious, so I have now informed myself that the year (if you believe the google books n-gram viewer) in which the new-fangled spelling “almanac” first became more common in English than the more traditional “almanack” was 1833.

    The rival folkie group the Almanack Songsters, who sought to offer a muddle-headed pseudo-medievalist William-Morris style of socialist agitprop rather than the up-to-date modern Stalinist line of the Almanac Singers, are unjustly neglected by musical historians.

  25. Now that we speak of idle curiosity, the remaining French words with final c silent (according to Petit Robert) to add to clerc and tabac:

    broc [except as abbreviating brocanteur]
    croc [and accroc, escroc, raccroc]
    compounds with tabac (antitabac, bar-tabac, café-tabac)

    All words ending in -nc (banc, jonc, etc.) except these:

    donc [optional /k/]
    hic et nunc [/k/ x 2]
    zinc [optional /k/ according to Wiktionary; otherwise the more traditional /zɛ̃ɡ/ as in Petit Robert]

    Almanach remains an outlier for words ending in ch; not one other word has silent -ch.

  26. (And estomac, I neglected to reiterate.)

  27. “Old English has forty nouns, of which twenty-five also mean ‘warrior.'”

  28. Stu Clayton says

    (And estomac, I neglected to reiterate.)

    I did wonder a little at that. Imagined that perhaps you were losing your grip. Then I thought: no, Noe, Nanette !

  29. John Cowan says

    My principle is that final consonants are silent in French, so I am always surprised when one is not, much as I (used to be) surprised when one is silent in English. Of course I am mostly ignorant of actual French pronunciation, so I am in the position of Malory and his Le Mort Darthur (though whether this is pronunciation or syntax is a question).

    I have needed to write fainéant quite a bit in recent days, with reference to the (hopefully former) behavior of a certain committee, and I still can’t get it right, having to copy and paste it each and every time. I do manage to get committee right by thinking of its etymology, much like Herodotus, which otherwise comes out *Herotodus (pronounced /həˈrɑdədəs/ in either case). But following the etymology of fainéant leads me to feinéant, which even I can see is wrong.

  30. I always think letter at the end of the word estoc looks like it should be silent in French. It refers to a family of sword types designed for stabbing rather than slashing—basically large versions of the poniard, with polygonal cross-sections and very sharp tips. Estocs were designed for use against fully armored opponents at close quarters. A bladed sword was very unlikely to get through full plate armor, essentially reducing it to a bludgeoning weapon. When mounted warriors had closed too tightly for lance attacks to be possible, they could switch to their estocs (wielded either one- or two-handed, depending on size) and try to jam the points in between each-other’s armor plates. The word was found all around western Europe, but it appears to come from Germanic, cognate to the English verb stick. It is also another example of a weapon name that has seen heavy use in video games in recent years; and it should be no surprise that it appears in The Book of the New Sun (right around the climax):

    The anti-dwarf brandished an estoc, and opening its mouth in a soundless cry, it thrust its weapon into the man’s neck, utterly heedless of his spear, which was plunged into its own chest. I heard a laugh then, and though I had seldom heard him merry, I knew whose laugh it was.

  31. David Marjanović says

    German has Stock for walking canes and similar kinds of sticks. The actual cognate of stick, as far as I can tell, is Stecken, a seemingly rather regional word referring to less modified or unmodified tree branches roughly the size of a walking cane or less.

  32. In the contemporary literary language, it shows up mostly as part of the compound Steckenpferd “hobby horse”, which can refer to that old-fashioned toy, but also be used as a rather literary and somewhat outdated synonym for the anglicism Hobby.
    In Luther’s Bible translation, Stecken is the German equivalent to English “rod” in Psalms 23:4.

  33. Stu Clayton says

    a rather literary and somewhat outdated synonym for the anglicism Hobby.

    So I’ve misunderstood Steckenpferd for a long time. First of all, I never clearly envisioned a hobby horse. Then I assumed (but for what reasons??) that the word had a negative connotation, something like “obsessive hobby”.

    I see that Psalms 23:4 has: Und ob ich schon wanderte im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Unglück; denn du bist bei mir, dein Stecken und Stab trösten mich. That’s unlikely to be doppelt gemoppelt, like “house and home”. Perhaps L. was uncertain of the meaning.

    But wait, the English is “thy rod and thy staff”. Are those two different things ? I never knew a shepherd intimately.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    The Hebrew words are respectively שֵׁבֶט, which is either ‘tribe’ or ‘stick to hit/poke with’ and מִשְׁעֶנֶת, which is ‘thing for leaning on.’

  35. rod

  36. John Cowan says

    They are. The rod is primarily to defend the sheep against predators two- or four-legged, and is also used to count them as they pass a given point, a frequent activity (hence all the references to strayed sheep). The staff is longer and sometimes curved at one end. It serves as a walking stick for the shepherd in climbing to mountain pastures and to support the shepherd when standing around. The curve or hook serves to disentangle the sheep from bushes and the like.

  37. I never knew a shepherd intimately.
    Me neither, not even non-intimately.
    When we learnt in school that pious Protestants used to sing psalms when having sex, we, smutty teenagers that we were, immediately came up with the idea that 23:4 would be the most fitting one, at least in Luther’s wording.

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    Impressively, the Kusaal version does a pretty good job of maintaining the distinction, with duor ‘club/throwing stick’ and dansaar ‘walking stick.’ (Both are used pretty indifferently to render the alien concept ‘sceptre.’)

    Under the former, Naden’s dictionary cites the improving proverb Fʋn pʋ nyɛ biiga ka nwaad duorɛɛ? ‘You haven’t seen [the sex of] your child, and you are cutting [a hunter’s] throwing-stick [for him]?’ (“Don’t count your chickens …” I dissociate myself from any implied sexist assumptions. Personally, I’m fine with girls having throwing-sticks.)

  39. i’ve definitely known (intimately or otherwise) more goatherds than shepherds; none have had rod or staff as a regular part of their gear, but the herds involved have been quite small, generally well-contained, and in areas with few predators large enough to be a danger to a cranky caprid.

  40. David Eddyshaw says

    Neither English nor French seems to have an actual word for “throwing-stick, as a weapon.” (It’s not the same as ‘spear.”) I’m a bit surprised, given the vast number of words both languages seem to have for all those exciting mediaeval weapons. Presumably Europeans just didn’t have the concept. Or (very possibly) it’s just my own vocabulary limitations.

  41. David Marjanović says

    There really hasn’t been anything between “mace” and “boomerang” in Europe in thousands of years.

  42. John Cowan says

    Although goats don’t actually eat sheep, they are certainly something shepherds don’t want around their flocks, as they compete for the grass (also, goats eat more destructively, nibbling down to the roots), and so the rod (which is short and stout, I forgot to mention) is useful against them too. In modern times, goats require copper supplements which can poison sheep.

    Once you throw your stick against a human adversary, you not only can’t get it back, it may be thrown back at you.

    Mace is a doublet of mass, referring to the heavy object (with or without spikes) on the business end.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Once you throw your stick against a human adversary, you not only can’t get it back, it may be thrown back at you.

    Presumably the very reason that it’s an archetypal hunter’s weapon for Kusaal proverbial purposes. (“Spear” is, sadly but unsurprisingly, easily reconstructable to proto-Oti-Volta, and the word ‘bow’ is not only reconstructable to proto-Volta-Congo, but so also is its metonymic use for ‘war.’ Alas, all men are brothers ..,)

  44. Mace is a doublet of mass

    Source? OED (revised 2000) traces them to completely different origins. Mace (weapon) is, via Anglo-Norman:

    < vulgar Latin *mattea, *mattia (compare post-classical Latin macia, mascea (13th cent.)), probably connected with classical Latin mateola (rare) an agricultural implement, probably a maul or beetle.

    whereas mass (lump of matter) is, via Anglo-Norman and also directly,

    < classical Latin massa lump, bulk, parcel of land, dough (in post-classical Latin also ‘mass of people’, ‘estate’, both from the late 4th cent.) < ancient Greek μᾶζα barley-cake (Hellenistic Greek texts, including the Septuagint, have the sense ‘lump, ball’) < the base of μάσσειν to knead (see magma n.). Compare Italian massa (a1250), Spanish masa (1220–50), Portuguese massa (13th cent.).

    The classical Latin sense ‘dough’ is preserved in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese (and Old French), but is not found in English. The principal senses of the English word are shared by its Romance cognates. [discussion of Romance cognates follows]

    AHD agrees with both of these (and also says Greek μάσσειν is cognate with English make, from PIE *mag-; OED considers this but calls it “not certain”).

    Just for completeness: the spice mace (previously at Language Hat) and the Catholic mass are also unrelated.

  45. Hebrew שֵׁבֶט, which is either ‘tribe’ or ‘stick to hit/poke with’

    The semantic connection is via metonymy ‘staff’ > ‘chieftain’ or such.

  46. Not surprisingly, mace and mattock are probably a doublet (both cognate to mateola, but there is apparently some debate on that point..

  47. The λαγωβόλον ‘staff or stick for flinging at hares, also used as a shepherd’s staff or crook’ (LSJ) is a consistent iconographic attribute of Pan, the god associated with shepherds and flocks.

    (Short comment because I am on the road.)

  48. John Cowan says


    English Wikipedia s.v. mace, sourced in turn to Lexico Dictionaries, whoever they may be.

  49. Wikipedia’s footnote does not support the bolded parts of this claim:

    The Middle English word “mace” comes from the French “masse” (short for “Masse d’armes”) meaning ‘large hammer’, a hammer with a heavy mass at the end.[1]

    But the link at Lexico says simply “Middle English from Old French masse ‘large hammer’.” (Lexico until recently carried Oxford’s synchronic dictionary, the same one published on paper from 1998–2010 as the New Oxford Dictionary of English and New Oxford American Dictionary, and also licensed to the iPhone and Google. This is the same entry you get by typing “define mace” into Google.)

    Evidently somebody just made up the whole sentence assuming that the French homonyms masse ‘mass’ and masse ‘mace’ were the same word, then somebody slapped “[Citation needed]” on it, then somebody put in a source that doesn’t actually support the claim. Typical Wikipedia.

    According to French Wiktionary, masse d’armes is derived from masse, not vice versa.

  50. Y:

    The semantic connection is via metonymy ‘staff’ > ‘chieftain’ or such.

    Well, compare two meanings of staff in English: a literal stick, and a metaphorical stick or tool that is the personnel attached to the service of a commanding officer.

  51. Stu Clayton says

    Spare the rod, spoil the staff.

  52. I just learned that Mackinac Island in Michigan is pronounced Mackinaw.

  53. According to Fouché, Traité de prononciation française (2nd ed., 1969), final c is silent also in the place names Aucaleuc and Saint-Brieuc; in arsenic the silent c is becoming obsolescent; in cotignac the final c is optionally silent, but is always [k] in the place name Cotignac. Final c is silent in un broc and un cric (machine), but not in de bric et de broc, the interjection cric, and the place names Broc and Le Broc.

    I get the feeling that Fouché’s book was old-fashioned even for its time.

  54. Great details, thanks!

  55. @Y: In that case, the spelling and the pronunciation are actually probably taken from two different Algonquin languages, Menominee and Ojibwe. In each language, the word means “turtle,” and the name Michilimackinac (meaning “great turtle” in Ojibwe; it is not entirely clear whether the shorter version of the name had existed prior to European contact) was evidently inspired by the shape of Mackinac Island. However, while the transliterated spelling was standardized based on the Ojibwe pronunciation, with a velar plosive at the end, the pronunciation appears to follow the Menominee, in which the name ended with a vowel. Since the area was hotly contested between the French, British, and local tribes, with Fort Michilimackinac changing hands multiple times during the 1760s, the linguistic turnover probably contributed to the peculiar way that the spelling and pronunciation were standardized.

  56. Wonderful, Y.

    Now, to take only the example of cric, TLFi says this about the pronunciation:

    Prononc.: [kʀik] ou [kʀi]. C final prononcé ds Fér. 1768 et Pt Rob.; muet ds Fér. Crit. t. 1 1787, Land. 1834, Gattel 1841, Nod. 1844, Besch. 1845, Fél. 1851, Littré, DG, Dub., Pt Lar. 1968 et Warn. 1968. Cf. aussi Rouss.-Lacl. 1927, p. 172 et Grammont Prononc. 1958, p. 94. Lar. Lang. fr. admet la prononc. de c comme var. Barbeau-Rodhe 1930 distingue entre le sens de machine (c final muet) et l’interj. (c final prononcé); cf. aussi Mart. Comment prononce 1913, p. 212. Dupré 1972, p. 565, constate que la prononc. du c final commence à se répandre et que cette prononc. lève l’ambiguïté du mot p. rapp. à cri. Le mot est admis ds Ac. 1694-1932. Homon. selon que c final se prononce ou non: crique; cri.

    That’s fabulous detail from TLFi. This sentence does much to justify the retention of final /k/ in Petit Robert (2001 version): “Dupré … observes that the pronunciation of the final c is starting to gain ground and that this pronunciation resolves the ambiguity with respect to cri.”

    Can anyone help with the source, the precise meaning, and an authority for that “ds”, in “prononcé ds Fér.”, “muet ds Fér.”, and “Le mot est admis ds …”? I haven’t been able to track it down. I can only guess.

  57. Heh. It’s not in Petit Robert, nor in TLFi which uses it everywhere (and gives, I think, no list of abbreviations used). As I suspected, it simply means “dans”. Bless the Wikiworld.

  58. PlasticPaddy says

    Le Dictionaire critique de la langue française Jean-François Féraud (1787-1788)

  59. @Brett: I read long ago that the “native” pronunciation of Michilimackinac was “Me-she-ne-mock-e-nong,” which is presumably yet a third related language.

  60. TLFi which uses it everywhere (and gives, I think, no list of abbreviations used)

    The top hit on googling [tlfi "abréviations"] is the TLFi front page, which has a tab labeled Abréviations; I bookmarked a direct link so I wouldn’t have to click through from there (don’t know if that link will work for everybody). This page then links to a list of abbreviations used in the dictionary (including ds.) and a bibliography of frequently cited sources and abbreviations of their titles.

    For some reason I’d thought that ds. was short for dès instead of dans, so thanks for the reminder!

  61. kt:

    Many thanks. Easy when you know how! I crassly thought that the TLFi main page, linked from the page you provide (with “Entrer dans le TLFi”) would be a suitable entry point. That main searching page has a button labelled “Aide”; clicking on it seemed like a natural way to navigate to a list of abbreviations. But no. The list, wherever it actually is, might as well be marked as in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, if one has entered this way.

    Googling [TLFi “abreviations”] as I did, lazily forgoing the acute, yields not the helpful entry point that you found but this plaint (from 2016) as first hit:

    Dans le tlfi, les abréviations sont nombreuses. Beaucoup sont compréhensibles au premier coup d’œil :

    [Sample screenshot here]

    Mais évidemment, on ne peut pas tout connaître. Or les auteurs du tlfi ont malheureusement oubliés d’informatiser quelques passages du Trésor de la Langue Française d’origine importants à mon sens: notamment toute la notice concernant les abréviations.

    [Images of a printed list of the abbreviations here]

    Clearly in 2016 there was no such link on the page linked at “tlfi” (in bold, above); but there is such a link there now, and you found it.

    The good TLFi people should be told about helpful redundancy. Aid is most reasonably sought under the rubric “Aide”. Incidentally, I actually own an installable CD-ROM of TLFi, from the early days. It comes with extensive explanatory notes – and even a book listing every entry (raw headwards). But no list of abbreviations.

    So dans it is, officially. My other tentative thoughts were depuis and (like you) dès.

  62. “Raw headwords”, I meant. Anyway, OED is evidently not alone in failing to satisfy certain of the users’ most immediate needs.

    Installing TLFi locally turns out to be a great boon, since it offers a suite of macros for use in Word. With a suitable added shortcut I can now correct the current word, for example, to one of the suggestions immediately offered by TLFi.

  63. January First-of-May says

    My principle is that final consonants are silent in French, so I am always surprised when one is not, much as I (used to be) surprised when one is silent in English. Of course I am mostly ignorant of actual French pronunciation, so I am in the position of Malory and his Le Mort Darthur (though whether this is pronunciation or syntax is a question).

    This is essentially my situation as well; IIRC there are some French consonants that aren’t in fact normally silent even when final (I think f is one?), but for the most part I tend to treat final consonants in French as fancy spelling apparel, and consequently get surprised with words like ours (“bear”) where they aren’t.

    Neither English nor French seems to have an actual word for “throwing-stick, as a weapon.” (It’s not the same as ‘spear.”)

    There really hasn’t been anything between “mace” and “boomerang” in Europe in thousands of years.

    Google (and Wikipedia) tells me that the appropriate English word for the throwing-kind-of-spear is “javelin” (as infamously not to be confused with the Mauser rifle). It sounds Frenchy-enough that I would not be surprised if this is also the French word. [EDIT: now that I’ve checked Wikipedia, turns out the French word is “javelot”.]

    I agree that the less spear-like kinds of throwing sticks might have been relatively unknown in Europe in civilized times.

    ancient Greek μᾶζα barley-cake (Hellenistic Greek texts, including the Septuagint, have the sense ‘lump, ball’)

    I immediately thought of Hebrew מַצָּה (aka “matzo”, though this particular form is a back-formation), and apparently this is one of the suggested etymologies – though the timing looks strange for a direct borrowing from Greek (would zeta have been represented by tsade this early? what even was tsade this early? or zeta, for that matter?), and if there’s an internal etymology in Greek then it’s probably not a borrowing in the other direction.

  64. David Marjanović says

    IE etymology of μᾶζα now with laryngeal, but the supposed cognates really don’t look like they all belong together. So maybe it’s a borrowing in the other direction after all.

    what even was tsade this early?

    Definitely [ts], possibly ejective or velarized/uvularized/pharyngealized.

    or zeta, for that matter?

    It’s a merger of [dz] ( < */gj/ and such things) and [zd] (/sd/). The former was the only affricate in the language and not common, so the latter won out at least in Attic; elsewhere, the former may have won for a while or both may have gone straight to [z], I suppose. With the right timing, [ts] could have been borrowed as [dz]…

  65. I’m sure the connection between μᾶζα and H. מַצָּה maṣṣâ is fortuitous. Foremost because of the phonological mismatch, but also because flatbread was a pretty basic foodstuff wherever grain was eaten, probably even before the spread of cultivated grains, and would have had an established word for it. A Greek to Hebrew loan is specifically unlikely considering how common the word is in the earlier OT, where Greek loans are rare.

    BTW, FWIW, LXX translates maṣṣâ as άζυμος ‘unleavened (n.)’

    I’ve seen only one etymology of maṣṣâ which semantically kinda makes sense, in Klein, namely that it comes from a root cognate to Arabic naḍā ‘he hastened’ (but unattested in Hebrew); in other words ‘hasty bread’. I haven’t double-checked the Arabic. I quibble with the form maqtāl, which implies an active meaning, not a passive one, but maybe there’s a way out of that. The word (in the plural, מַצּוֹת maṣṣôṯ) appears as a modifier for several nouns referring to types of bread (e.g. Exodus 12:39, 29:2), which supports the idea that it’s deverbal.

    Ed.: Is Heb. *ts > Greek *dz > ζ, as DM suggests, plausible or precedented? I don’t know.

  66. AHD derives it from West Semitic mṣ́ṣ́ ‘to ferment, be(come) sour,’ for what that’s worth.

  67. The root also means ‘to squeeze out’. Both meanings stretch the semantics too far to my taste.

  68. Y: As you suggest, words for flatbread might be very old, and the similarities are likely coincidental. I wouldn’t expect to see proto-מַצָּה as a loanword from Classical Greek, but if the word was adopted into Canaanite in the late Bronze Age or very early Iron Age, say from Philistine, I don’t think we know what to expect phonologically. The Philistines’ presumably Indo-European language may have been unwritten at the time they arrived in the Levant, writing having largely disappeared from the Aegean around that time, and within a few hundred years the Philistines appear to have been speaking an unremarkable Canaanite dialect (due to intermarriage of Philistine pirates with local women, I would guess). So we have very little information about the particular vocabulary or the sound system of the original Philistine language.

  69. David Marjanović says

    There is the suggestion that Goliath himself is a cognate of Latin galeatus “helmeted”. Mercenaries from Italy are apparently attested around the Aegean sometime around the collapse of the Bronze Age (and there’s that one Eteocretan inscription that kinda makes sense as Italic if you squint at it right). But that seems to be all.

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