We don’t seem to have discussed cryptids here at LH, and I’ve just discovered a fine one, the almas, “said to inhabit the Caucasus, Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains of Central Asia and the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia”:

We were told that it had a flat face like that of a human being, and that it often walked on two legs, that its body was covered with a thick black fur, and its feet armed with enormous claws; that its strength was terrible, and that not only were hunters afraid of attacking it, but that the inhabitants removed their habitations from those parts of the country which it visited.

There are a couple of linguistically interesting features of the word; the first is that it doesn’t have a convincing etymology:

The term “almas” and numerous variants thereof appear in Mongolian, Turkic languages and Iranian languages.

Writing in 1964, scholar P. R. Rinčen says that “the origin of the old name is quite unknown … and it does not lend itself for translation in other languages”

The second is the impressive variety of “Other names” listed at that cryptid page:

Abnauayu, almasty, albasty, bekk-bok,
biabin-guli, golub-yavan, gul-biavan, auli-avan,
kaptar, kra-dhun, ksy-giik, ksy-gyik, ochokochi,
mirygdy, mulen, voita, wind-man, Zana

I wonder how they decide which are alternate names of the almas rather than creatures in their own right. (DNA tests are presumably unavailable.)


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    I came across a fascinating discussion of Halkomelem speakers’ beliefs about cryptids by Wayne Suttles, whom I knew of of the author of an excellent grammar of Musqueam.

    “Beliefs” is not really the right word though. As Suttles says, there are lots of these creatures unknown to Western science in the Halkomelem bestiary, and his informants spoke of them in exactly the same way as they did of bears and seals, talking of having seen them themselves in a perfectly everyday fashion. They would sometimes comment on the fact that they were not known to science, but without any suggestion at all that there was anything in the least uncanny or supernatural about them.

    (Halkomelem is of course the source of the famous sasquatch.)

  2. The last in the list is Zana and that is actually proper name. Her story is described many times. the most up to date is this story in Russian:

  3. Thanks, I wondered why the capital Z!

  4. ktschwarz says

    We haven’t discussed cryptids here? Doesn’t Sasquatch count?

    Previous discussion starting here about the Suttles paper on sasquatches, with references.

  5. biabin-guli, golub-yavan, gul-biavan, auli-avan

    Whatever the source of these, they must all be variants and deformations of Persian غول بيابان ġūl-i biyābān ‘ghoul of the wilderness’. Persian ġūl has the short vowel variant غل ġul, which helps explain the golub-, perhaps. Persian biyābān continues Middle Persian wiyābān ‘desert, wasteland’, which nowadays is usually taken be the reflex of the Old Iranian form seen in Avestan vīuuāpa- ‘destruction, plundering’: vi- ‘apart, zer-’ + vap- ‘to scatter(?)’ (cf. Vedic vap- ‘to scatter, strew’; I don’t know of any extra-Indo-Iranian cognates).

  6. I remember that one from the cryptozoology books I used to read as a teenager! No idea it was unetymologisable. Evidently it must be a borrowing from whatever language the almases use among themselves.

    which nowadays is usually taken be the reflex of the Old Iranian form seen in Avestan vīuuāpa- ‘destruction, plundering’

    Huh. I should have guessed that “place without water (bi āb)” was a folk etymology.

  7. Evidently it must be a borrowing from whatever language the almases use among themselves.

    And albasty is how it was pronounced by cousin Sasquatch, visiting from the Puget Sound.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. A classic case of the rare change m -> b that we were discussing only the other day. (It’s a Northwest Coast areal thing, of course.)

  9. cf. Vedic vap- ‘to scatter, strew’; I don’t know of any extra-Indo-Iranian cognates

    This is evidently not for lack of attempts over the years.

    There are two Sanskrit vap- roots, ‘strew’ and ‘shear’. I believe everyone from Whitney to Lubotsky supposes that they are ultimately related.

    Edwin Whitfield Fay tried to get Latin vapor from one of them. As well as vepris ‘briar’ (usually found in the plural). Jarl Charpentier noted that among several other theories, also including Slavic veprь / Latvian vepris ‘boar’. About which, he says,

    Ich möchte an die Möglichkeit — aber nicht mehr — denken, daß veprь wirklich mit lt. veprēs verwandt wäre, aber nicht so wie Brandt l. c. es will.

    Pokorny, s. v. u̯ep-2, distances himself from the ‘briar’, but still has ‘boar’. Although these are also alternatively given, s. v. epero-, with the v- to be explained.

    More recently, it looks as though the Leiden series has not converged. Johnny Cheung (Iranian) just says,

    ◊ The root is apparently IIr.: an IE provenance cannot be ascertained.

    But Alwin Kloekhorst (Hittite) has ḫūpala- ‘fish-net’ and ḫuṷapp- ‘be hostile against’. These are both given as related to Gothic ubils ‘bad’. Guus Kroonen (Proto-Germanic) rejects this Hittite connection, “because the meaning ‘to do evil’ developed from ‘to overthrow’ in this language.” Of course, *ubila- is English ‘evil’ and close to Old Irish fel ‘bad’. And, likewise, Ranko Matasović (Proto-Celtic) only associates Germanic and Celtic.

    Perhaps this is all reconciled in the online version, to which I don’t have access.

  10. Trond Engen says

    @Nicky: A sad story, told from a humanitarian point of view. There’s hope for us yet.

  11. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Just the other day I was discussing albóndigas with a person from Argentina. It seems that rural AR has been infested with almóndigas, possibly from Brazil. (It was al-bunduq in the original Arabic, so it’s gone the other way).

  12. So I guess Kazakhstan’s capital is a city of Sasquatch people?

  13. David Marjanović says

    Cleverly disguised as an apple place by mere omission of a /s/…

  14. @Lars: sigh. People will go out of their way to diss their own speech out of internalised colonialism.

    Forms with /m/ have long been attested in Spain and the Americas. There’s no need to assume Portuguese influence — and no need to stigmatise them.

  15. Writing in 1964, scholar P. R. Rinčen says that “the origin of the old name is quite unknown…”

    There is some etymological discussion of almas in Gerhard Doerfer (1963) Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, vol. 2, p. 109–110, available here. Scroll through to pages 109–110 (image 120 of the file), entry no. 524 (albastī). Among the etymologies he presents, there is this summary of a proposal by Émile Benveniste:

    [Benveniste] meint, es handle sich um eine Erweiterung von pers. āl ‘le mauvais génie des accouchées’, daran sei ein nom descriptif angetreten : albastï = ‘Al a terrassé’ (ähnlich wie tü. Ay toldi in QB u.a.). Auch dies ist eine gute Möglichkeit, obwohl doch überrascht, daß das Grundwort āl ‘Krankheitsgeist’ in Tü. nicht belegt ist, so daß wir nicht so weit gehen werden wie Benveniste, der sagt : „Le nom Albastı est ainsi entièrement élucidé”.

    (Ay Toldı, whose name literally means ‘the Moon became full’, is a figure active in the Qutadğu Bilig beside the ruler Kün Togdı, lit., ‘the Sun rose’.) The verbal root bas- means ‘press, step on, crush, strike’ across Turkic, so bastı is ‘he pressed; he stepped on; etc.’ I am surprised by Doerfer’s comment “das Grundwort āl ‘Krankheitsgeist’ in Tü. nicht belegt ist”. For the Turkish of Turkey, according to the Türkiye’de Halk Ağzından Derleme Sözlüğü (Turkish Dialect Dictionary), this al is in fact attested in Turkish dialects across Anatolia. The Dialect Dictionay gives al in the meaning ‘spectre that kneels on women during their lying-in’ for the region of Antep and Mersin, and ‘night-hag, nightmare in general’ (in the original sense of a creature kneeling on and suffocating a sleeper) for the region of Hatay and Ordu, for example. There is a Wikipedia page for the Al here. The Al or Alkarısıal-wife’ is alive and well in Turkish popular culture. Perhaps Doerfer thought this was just a Persian loanword in Turkish? Or perhaps he thought that Turkish al is simply a backformation from Turkish albastı taken as *‘the al crushed’, and albasma *‘crushing by an al’?

    Also note for almas, etc., I hope perhaps LH readers can see the treatment on page p. 101 and p. 102 (visible on Google Books, I hope) in Bayarma Khabtagaeva (2019) Language Contact in Siberia: Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic Loanwords in Yeniseian. There is something interesting there about the origin of the element -tı :

    Kazak albastï (< *albïs +lXG {Turkic NN}) ‘witch, demon, devilry’

    (NN = denominal noun suffix.) Kazakh suffixal -l--t- is regular after a voiceless obstruent, as in the plural -lAr : бала ‘child’ → балалар ‘children’ vs. қазақ ‘Kazakh’→ қазақтар ‘Kazakhs’. Compare the same change in Kyrgyz, as illustrated by the denominal adjective suffix -lŪ : бала ‘child’ → балалуу ‘having a child or children; with children’ vs. тиш ‘tooth’ → тиштүү ‘toothed’.

    Maybe more later.

  16. Wow, that’s terrific stuff — once again I’m impressed by your skills as an etymological truffle-hunter.

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