Baltic + Two Words.

Matthew Scarborough of Consulting Philologist (regularly linked at LH, e.g. here) has done another in his series on Indo-European etymological dictionaries, this time featuring Baltic. I realize the number of readers interested in that remote and little-visited bailiwick of the IE empire is even more limited than usual, and I might not have posted about it (even though its string of images of different dictionaries dealing with the Baltic word for ‘lake’ is pure catnip for the etymologically curious) except for this:

The most recent etymological dictionary of Lithuanian is the Altlitauisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (ALEW) created by a team of scholars at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin under the leadership of Wolfgang Hock. The print version of the dictionary was published in three hefty volumes through Baar Verlag in Hamburg, but not long after the appearance of the print version a lightly revised and corrected version of the dictionary manuscript was published online on Humboldt University’s open access server (ALEW 1.1), and in the following year (2020) an online web version of the dictionary (ALEW 2.0) was launched with additional lemmata and stated plans to make the dictionary more useful for philological investigation of the Old Lithuanian corpus.

An up-to-date online version of an etymological dictionary of Lithuanian is so wonderful I just can’t resist kvelling in public. And for those who read Polish, Wojciech Smoczyński’s Słownik etymologiczny języka litewskiego [Etymological Dictionary of the Lithuanian Language] also exists in “a revised version that is freely available online [pdf, 2,287 pages] which the author continually updates.” What a wonderful world!

But bearing in mind that limited number of readers interested in Baltic, I’ll toss in a couple of English words as lagniappe. The OED entry for woad was updated in December 2016, and the etymology is thorough and interesting, ending in a bio-technological excursus which would never have made it into the print edition:

Etymology: Cognate with Old Frisian wēde, Old Saxon wēd (Middle Low German wēt, wēde), Middle Dutch weet, wēde (Dutch wede), Old High German weit (Middle High German weit, weid, German Waid)

< a variant (with loss of -z-) of a Germanic base, which was borrowed into Latin and the Romance languages in a wide variety of forms, reflecting multiple borrowing, earliest (showing the reflex of Germanic -z-) as post-classical Latin waisdo (8th cent.), compare also gaisdo (11th cent.), gaisda (11th cent.), waisda, weisda (frequently from 12th cent. in British sources), waisdus (12th cent.), guaisdium, guesdium (12th cent.), waisdia (12th cent.), etc., Old French (Picardy) and Anglo-Norman waisde (1036), Old French, Middle French guesde (end of the 11th cent.; French guède). The following borrowings of a variant with loss of -z- probably represent later borrowing from individual continental Germanic languages: post-classical Latin waida, weida (frequently from 12th cent. in British sources), gueda (13th cent.), Old French and Anglo-Norman waide (c1165), gaide (13th cent.), Anglo-Norman weide (14th cent. or earlier), Italian guado (1274); compare also (< Middle English) post-classical Latin wada, woda (from 13th cent. in British sources), Anglo-Norman wade, wode.

Compare also (from an apparent ablaut variant (zero-grade) of the original Germanic base with -z-) the Gothic diminutive form *wizdila woad (compare the Germanic base of -el suffix¹; recorded in Latinized forms uuisdil(e), ouisdelem, guisdil, in Latin translations of Oribasius) (perhaps compare post-classical Latin wisda (from second half of the 13th cent. in British sources), Anglo-Norman wisde (14th cent. or earlier)), and also the obscure but seemingly related Old English (rare) weard (attested only in early glossaries, rendering post-classical Latin sandix woad; compare quots. OE, a1300, a1425 at sense 1a), apparently reflecting a Germanic base form with stem vowel a (compare post-classical Latin wasdus (10th cent.), wasdium (12th cent.), wasdia (1196 in a British source)).
Further etymology.

The ulterior etymology of the Germanic base is unclear. Perhaps ultimately related are classical Latin vitrum woad, (also) glass, typically of a blue colour (see vitrum n.) and ancient Greek ἰσάτις woad (see isatin n.), although the exact relationship is difficult to explain phonologically. The divergence of forms in Greek, Latin, and Germanic suggests independent borrowing from a common source.

The plant woad is native to the Caucasus and western and central Asia, and the technology of dyeing with woad is thought to have spread west into Europe from this region by at least the end of the second millennium ʙᴄ. It is therefore very likely that the word is of non-Indo-European origin, and that its phonological diversity results from the borrowing of variant forms at different times and places.

In Europe the cultivation of woad for dyeing reached its height in the late Middle Ages and early modern period. The plant was grown throughout Europe, with France and Germany the leading producers and exporters. Until it was eventually superseded by indigo (which began to be imported in large quantities from India in the late 16th cent.) woad was the principal blue dyestuff in use in Europe.

And Doreen St. Félix’s New Yorker review of “The Resort” starts: “It’s August, the dead month. Abscondence and cocktail season.” I was taken aback by abscondence, but it’s a perfectly good and useful word; OED (entry updated September 2009):

The action or an act of absconding (cf. abscondment n.); (a) concealment, seclusion; (b) removal to a place of concealment or hiding; flight, esp. from creditors, arrest, etc.

1694 E. Phillips Life Milton in tr. J. Milton Lett. of State p. xxxvii His next removal was, by the advice of those that wisht him well, and had a concern for his preservation, into a place of retirement and abscondence.
1812 S. H. Burney Traits of Nature V. xi. 208 Others, informed of the duel in which he had once been engaged, ascribed to a second affair of the same nature, his present abscondence.
1881 Sat. Rev. 5 Mar. 299 Mr. Parnell, though he has since returned, has been in abscondence.
1919 G. Saintsbury Hist. Fr. Novel II. ii. 42 Lancelot’s ‘abscondences’, with or without madness, are too many and too prolonged.
1960 Jewish Q. Rev. 51 143 What is callousness and abscondence to man, is hiding and not always being at our disposal to God.
1993 Times 5 Aug. 6/3 There were 222 abscondences last year from the jail.

The title Traits of Nature reminds me of my shock on learning, back in 2005, that “the word trait was traditionally pronounced exactly like tray, at least in the UK; in other words, the final -t is (or was supposed to be) silent.”


  1. Thanks for this! I was recently trying to figure out the etymology of Latvian singer Elīna Garanča’s surname. Latvian Wikipedia connects it to a place called Garanči and gives five villages with such name, each of which so tiny that I cannot imagine someone naming himself after it.

  2. David Marjanović says

    I don’t know how that worked in Latvia, but elsewhere in Europe surnames are usually given by other people, either by formalization of established nicknames or assigned by a traveling bureaucrat.

  3. Garanči sounds like plural of ‘Garancis’ < 'Garais Ancis' — 'Long Ancis', where Ancis (Ansis) is a given name.

  4. @bertil: “Latvian Wikipedia connects it to a place called Garanči…” I don’t doubt the connection but I doubt the surname is derived from the place name. Rather, Garanči is the plural of Garančs, the male form of Garanča, and could refer to a village populated by people so called (it could have been a nickname or an occupation). All the five villages seem to be in Latgale, the eastern part of Latvia that has its own language/dialect, Latgalian. It was ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for more than 200 years before its first partition, as Inflanty (województwo inflanckie), then by the Russian Empire for about 150 years. A Latgalian dictionary might help in this quest.

  5. Abscondence makes the heart go flounder.

  6. Thanks, all. I found a Latgalian dictionary, but it didn’t give me more insight. In case someone is interested, it can be found here. Vb’s hypothesis doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. It would be comparable with the German name Langhans then.

  7. I have a book on Latvian toponyms (Balode, Laimute & Bušš, Ojars 2015. No Abavas līdz Zilupei. Vietvārdu cilmes īsā vārdnīca. Riga); I can have a look if I can find the damned thing. There’s one on specifically Latgalian toponyms too (Zeps, Valdis 1984. Placenames of Latgola. Dictionary of East Latvian Toponyms. Wisconsin), but I don’t have that, regrettably.

  8. Trond Engen says

    Why wouldn’t a small village be the origin of a surname? My surname is from a small farm in Northern Norway, There are countless others* with the same surname, and all are named for farms. That’s just how naming worked in rural Norway at the time when surnames became fixed,

    *3736 others, 3737 in total, in Norway in 2021.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    The google n-gram viewer shows “abscondence” as generally but not invariably more common (in any given year since 1800) than “abscondment,” and also shows a sharp peak in abscondence-usage in 1982. I wonder if it’s actually so rare that the shape of the pretty-looking graph that the thingie generates becomes unreliable?

  10. Lars Mathiesen says

    Engen in Danish would mean “the meadow” — is that so in NNw as well, or would it be some word meaning “narrow” maybe?

  11. Trond Engen says

    No, it’s “the meadow” with the “Riksmål” common gender definite ending instead of the feminine. Locally the name is (or at least still was in my father’s day) most often used in the dative [(i) ‘eɲe].

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    ɲ not ŋ?

    I am confirmed in my belief that all forms of Norwegian are Just Too Difficult for me.

    Is it the same in your actual name?

  13. Lars Mathiesen says

    It makes sense that the danified form would be used in postal addresses and the church register until 1907 at least — the timing of what was “allowed” when and where in Norway seems tricky — and as to palatalization, it certainIy doesn’t happen in Danish, so I’d expect not where Trond lives now. But I see that ON eng f. was a -stem with a dative definite form of enginni, conceivably lots of fun stuff happened to that without the base word being affected.

    (After -sen patronymics, farm names gave rise to lots of family names in Denmark as well. Østergaard, Vestergaard, Nørregaard, Søndergård, Dal(s)gaard, Højgaard and so on. [Villages and occupations {A.P. Møller} come next]. We never had the fad for replacing those kinds of names with made-up ones like Sjöblad or Bergqvist as in Sweden).

  14. Lars Mathiesen says

    (On the other hand, dano-norwegian took the incipient palatalization before front vowels and ran with it in what I suppose could be called a substratum effect — Danish Danish rolled it back, cf old [not Old, just 19th C] Danish spellings like gjerne which is now gerne in Danish. So I shouldn’t really assume that any variant of Norwegian behaves like Danish in these matters).

  15. Apart from the surname Garančs (m) / Garanča (f), you can also find Garancis / Garance and Ančs / Anča in Latvia.

    @Fred: Zeps has an entry for Garanči but it’s not fully viewable via Google Books.

    Yuri (aka Georgy, Georg) Trusman proposed this in his 1897 Etymology of Local Names of the Vitebsk Governorate:

    Гаранчи, д. Рж. лат. grants̄i — остатки при топке сала = эст. kärts, ф. karsi — огарок, шлак.

    That’s a macron over the s in grantsi, probably the same as the caron (š) in modern Latvian. Рж. stands for Режицкий уезд, Режица = Rēzekne = Rēzne = Rositten = Rzeżyca = ‏רעזשיצע‎ = Рэжыца. Trusman was perhaps too eager to record Finnic connections where they were tenuous.

  16. @ Alex K.: Truusmann’s (or Трусман)’s etymologies are not especially reliable. In any case Latv. granči ‘what remains after melting fat’ (there’s probably some English word for that, but I don’t know what it is) is very unlikely to be a borrowing from either Fin. karsi ‘snuff, i.e. the charred part of a candle wick’ and Est. kärts ‘id.’ (which are even themselves maybe not related). In any case, as far as I can tell none of these words occur in any sources on Latvian loanwords in Estonian or vice versa (e.g. Aben, K. 1947. Eesti ja liivi laenud läti sõnavaras (‘Estonian and Livonian loans in Latvian’); Zeps, V. 1962. Latvian and Finnic linguistic convergences; Vaba, L. 1977. Läti laensõnad eesti keeles (‘Latvian loans in Estonian’)).

  17. Latv. granči ‘what remains after melting fat’ (there’s probably some English word for that…)

    I call them cracklings.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    Latv. granči ‘what remains after melting fat’ (there’s probably some English word for that, but I don’t know what it is)

    Well “greaves”, obviously. Or to be more downmarket: “cracklings”.

    Full disclosure: I knew the German word Grieben [pl.], but had to look up English ones. There’s also Grammel in some other neck of the German woods. When I wuz growin’ up in Texas, they didn’t spread Griebenschmalz on bread, add salt and then thoughtfully wolf it down.

    Must I now explain why I remained in Germany ? Lard, Luhmann and boys. Just like Isherwood.

  19. John Cowan says

    My mother managed to escape a (very different) Germany without having to leave lard behind. As for boys, however, there would only be me, who came along much later.

  20. Stu Clayton says

    Lard behinds are not my favorite. In recent years they seem to have enjoyed a succès d’estime in American media.

  21. Lars Mathiesen says

    Fedtegrever, obvious cognate. But it turns out that there is gluten in black bread so I’m now looking for something else to spread it on. (Also in beer, this intolerance will have me living a healthy life if I don’t watch out. I refuse to start smoking. Whisky, though).

    Also let me express my absolute agreement with the previous honoured speaker on the subject of steatopygia. The fine word bodacious has even been ruined for me by a sort of morphic resonance with a certain word in that semantic sphere.

  22. John Cowan says

    Lard behinds run in my family, which has no name.

  23. @Fred: He was Jüri Truusmann in Estonian, his mother tongue, but he mostly published his work in Russian, as Юрий (or Георгий) Трусман, so he’s often referred to as “Trusman.” Anyway, we need Zeps 1984. He has at least two entries, Garvacainieki and Garōvacaine, pointing to Garanči, but that’s about all I can see via Google Books.

    Greaves and cracklings are шкварки in Ukrainian in Russian. Either onomatopoeic or from Schwarte.

  24. Stu Clayton says

    Greaves and cracklings are шкварки in Ukrainian in Russian.

    Our dog is named шпарки ! But he’s not a lard-ass. Now all I need to know is the Russian for Frankenweenie.

  25. “Ukrainian AND Russian,” not “in.” My bad.

    Frankenweenie is Франкенвіні (Ukrainian) and Франкенвини (Russian). Not much to see there.

  26. David Marjanović says

    There’s also Grammel in some other neck of the German woods.

    *raising hand*
    Grammelschmalz; pl. Grammeln.

  27. Trond Engen says

    David E.: ɲ not ŋ?

    Yeah… No, I really wanted both hooks. A palatal velar nasal, but having to choose one, it had to be the palatal. Phonemically, it’s a velar nasal.

    I am confirmed in my belief that all forms of Norwegian are Just Too Difficult for me.

    See, it helps to have it explained.

    Is it the same in your actual name?

    My father grew up as han Olav i Enge [haɲ ‘olaf i ‘eɲe]. I live far away in the unpalatalized* south and pronounce it [‘eŋ.n]. So do my relatives in the north, but with the e towards æ and a hint of the palatal.

    * Palatalization in Norwegian dialectology is the palatal pronunciation of dental and velar geminates in a stressed syllable. That’s happening to varying degrees in a wide central belt — roughly from where Norway is widest to where it’s narrowest. The palatal fricativization of velar stops before front vowels that Lars mentions is another process, near universal in Norwegian and Swedish.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Mukk’s pleasurad, Trond.

  29. Trond Engen says

    Me: geminates in a stressed syllable

    How did I come up with that? Not exactly geminates. I think the conditioning factor may be the short vowel. And not only in stressed syllables, as my example even shows.

  30. Lars Mathiesen says

    I’m now wondering if this is a separate palatalization from the Old Danish one (where -nt, -nd, -n: merged and turned into -ɲ(:) spelled -nd, and later merged with original short -n [with the -nd spelling randomly applied]) or if there is a connection. This is not described in Danish dialectology because the standard is not a dialect innit (and also I think it spread to all the lects).

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    Mampruli has changed Proto-Western-Oti-Volta initial *ŋ to /ɲ/ throughout. Yet more evidence for Scandi-Congo …

  32. David Marjanović says

    Yeah… No, I really wanted both hooks. A palatal velar nasal, but having to choose one, it had to be the palatal.


  33. Trond Engen says

    Dammit, I just accidentally closed the window on my phone before posting.

    Yes, I probably should have used superscript j, since that would allow a more consistent notation of the palatal consonants. But I note that these four dialect samples from the region are inconsistently notated, even within a single sample.

  34. with the -nd spelling randomly applied

    I always thought the spelling was a matter of emphasis, thus mand ‘Eng. man, Ger. Mann‘ when emphatic, man ‘Ger. id.’ when unemphatic. No?

  35. Lars Mathiesen says

    There is certainly a tendency to spell function words that are usually unstressed with -n: man (pronoun), kun = ‘only’. But it was different 200 years ago, even modern han (pronoun) was spelled hand. I don’t remember seeing this covered in histories of Danish orthography, but in any case there are a lot of content words in -n as well so stress was never the whole explanation. (The pronoun can conceivably have had /-ɲ/ from the accusative hann — the modern oblique ham continues the dative).

    (And to clear all doubt, diachronically the pronoun man is indeed an old unstressed form of the noun mand, but synchronically they are separate words).

    If anything, there may be a tendency in the modern standard for words with stød (in the base form) to get/preserve -nd. En hun = ‘a female’ vs. en hund = ‘a dog’. In the definite form hunnen/hunden they are pronounced exactly alike but spelling follows the singular.

  36. Trond Engen says

    Me: My father grew up as han Olav i Enge [haɲ ‘olaf i ‘eɲe].

    […] Palatalization in Norwegian dialectology is the palatal pronunciation of dental and velar geminates in a stressed syllable. That’s happening to varying degrees in a wide central belt — roughly from where Norway is widest to where it’s narrowest.

    Me, later: How did I come up with that? Not exactly geminates. I think the conditioning factor may be the short vowel. And not only in stressed syllables, as my example even shows.

    Me, even later, should clarify even more. Palatalization in stressed syllables only is what standard isogloss maps show for this district, but it’s not that simple. I hear unstressed han for my inner ear with (weak) palatalization. This (and parallels) is also transcribed in the dialect samples linked above, but not always. I think perhaps it’s variably transfered to unstressed form, at least in words that are frequently stressed.

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