“Divan” is one of the most complicated words I know. The American Heritage Dictionary gives the following definitions:

1. A long backless sofa, especially one set with pillows against a wall.
2. a. A counting room, tribunal, or public audience room in Muslim countries.
b. The seat used by an administrator when holding audience.
c. A government bureau or council chamber.
3. A coffeehouse or smoking room.
4. A book of poems, especially one written in Arabic or Persian by a single author.

The OED adds the meaning ‘a room having one side entirely open towards a court, garden, river, or other prospect’ and expands on the fourth sense as follows: “A Persian name for a collection of poems (Persian, Arabic, Hindustani, Turkish); spec. a series of poems by one author, the rimes of which usually run through the whole alphabet. [From the original sense ‘collection of written sheets’, perh. influenced by later uses of the word.]” And speaking of “original sense,” check out the etymology:

A word originally Persian, dēvān, now dīwān, in Arabic pronounced dīwān, diwān; in Turkish divān, whence in many European langs., It. divano, Sp., Pg., F. divan. Originally, in early use, a brochure, or fascicle of written leaves or sheets, hence a collection of poems, also a muster-roll or register (of soldiers, persons, accounts, taxes, etc.); a military pay-book, an account-book; an office of accounts, a custom-house; a tribunal of revenue or of justice; a court; a council of state, senate; a council-chamber, a (cushioned) bench. The East Indian form and use of the word is given under DEWAN. Another European form, older than divan, and app. directly from Arabic, is It. dovana, doana, now dogana, F. douane (in 15th c. douwaine), custom-house: see DOUANE.

For a more discursive collection of definitions, with 19th-century stabs at etymology, see the Hobson-Jobson entry. The mix of senses is so confusing that when I asked the proprietors of an excellent Lebanese restaurant in Astoria called Al Dewan (long defunct, I’m afraid) why it was so named, they muttered and fumfered and couldn’t come up with anything convincing. (To my mind, it was clearly named with the ‘poetry collection’ sense in view, since the window displayed a plaster model of an open book with the name inscribed calligraphically, but when I drew their attention to this, they shrugged—I’m guessing whoever named the place and ordered the plaster book was no longer around, and nobody else knew.)

And where does the Persian word come from, you ask? The AHD says:

Persian dīwān, place of assembly, roster, probably from Old Iranian *dipivahanam, document house : Old Persian dip-, writing, document (from Akkadian tuppu, tablet, letter, from Sumerian dub) + Old Persian vahanam, house; see wes-¹ in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.

I hope that’s correct, because there aren’t many words in English that go back to Sumerian (tunic and chiton are two more; according to AHD they go back via Akkadian kitû, kita’um, ‘flax, linen’ to Sumerian gada, gida).

The reason I’m telling you all this is to give you the background for appreciating the amusing error made in this article (Google cache; the original story has gone 404) by Ana Keshelashvili:

Revaz Baramidze looked in amazement at the crowd of people gathered in Parnassus, Tbilisi’s newest bookstore. The store’s two rooms were so tightly packed that it was difficult to move around, and more people stood outside waiting to get in.

“What do I see, so many young people and everybody came to buy a book. I can’t predict, but it seems to me that we are turning back to reading literature,” said Baramidze, professor of literature at Tbilisi State University.

That cold but sunny winter afternoon, Vakhushti Kotetishvili was seated at a small desk in the downstairs room, signing copies of his newly published collection “East-West Sofa.”…

Now, you also have to know that a famous collection of Goethe’s was called West-östlicher Divan, translated as West-Eastern Divan. I strongly suspect that Mr. Kotetishvili (described here as “an incredibly dignified translator of persian poetry”) gave his book the same title in Georgian. But Ms. Keshelashvili looked up Georgian დივანი (divani) in her Georgian-English dictionary, found “sofa,” and the rest was history.

I’d feel worse about making public fun of Ms. Keshelashvili if she hadn’t publicly identified me as David Foster Wallace in her master’s thesis, “Patterns of Self-Expression and Impression Management in Blogs” (pdf; Google cache here). Check out #104 in APPENDIX A: LIST OF BLOGS ANALYZED.

Addendum. See now dahween and divan at Balashon, which (among other things) explains the origin of Chicken Divan (mentioned in the thread below).


  1. John Emerson says

    “East-West Sofa” — well, that’s a dialect form. We would use the correct form where I come from — “East-West Davenport”.
    Just re-notifying people that the 1000-page Hobson-Jobson can be found at bookfinder.com for about $10 including shipping. I’m waiting for mine — I expect a shoddy, slightly musty Indian reprint, but for one cent a page I won’t complain a bit. (Many public-domain books in English relating to India, Asia, Hinduism, or Buddhism have been reprinted cheaply in India.)
    XICc Anglo-English was a real hodge-podge, not only of English and the languages of India, but of Persian, Turkish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, etc. I expect to have a lot of fun.

  2. Not to brag, but I got the Wordsworth reprint for half that.

  3. $.005 / page? Hm.
    But wait! Did your $4.15 include shipping?

  4. Well, if you want to get technical I think it was $4.98 + tax (so probably around $5.40 total) at the Strand. But that was back in 1998.

  5. Curses!
    I’ll get you yet, Dr. Evil! You just wait. Humiliating me in fron of all those people.

  6. Hat you’re wicked. Such deliciously methodical demolitions. I pity the fool who irks.
    I recall a project by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim called the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which I always thought was a very laid-back name.

  7. In kannada, and I suspect other Indian languages, Dewan is also a sort of Minister. like the Dewan of Mysore. But I guess they have different roots.

  8. I’ve long wondered what the hell a divan is. Now I’m still not sure I know, but at least I have sort of a clue what they mean when book characters are sitting on them. . .

  9. The quality of the print and binding of my Munshiram Manoharlal reprint of Hobson-Jobson (1st ed. 1902; my printed one 2000; ISBN 81-215-0109-1) leaves nothing to be desired. When quoting on e.g. language sites, however, I cut and paste from http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/hobsonjobson

  10. That still leaves me needing help with the etymology British English “div” (= “idiot”).

  11. There’s also a type of American casserole that is, for some inexplicable reason, called Chicken Divan:
    I believe it was popular back in the ’50s and ’60s.

  12. Isn’t divan a sofa or couch in Russian? As for chicken divan, despite being born and raised in the US, I had never heard of it until a couple of years ago. And casserole is pot or saucepan (smaller pot)in French. And en español, es caserola.

  13. John: Well, there are those who would call us both fools for spending any money when the whole thing is available online for free. But they don’t understand the joy of flipping actual pages, do they?
    Abdul-Walid: “Irks” is the word. I mean, couldn’t she have outed me as, say, Adam Gopnik? Or Ammiel Alcalay? Why DFW?
    dinesh: No, it’s the same word; that meaning comes under the OED’s “dewan” entry:
    In India: a. The head financial minister or treasurer of a state under former Muslim governments. b. The prime minister of a native state. c. The chief native officer of certain Government establishments, such as the Mint. d. In Bengal, a native servant in charge of the affairs of a house of business or a large domestic establishment, a steward.
    trevor: The OED hasn’t caught up with that one; Cassell says the etymology is unknown.
    Laura: I suspect the “divan” in the name of the dish is the Indian ‘prime minister’ meaning; at any rate, it’s clearly supposed to carry a whiff of the high council chambers of the East, where men in robes and turbans eat the very finest delicacies.
    Toby: Yes, the dictionaries give a word divan ‘sofa, couch’ and another ‘1. Turkish council of state, 2. collection of lyric poetry’; they are of course identical in origin, but are felt to be different words by contemporary speakers — as are the corresponding senses in English, for that matter. I think it would make more sense to list them separately in English dictionaries as well. (Joining them is particularly pernicious in the case of Merriam-Websters, where the common contemporary meaning is buried among the historical/exotic ones.)

  14. At least, Goethe (Ge De 歌德, what a great name for a poet)’s title has been correctly translated in the sinophone world: Xidong shiji 西東詩集 (“West-Eastern Poem Collection”) and not, say, Xidong shafa (sofa).

  15. Jimmy — shouldn’t it be 東西詩集: “Thing Poem Colection”?

  16. Ha, you cannot imagine how much self-control I had to use to resist writing that one. As a matter of fact, many “copy ‘n’ paste” Chinese sites do misquote the title that way (Dongxi shiji).

  17. Self control is bad, Jimmy.

  18. I just remembered that Kant’s Chinese name also includes the 德 de/ German / virtue graph: some form of Kangde.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson is Ai-Mo, “loves solitude” as I remember, but my Chinese teacher told me in no uncertain terms that that name is particular to him, and not a family name I could use. I became Ai “mugwort” (not as bad as it sounds, the Chinese honor mugwort more than we do).
    I didn’t get along with that teacher at all, significantly damaging my already-slender career prospects.

  19. xiaolongnu says

    Speaking of divans, there is a Russian “folk” song called “Sidyel’ Vanya” which plays on the name Vanya and the word “divan” (if you will forgive my rotten Russian transliteration — I do not know what the standard is — and inability to enter Cyrillic):
    Sidyel’ Vanya na divanye (Vanya sat on the divan),
    Stakan romu nalival (And poured a glass of rum);
    Ne nalivshi polstakana (He had not yet filled the glass),
    Sam za Katyenkoi poslal (when he called his Katyenka to him).
    I believe the tune was adapted into a string quartet by one of the 19th century Russian composers. I was quite startled to hear it at a wedding reception some years ago. I’m not sure just how “folk” it is as the setting I know is highly choralized. You can hear it as sung by my old choir (I miss Chicago) at the Golosa.org web site. The group is the Russian folk choir of the University of Chicago — check out other tracks for our Semeiskie style improvised polyphony.

  20. John: Are you familiar with this comprehensive page on mugwort and related plants? I regret to inform you that Ukrainian chornobyl’ [чорнобиль], and Russian chernobyl’ [чернобыль] mean ‘mugwort.’
    xiaolongnu: Great to see you! That composer was Tchaikovsky; he used the tune for the slow movement of his first string quartet (you can hear a 30-second snippet here (mp3)). The text in Cyrillic is:
    Сидел Ваня на диване,
    Стакан рому наливал.
    Не наливши полстакана,
    Сам за Катенькой послал.

  21. Yes, John, Kant’s name is Kang De 康德 and, as you rightly noted, that is the de in De[yizhi]guo 德[意志]國 (Deutschland / Germany). Unsurprisingly, the same character is frequently used to transcribe foreign names (Freud = Fuluoyide 弗洛伊德; Derrida = Delida 德理達, Alain Delon = Yalan Delun 亞蘭德倫, etc.).
    I guess your famous homonym’s mo is the one in desert (shamo 沙漠, poetic root to French “chameau” = camel). Why not choose the mo for “ink” 墨 (but maybe you don’t want to be associated with mohist ideology)? Seriously, I’ll have to check what a “mugwort” is.

  22. That is a great multilingual page. So it is that ai 艾, which relates you to modern writer Ai Qing 艾情, aka Artemisius Affectus (I had mistakenly assumed that ‘mugwort’ referred to the ‘mo’ part). Not bad at all, if you ask me.

  23. xiaolongnu says

    Jimmy, Ai Qing is also the father of two important contemporary Chinese artists, Ai Weiwei 艾未未 (a founding member of the Stars group) and Ai Xuan 艾轩 (a realist painter specializing in Tibetan subjects). I just lectured on these guys in class today.

  24. Thanks, xiaolongnü. I have probably heard of them, but frankly, I didn’t remember.

  25. Michael Farris says

    In Polish, a diwan (w=v) is a carpet.

  26. Huh — that’s weird. (But according to my dictionary it’s dywan, with a y.) In Czech and South Slavic it has the normal range of meanings. I wonder how it wandered to the floor in Poland.

  27. Thanks for the Russian folksong or whatever. I was glad to be able to appreciate the Vanya and na divanye alliteration. How cool is Russian, like Spanish, where the subject and predicate can be inverted.
    And divan = carpet in Polish!!! Just last night I subbed in a beginning adult ESL class full of Salvadorans. There was one lone Polish guy in it. It was a treat to hear his English. And yes, he’s learing Spanish.

  28. michael farris says

    Yes mr. hat, you’re right, dywan. I was (not)preparing for classes when I wrote that and in a hurry/frazzled.
    I have no idea how dywan ended up as carpet, but it might (wild guessing here) have something to do with designs, that is if your classic divan had woven designs on it …

  29. William Cowper, of course, wrote a long poem called The Task, which was all about a sofa. I wonder if it has ever been translated into Persian.

  30. Was it inspired by Crébillon fils’s Le sopha (where the narrator is a man magically changed into a sofa, who reports the words said and actions perpetrated on and around him by unwary “Arabian” princesses and their galants)?

  31. Jeez, that sounds gross. He’d be talking about butts all the time.
    I suppose Crebillon managed to evade that part. Forget I said anything.

  32. I haven’t read much of The Task, but it certainly isn’t based on Le sopha, which I have read but don’t remember too much about. Crébillon was a favourite novelist of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses as well as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, so he sounded promising, since I like a lot of eighteenth century fiction, but he didn’t seem all that striking to me when I read a couple of his things. I remember it was very “French”, with more cerebration than action (“just exactly what subtle nuance of feeling am I experiencing at this moment?”). There were also quite a few “post-modern” comments on the art of story-telling, which were quite funny. Crébillon also wrote a book called L’Ecumoire, about a Japanese prince whose genitals are transformed into a skimmer. God knows what that’s like.

  33. !

  34. Perhaps the Polish dywan=carpet comes from the fact that most Middle Eastern cultures don’t use chairs, instead opting to sit on the ground–suitably covered with carpets or rugs?

  35. But Poland is by no stretch of the imagination Middle Eastern.

  36. Michael Farris says

    Maybe divans were covered with carpets or something carpet like?

  37. Michael Farris says

    “Poland is by no stretch of the imagination Middle Eastern”
    There is however a long history of relatively friendly (for the region) contacts with middle east cultures and there was a turkic minority in Poland until sometime in the late 19th century (their descendents are still around, they just don’t speak a turkic language anymore).

  38. True, and if the Turks used divan to mean ‘carpet,’ it would make sense for the Poles to. But they don’t, and the Poles don’t sit on carpeted floors.

  39. As I understand, the Uhlans write Polish with Arabic script.

  40. Out of curiosity, I checked Anthimos Papadopoulos’s old Pontic dictionary.
    I didn’t find anything close to divan / div’ani (it does not mean there isn’t; his use of Greek for the transcription of Pontic words is pretty problematic), but i sof’a (note the gender switch: it is o sof’as in standard Greek) is first defined as “a surelevated part of the room” where people gather and sit together (I always imagine something similar to the Chinese kang, but I may be wrong), undoubtedly covered with carpets.
    The second definition is “a wooden bed”.

  41. Inspired by you, I checked Papathanasopoulou’s Rumeliot dictionary and found:
    ntivani to = malako krevati, exostes.
    ‘Soft bed’ makes sense, but ‘balcony’??

  42. I’m surprised as well. Then again, I know close to nothing about Roumeliotic. Meanwhile, I checked with an older Pontic, and it seems that “divan-” was indeed not attested in the patrida.

  43. (Surprised about the definition as “exostis”, I mean.)

  44. Oscar Kaeni says

    what do you think, if i give the name “DIVAN” for my baby, do you agree?

  45. Ana Keshelashvili says

    Fun to be a part of such a discussion, although I find myself not in the best position. Glad to hear that somebody’s reading our student newspaper published in Georgian Journalism School. I’m not sure that you were able to find it on the net, or whether it was at all on the net, but in the print version of the paper we printed apologies for the mistake regarding the title of the book. Unfortunately my editor didn’t appear to be a Goethe or Persian language fan and didn’t trust my English either, so that’s how collection of poems turned into sofa. My mistake was not to include in the article author’s comment regarding the title, stating that the book has nothing to do with Goethe, but it means what it is all about – in other words, it is a collection of poems translated from western and eastern authors.

    As for Wallace, isn’t it an American author? I haven’t read, but I believe this shouldn’t be you:) Well, accept my apologies, but as you probably know, there are several people involved in coding the material for the research. Even though I’m not sure I remember coding your blog by myself, I don’t want to blame any of my coders for that mistake and won’t go back to find out who really took Wallace for the blog author’s name, but I accept responsibility and apologise for that. Sorry for late comment, I just came across your blog accidentally today, so…

    Anyway, I’m glad to hear that my english (which is my third language) is becoming an issue for discussions on your blog – that must mean something:)

  46. Hi, Ana! Your English is great, and I’m glad it turned out to be an editorial mistake rather than yours (and I apologize on behalf of my profession, which is editing). Yes, Wallace is an American author, and quite a decent one, but I didn’t like a long article he wrote on grammar and attacked it, so I was pretending to be insulted that he was listed as author of my blog. I was actually highly amused. And I’m glad you found your way to my blog; if I get back to studying Georgian, I may ask you for help!

  47. Ana Keshelashvili says

    Thank you:) Will take into consideration and get a copy of Wallace’s article on grammar:) I guess there’s too much to edit on the net and it must keep you pretty busy, but if you ever get back to studying Georgian, I hope I can be of some help.

  48. In European French ‘divan’ is a word that means “couch” while Quebecois French prefers ‘sofa’. e.g.
    Le chat dort sur le divan.
    Le chat dort sur le sofa.
    “The cat is sleeping on the couch”.
    A synonym for ‘divan’ in European French seems to be ‘canapé.’

  49. marie-lucie says

    Brian: The cat is sleeping on the couch: couch does not mean the same everywhere in the English-speaking word.
    A synonym for ‘divan’ in European French seems to be ‘canapé.’
    Didn’t we discuss le divan just a few days ago? I remember defining the French word: a bed without a headboard and footboard. Un canapé is not the same as un divan since it has at least a backrest (sometimes replaced by cushions), and usually also armrests. It is actually what is called in Canada (in French and English) “sofa”. The French equivalent of a “sofa bed” is un canapé-lit, a convertible piece of furniture. You don’t normally need to say un divan-lit since a divan, from its shape and design, can serve as a bed as it is, all you need to add are bed linens and pillows. Un divan can also do double duty as a sofa if you add a few cushions and bolsters.

  50. Interestingly, if you do a Google image search of ‘divan’, you’ll find a lot of sofas depicted.

  51. The OED lists only one English word of Sumerian origin (it doesn’t bring the chiton/tunic doublet past its immediate sources): petasi ‘Sumerian priest/king’. What’s odd about that is that the reading is now understood to be enki, for whatever reason spelled PE.TA.SI. I searched AHD4 for more Sumerian words, but none.

  52. Maybe purim, from pur ‘lot’, from Persian, thence from Akkadian pūru ‘lot’, homophonous with (and maybe deriving from) pūru ‘bowl’, a Sumerian loanword.

  53. The OED lists only one English word of Sumerian origin (it doesn’t bring the chiton/tunic doublet past its immediate sources): petasi ‘Sumerian priest/king’.

    What edition are you using? I just did an advanced search of the online 3rd ed. (which would have found it even in etymologies, let alone as a lemma) and got “No results found for ‘petasi’.”

  54. Sorry, it should be patesi.

  55. Thanks. An odd and unfortunate business:

    Etymology: < Sumerian PA.TE.SI (a sign combination form now read énsi, with a proposed reading ensik, representing the full form) ruler, governor.

    The reading patesi was formerly believed to be correct. It is unclear why énsi or ensik was written with the signs PA.TE.SI.

    Couldn’t we just sweep this misbegotten word under the rug and pretend it never happened?

  56. There is also “mina” – ancient unit of weight (and also a monetary unit) equal to 1/60 of talent – a bit less than one pound.

    It’s first mentioned in Sumerian texts as “mana”.

  57. There is also “mina” – ancient unit of weight (and also a monetary unit) equal to 1/60 of talent – a bit less than one pound.

    It’s first mentioned in Sumerian texts as “mana”.

    Not to get too Nostratic about it, but moon, month, et al, attested in many Germanic languages, also indicate a kind of measure. As does Sanskrit mimīte, he measures, Hebrew מנה mana, he counted (and a host of derivatives), plus cognates in other Semitic languages.

    Aren’t the first efforts at writing generally taken to be signs for numbers, quantities, etc., as needed for trade?

  58. petasi, patesi, petasi, patesi, let’s call the whole thing off!

    From the Zompist spelling reform page:

    While we’re at it, could we please fix the word ginkgo, which is not only difficult and irregular, but doesn’t reflect any proper Japanese word? The Japanese characters (銀杏) can be read two ways: as ichō, they refer to the tree; as ginnan, to the fruit. The second character can [also] be read kyō: in other words, so someone misread the combination as ginkyō, and someone else mangled this into ginkgo.

    Pronunciations include “GINK-o” (AmE, BrE) and “GINK-go” (BrE).

  59. David Marjanović says

    The reading patesi was formerly believed to be correct. It is unclear why énsi or ensik was written with the signs PA.TE.SI.

    That’s where the paper comes in that I found yesterday. Which thread was that again…

  60. David Marjanović says
  61. That still leaves me needing help with the etymology British English “div” (= “idiot”).

    The OED Third Edition (new entry, June 2022) has:

    Etymology: Probably shortened < divvy n

    British slang.

    A foolish or stupid person; an idiot.

    1975 R. V. Ericson Young Offenders & their Social Work iii. 77 Dance, you fucking div. Dance!
    1981 J. Sullivan Only Fools & Horses (1999) I. 1st Ser. Episode 6. 54 And how are we gonna get from Peckham to the New Forest in four minutes, you old div?
    2011 C. Moran How to be Woman (2012) 297 I’m a buffoon! A div! A numnut! Because, of course, there are still ways in which I don’t know how to be a woman yet.

    And divvy n² is:

    British (originally English regional (Liverpool)). A stupid or foolish person; an idiot.

    1972 B. Minard Lern Yerself Scouse III. 34 Eez a birrova divvy, he isn’t too intelligent.
    1998 A. Gibbons Last Man Standing iii. 57 I’ve seen the gangs of lads waiting on the street corner. No-hope divvies who want to get off their heads for a few hours.
    2016 @olivia_rose_97 4 June in twitter.com (accessed 27 Feb. 2022) I’m such a divvy I took my card out of the cash point and walked away without taking my cash 🙄.

    I think that’s the first emoji I’ve seen in the OED. And this is interesting:

    Etymology: Apparently < Romani diviō, diviou wild, mad (apparently < a Slavonic language; compare Slovenian divji, Serbian and Croatian divlji, Bulgarian div, Czech divý, all in the sense ‘wild’), probably with remodelling of the second syllable after -y suffix¹.

  62. Emoji began appearing in OED quotations in the June 2019 update. In the blog post No tears of joy (yet): emoji make their OED debut, they describe some of the quotations and why they were chosen. I particularly like this citation for inverse:

    2017 @Johnny_Strategy 22 Dec. in twitter.com (O.E.D. Archive) The stunning new Mt. Fuji Heritage Center is shaped like an inverse cone with a pond around it that reflects the form of 🗻.

    Individual emoji are searchable; according to their search function, that’s the first quotation they’ve added that contains 🙄.

  63. John Cowan: The OED lists only one English word of Sumerian origin

    Only one of *direct* Sumerian origin. Others that it gives as ultimately from (or speculated to be from) Sumerian:

    abracadabra (revised 2009)

    The etymology of post-classical Latin abracadabra has been the subject of much conjecture; no documentation has been found to support any of the various conjectures which have been put forward. Some have suggested an origin within Latin or Greek … others a borrowing from languages as diverse as Thracian (a sparsely attested Indo-European language) and Sumerian.

    ass, n.1 (revised 2018)

    Ultimately < classical Latin asinus … itself apparently a loanword < a non-Indo-European language (probably eastern; compare Sumerian anše)

    get, n.3 (Jewish bill of divorce; revised 2016)

    … specific sense development of post-biblical Hebrew gēṭ legal document < Akkadian giṭṭu clay tablet containing a receipt or certificate, (in late sources) legal document written on parchment < Sumerian gíd.da long narrow clay tablet.

    Nisan (Jewish month; revised 2003)

    … Hebrew Nīsān … < Akkadian nisannu(m) first fruits, name of the first Babylonian month (both senses attested in the Old Babylonian period), ultimately < Sumerian nisag̃ first fruits.

    zizania and †zizany (a weed or aquatic grass; revised 2021)

    < Anglo-Norman … < post-classical Latin … < Hellenistic Greek ζιζάνια , plural of ζιζάνιον weed that grows in wheat < a loanword (perhaps ultimately < Sumerian ziz₂ emmer wheat) + -ιον , suffix forming nouns

    I searched AHD4 for more Sumerian words, but none.

    You missed mudra, shofar, and Tammuz; AHD5 added saros (eclipse cycle). These haven’t been revised yet in the OED, except mudra, where they don’t take it beyond Sanskrit.

    There’s a very recent borrowing directly from Sumerian: kunga, a domestic equine, in paleogenomic studies claimed to be “the earliest known human-engineered hybrid animal, predating the earliest mule by about 1500 years.”

  64. Wonderful, thanks for all that Sumeriana!

  65. January First-of-May says

    There’s a very recent borrowing directly from Sumerian: kunga, a domestic equine

    Another fine addition to my list of five-letter English words that aren’t in Wordle. (Now up to 27 entries, ranging from abjad to yoink, though for some of them it’s debatable whether they legitimately qualify as English words.)

  66. There are at least two other words entered in the OED that are ultimately of Sumerian origin, but the OED1 and OED2 etymologies do not dig down far enough to uncover their Mesopotamian sources. One is haikal.

    Etymology: Coptic.
    The central chapel of three forming the sanctuary of a Coptic church. Also attributive in haikal screen n. a screen, often elaborately carved or decorated, which separates the haikal from the body of the church.

    Even if this word is actually used in later Coptic writings for the central part of the sanctuary, it seems that it is simply a borrowing of Arabic هيكل haykal ‘temple, altar’, ultimately from Sumerian 𒂍𒃲 e₂-gal ‘temple’ (literally, ‘big house’). The Wiktionary has serviceable entries for the etymology, with lists of descendants for Arabic here and Akkadian here. (I wonder what the echt Coptic equivalent of haikal would be.)

    Another is duka, proximately from Swahili:

    Etymology: < Swahili duka shop, store (plural maduka) < Arabic dukkān, perhaps partly via Urdu.
    East African. A small neighbourhood store selling a variety of goods.

    The Wiktionary entry for دكان dukkān is serviceable enough here, taking it back to Akkadian takkannu, dakkannu and Sumerian daggan (‘small chamber or cell’? also ‘doorway or door part’?), with a list of descendants of this well-travelled word. There is a philological study of the semantics of Akkadian takkannu beginning on page 101 in Paul-Alain Beaulieu, ‘New Light on Secret Knowledge in Late Babylonian Culture’, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 82 (1992), available here. (As far as I have been able to discover, Sumerian daggan is not attested before the Lagash and Ur III periods. Sumerology is not my bailiwick (I have just bare minimum required for Hittitology and Semitic philology), but most sources, like the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, indicate that Akkadian takkannu is a loanword from Sumerian.)

    I wonder why دكان dukkān eventually shows up in Russian as духан with х. Since the word has a palatalized k in the Turkic languages (e.g. Azeri dükan, Crimean Tatar tükân, Turkish dükkân, etc.), I wouldn’t expect any spirantization within Turkic itself. I wonder if there has been crossing at some point in transmission with Persian خان‎ khān ‘caravanserai, inn’ (Ottoman خان‎ khān, Azeri xan, Greek χάνι, etc.)? (Or crossing with Persian دخان dukhān, Ottoman dükhān ‘smoke (esp. tobacco smoke), tobacco’, etc. (all from Arabic دخان duḫān, duḫḫān ‘smoke’), little taverns in the Caucasus being smoky places… Or perhaps there was influence from Russian дух as ‘smell’, with derivative душный…)

  67. Great stuff, thanks!

  68. In 80s during the Afghan war Russian soldiers called their enemies духи (spirits/ghosts/spectres from official “dushman”)
    Then in 90s they called Chechens чехи (sounds identical to Czechs).

    I wonder if it is normal for Persian official rhetoric to use “enemy” as a slur for the enemy. Or does the word has extra connotations that rather abstract European “enemy” does not have? Or it were Russians who mistook it for some sort of a name? It was a convenient word: it recembled душегуб (“villain”, lit. soul-killer) and душитель …

  69. Yes, thanks very much, Xerîb! Haikal was entered in the OED’s 1933 Supplement and carried through in the 1976 Supplement, but investigating etymology beyond the immediate source of a loanword wasn’t in the remit of those supplements. This will probably get a full etymology when it’s revised, considering that the path from more recent Semitic languages back through Akkadian to Sumerian was already well enough known to be given in Merriam-Webster’s Third Unabridged in 1961 (it remains unchanged in the online version).

    Duka, on the other hand, is freshly revised in the East-African-English-focused update of June 2022, so it’s too bad they didn’t take the opportunity to go beyond Arabic. It’s especially interesting that it’s been loaned via Arabic and Turkish into so many other languages. That’s the kind of historical context that ideally I want to see in the OED: East African English hasn’t just picked up a local word, it’s hooked into a large trading network with a long history.

  70. Another word in the OED with an etymology that could be pushed back to Sumerian is cor :

    cor, n. 1
    Etymology: < Hebrew kōr lit. ‘round vessel’, adapted by the Septuagint as κόρος, Vulgate corus, chorus, whence in Wyclif (also chore, choore) and Rhemish.
    A Hebrew and Phœnician measure of capacity, the same that was in earlier times called the homer, containing ten ephahs or baths = about 9½ bushels (liquid) or 8 bushels (dry measure).

    As here, Ezekiel 45:14 :

    וְחֹק הַשֶּׁמֶן הַבַּת הַשֶּׁמֶן מַעְשַׂר הַבַּת מִן־הַכֹּר עֲשֶׂרֶת הַבַּתִּים חֹמֶר כִּי־עֲשֶׂרֶת הַבַּתִּים חֹמֶר

    wəḥōq haššemen habbaṯ haššemen maʿśar habbaṯ min-hakkōr ʿăśereṯ habbattîm ḥōmer kî-ʿăśereṯ habbattîm ḥōmer

    Concerning the ordinance of oil, the bath of oil, ye shall offer the tenth part of a bath out of the cor, which is an homer of ten baths; for ten baths are an homer (KJV)

    Hebrew כֹּר kōr, from Akkadian kurru, from Sumerian gur 𒄥.

    Greek κόρος also at Luke 16:7, but the KJV doesn’t render this with cor :

    ἔπειτα ἑτέρῳ εἶπεν Σὺ δὲ πόσον ὀφείλεις ὁ δὲ εἶπεν Ἑκατὸν κόρους σίτου καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ Δέξαι σου τὸ γράμμα, καὶ γράψον ὀγδοήκοντα

    Deinde alii dixit: Tu vero quantum debes? Qui ait: Centum choros tritici. Ait illi: Accipe litteras tuas, et scribe octoginta.

    Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (KJV)

  71. ə de vivre says

    According to the ePSD, duggan is attested at least at early as Early Dynastic Lagaš. Thanks to the magic of the internet, there’s even a high-quality image of the first attestation of duggan readily available from the CDLI.

    Niek Veldhuis discusses the use of duggan bags in the context of Ur III Gu’abba (somewhere in the centuries on either side of 2000 BC). Several clay tags have been found that summarize the contents of duggan, whose inscriptions show that the duggan were used to transport daily administrative records to the central archives.

    That said, “duggan” is an odd shape for a Sumerian noun. Geminates are especially unsual, but Akkadian glosses are pretty insistent on that geminate “kk/gg.” But there’s a lot we don’t know about Sumerian phonology…

  72. ə de vivre says

    Also, cumin may or may not be Sumerian (Sum. “gamun,” “kumul,” and/or “gumul”). It’s either that or Akkadian (kamûnu). Not sure if there’s evidence for a proto-Semitic reconstruction or if it spread from Sumerian to the rest of the Semitic languages through Akkadian—wanderwort is always an option too.

  73. Noonan on cumin:

    Additional Semitic forms of this word can be found in Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this word is native to Semitic. This word is widely attested outside the Semitic languages—namely, in Sumerian, Hittite, Linear A, Greek, and Latin—as is characteristic of ancient culture words. Furthermore, the species C. cyminum is not native to the ancient Near East but originated in the eastern Mediterranean region (Pickersgill 2005, 162; D. Zohary and Hopf 2000, 206). Accordingly, this culture word must have originated from this same area. [footnote: This is suggested by the element -ιν of κὺμινον, characteristic of Pre-Greek words (EDG 802–3; Ruijgh 1982, 209).]

    Remains from a variety of sites (e.g., Tell ed-Der in Syria) attest to the introduction and cultivation of cumin in the ancient Near East as early as the second millennium B.C.E. Its cultivation in ancient Palestine by the Iron Age is demonstrated by its mention as an agricultural product in Isa 28:25, 27. The seeds of this flowering plant were used as a condiment in antiquity, and it became particularly popular during the Roman period. In addition to its use as a spice, cumin was also valued for its medicinal qualities, and its oil was utilized for perfumes (Pickersgill 2005, 162; D. Zohary and Hopf 2000, 206; Borowski 1987, 98).

  74. In Siwi and a couple of other Berber languages, “cumin” is yamǝn. The y could be from *k’ under appropriate assumptions about the environment, but it clearly does not derive from Arabic kammūn, and I don’t see a convincing way of getting it from the Greek form either even though it’s closer. Guess there’s a missing intermediate somewhere…

  75. In Mishnaic Hebrew דּוּכָן dūḵān is a raised area, like a podium, and in later (only Israeli?) Hebrew also ‘bench’, ‘market stall’ or such. Klein thinks the latter and the former are connected to each other and to the root דוך dwk ‘pound, flatten’.

  76. Just to clarify for LH readers, the word that is proposed to show up Swahili duka via Aramaic דוּכָן dukkān, Arabic دكان dukkān, Akkadian dakkannu(m), etc., is Sumerian daggan, spelled 𒆠𒍇, etc. Akkadian dakkannu is entered by the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary under takkannu (“chamber, niche, bench”), I suppose because most of the spellings use the ambiguous CVC sign 𒁖, which can be tag-, tak-, or taq-, or dag-, dak-, or daq- according to context here. The descendants require suggest reading dak-, which is how Black’s Concise Akkadian Dictionary and von Soden’s Akkadisches Handwörterbuch lists it. Von Soden also gives an example of a spelling da-ak-ka-nu-um, I see.

    I wrote the following, “most sources, like the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, indicate that Akkadian takkannu is a loanword from Sumerian”, because Sumerian daggan seems relatively late and it has an uncharacteristic geminate, as ə de vivre notes. Gutian? But why should a word for a kind of room be from the language of a nomadic people?

  77. ə de vivre says

    Oops, wrong dVkkan word 😅. Oh well, I guess we learned something about 3rd millennium bags for nothing.

  78. Sorry… “show up as Swahili duka“.

  79. Oops, wrong dVkkan word 😅. Oh well, I guess we learned something about 3rd millennium bags for nothing.

    We can always stand to learn more about Mesopotamian bags, a topic which has been explored before at LH!

  80. About x in Russian: this k is aspirated in Caucasian languages (whose aspirated-voice-ejective rows are so reminiscent of proto-Semites)…

    But I can’t remember a [kʰ > x] loan from Caucasian to Russian.

  81. PlasticPaddy says

    @drasvi, Xerib
    I was going to try to answer Xerib’s question about when Turkic k or q becomes Russian k or x in loanwords, and whether this correlates with the sound in any corresponding Iranian etymon, but I was unable to conclude anything more than “sometimes it becomes k, sometimes x (sometimes there are even doublets); where I can find a corresponding Iranian etymon, this is more likely to be the letter g in Latin transliteration(GAMMA?).” Are Turkic loanwords through Caucasian intermediary typical?

  82. ə de vivre says

    Couldn’t the k/x alternation be a function of the Turkic language that the loan word filtered through? Some Turkic languages weaken velar stops between back vowels, so depending on the given Turkic languages lentition processes and the specific vowel environment, you’d get either [k] or [x] in the most proximate source of the word?

  83. “I wonder what the echt Coptic equivalent of haikal would be…”

    Burmester, in his ‘The Egyptian or Coptic Church; a detailed description of her liturgical services and the rites and ceremonies observed in the administration of her sacraments’, gives ‘erphei’ (in Bohairic. Sahidic ‘rpe’, the normal word for temple) as the Coptic equivalent of ‘haikal’ when presenting various architectural terms at the beginning of the book, but without further discussion. I also read a comment in some article I found online (I can’t seem to find it again now) stating that the first use of ‘haikal’ to describe this part of a Coptic church is found in a work called The History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria (written in Arabic), but that earlier terms used were ‘iradyun’ (Gr. ἱερατεῖον ) and ‘askina’ (Gr. σκηνή).

  84. David Eddyshaw says

    The etymologically literal morpheme-by-morpheme equivalent of haikal “great house” in Coptic is actually ⲡⲣⲣⲟ “the king” (= “Pharaoh”), which in Coptic has got reanalysed as the masculine singular definite article ⲡ + ⲣⲣⲟ.

  85. gives ‘erphei’ (in Bohairic. Sahidic ‘rpe’, the normal word for temple)

    earlier terms used were ‘iradyun’ (Gr. ἱερατεῖον) and ‘askina’ (Gr. σκηνή)

    Excellent! Thank you Andy for ferreting these out!

    With Bohairic ⲉⲣⲫⲉⲓ, Sahidic ⲣⲡⲉ ‘temple’, from Egyptian r(ꜣ).‎pr, we circle back to the notion of the temple being simply the “house of the god” again, like Sumerian 𒂍 É ‘house’ in 𒂍𒃲 É.GAL ‘palace’ (> haikal) above. I looked briefly to try to find out what the original semantic contribution of the r element in r.pr was, but it seems that there is little consensus (as on p. 5 here). Maybe someone can direct us to a good study of the term r.pr.

  86. Whence the Egyptian surname Heikal? Is it associated with any particular community?

    (Like this former editor of Al-Ahram, or this egyptologist.)

  87. When I was in Budva (a town in Montenegro that has more Russians than Serbs/Montenegrins) some Russian gallerist organized an exhibition of a certain artist in a tonnel in a promontory between two beaches. The artist illustrated Serbian alphebet. I can’t recommend the artist (I am all for drawings that look like children drawings – but it does not mean that I like all of them:) Same is true for more classical art) but anyway, a dukhan in Tbilisi by the same artist, illusrating letter რ.

  88. a dukhan in Tbilisi

    This got me thinking that maybe Russian духан is a crossing of Georgian დუკანი dukʰani with old-fashioned Georgian ხანა xana ‘house’, from Persian خانه‎ xāna, as in name of the institution of the میخانه mayxāna ‘tavern’ (literally, ‘wine house’), Azeri meyxanə, Turkish meyhane, etc. (cf. also Georgian დუქანხანა dukʰanxana ‘inn with rooms for rent’). Or a crossing of Azeri dükan /dycɑn/ with xanə /xɑnæ/ ‘house’ in the process of transmission to Russian?

    Azeri being the lingua franca of pre-Soviet Transcaucasia, what about Kumyk, the Turkic language that was the lingua franca of Ciscaucasia before the Soviet deportation of the Kumyk population? According to this fine site, the word shows up as тюкен, which I believe is to be interpreted as /dʉwken/ or /dʉβ̞ken/. I haven’t come across any descriptions of Kumyk indicating that the /k/ (before a front vowel here!) would be spirantized here, but then, I haven’t looked very much.

    Maybe there were Azeri dialects spirantizing /c/ (ک , modern written Azerbaijani k) intervocalically to [ç] within a word, but I haven’t heard any. Question: Would Russians even have assigned such a [ç] to their /x/ phoneme? On the surface, this seems to be the case with German loanwords with the ich-laut ch [ç] in Standard German: архив, кирха, кнехт, рейх, фенхель, maybe пихта (Fichte, if it is not rather a Finnic form like Finnish pihka ‘resin, pitch, gum’, also with [ç], presumably); an interesting case is цейхгауз (Zeughaus). But in these, maybe the Russian outcome shows the influence of the orthography or German varieties where ch is [x] ~ [χ] everywhere?

  89. -xâna is well known in Modern Russian,
    xân “inn” is not (though خوان xân is).

    But it does not matter, what matters is how popular the word was in the Caucasus back then….
    Perhaps xân was not so popular (was not the default for ‘inn’) if it did not enter Russian. And perhaps “khan” the title blocked it?

    I am now curious how exactly this pair xân “house” – xāna(g) “house” could have arisen in Persian:/

  90. Sorry, cutting and pasting error… The Kumyk is presumably /tʉwken/ or /tʉβ̞ken/ for тюкен.

  91. Would Russians even have assigned such a [ç] to their /x/ phoneme?

    I need to hear this ç.

    We have palatalised x (forvo.com хи-хи, хихикать, and before /e/ хер).

    But хя is not too comfortable… If Arabic distinguished between x and χ as it distinguishes between k and q, Arabists would have adopted хя for xa and хы for χi (just like they scare the native speaker with кясра “kasra” and кыбла “qibla”). But it has x, gh, 7, 3 and h instead. 3a-3a-3a.

    Also Russian has [ʝ] as a possible pronunciation of /j/, and when it is devoiced it becomes a voiceless fricative. When I am dealing with a language with a ç (distinct from both Russian sounds…), it is one of those situations when I want more IPA signs:(

    “do Russians hear ç as /xʲ /?” – depends on ç, but at least sometimes yes.
    “would Russians render what they hear as (not too comfortable) /хян/ as /хан/?” – I don’t know… But it seems possible.

  92. an interesting case is цейхгауз (Zeughaus)
    That reflects the pronunciation of final “g” as [x / ç] that is usual in many German dialects (what is taught as Standard pronunciation has this only in the suffix -ig) plus the traditional rendering of German [h] as Russian “г”.

  93. ə de vivre says

    Nişanyan’s entry for dükkan cites an entry in the Codex Cumanicus, “apotheca [dükkân] – Fa: duχan – Tr: tugan,” that has a fricative in the Persian (Farsça) form of the word, suggesting that Persian dialects might be the source of the alternation.

  94. Wild mountain Jewess. Pleasant guttural voice. Tattooed faces, Red Fingernalis .

    “Even the very name of the owner of the dukhan where we landed, Beniogu, breathed something patriarchal, Semito-Arabic, and did not at all resemble the current Itzkas and Sruls, just as the Caucasian mountain Jews do not at all resemble their civilized counterparts in Europe, being a tribe in the highest degree attractive…


    From the door of the sakli came a girl who, rightly, could be mistaken for a fairy. If Heine were here, if this charming vision caught his eye, we would have a charming mountain legend. I myself felt ashamed that I had opened my mouth to a beautiful savage. Imagine a narrow oval face, thin and graceful. Large black eyes with tonsils look at you somehow timidly and submissively. This is the look of an oriental woman. Black eyebrows seem to be slightly pointed with a brush – their bend is so correct; a graceful nose with thin pink nostrils that swell slightly even from ordinary breathing, and a small mouth; slightly swollen bright scarlet lips, the upper one slightly upturned, not ugly, but just enough to show the small pearls of the teeth. And although her hair was hidden by an ugly silk bag behind, the strands of them were knocked out over a small forehead and intrusive, small curls framed thin pink, see-through ears. Dissolve two or three drops of blood over the matte, passionate dark skin of this face, enough to lightly color only the cheeks, draw his barely noticeable blue lines of veins over the finished sketch – and you will understand how amazed I was at first minute. A yellow silk shirt with wide sleeves, intercepted at the waist, made it possible to see the sloping shoulders and waist of the dragonfly, which at once almost turned into broad, luxurious lines of strongly developed hips. The narrow, beautiful hand was so perfectly fine that it became involuntarily annoyed at the blue warts of Persian turquoise, in the form of rings, sitting on the longish fingers of the Jewess …

    She spoke in a guttural, pleasant voice. I shook my head, of course. A mocking smile flickered across her face for an instant and disappeared… And again those expressive eyes look timidly and submissively.

    Alas! The fairy of the Kaibulag gorge we met was the first and last beauty among the Jewish population of Dagestan. Maybe I didn’t come across others, but as a conscientious tourist, I must tell you that all the other ladies of militant Israel were very unattractive. Between them, moreover, come across real tattooed savages. The already rough faces are still painted with different figures, lines, circles, triangles. The most disgusting thing is when these signs are pointed with bright red paint. Painted exactly in blood. I even happened to meet an old woman who did not deny herself the pleasure of drawing a few black lines across her face, which, in her opinion, gave her a special nobility and grace. Dappers with dyed eyebrows and hair are not uncommon. Lately, according to the Persian custom, local ladies in some auls put crimson colors on carefully grown nails. As if the ends of the fingers were soaked in blood. All these frivolous Evas are dressed very badly on weekdays; not to mention the poor, and the rich flaunt rags … Moreover, they are very dirty. An Englishman who measured the degree of civilization by the amount of soap consumed by a given country would have been horrified by the Mountain Jews.

    — Makhlas, Makhlas! was heard from within the sakli.

    The beauty spoke again in her guttural language, addressing the door, and walked past me, her eyes downcast.”

  95. Why I quoted it:

    – прекрасная дикарка “beautiful savage” is an unexpected description of a Jewess.
    – guttural (and pleasant)
    – I don’t know if he means they were actually tattooed or he just compared it to tattoo. But I did not know that women in the Caucasus did that.

    Which reminds how little we know about the visual aspect of the past.
    Greek temples and statues (naked marble today), Tunisians who draw pictures that I mentioned in another thread, wooden sculptures in Russian churches and headgear of Russian peasant women. And red triangles on faces of Caucasian Jewish women:-/

    – Red nails. Savage!!!

  96. David Eddyshaw says

    The beauty spoke again in her guttural language

    Irish or German, presumably.

  97. P.S. of course it was гортанный – the adjective used to describe sounds like… ع .
    Гортань (etym.)- an anatomical term, “larynx”
    Горло – “throat”.

    So it is not the same as “guttural” in that “guttural” is Latin and гортанный sounds native, but it is distributed very similarly.

  98. “Large black eyes with tonsils….” I had to wonder what led to the translation “tonsils” there.

  99. The Russian is “Крупные черные глаза миндалинами смотрят на вас как-то робко и покорно,” which DeepL renders “The large black amygdala eyes look at you somehow timid and submissive.” The word миндалина can mean ‘almond,’ ‘tonsil,’ ‘amygdala,’ or ‘geode’; I leave it to you to decide which is the most likely comparandum for the beautiful savage’s eyes.

  100. Nişanyan’s entry for dükkan cites an entry in the Codex Cumanicus, “apotheca [dükkân] – Fa: duχan – Tr: tugan,” that has a fricative in the Persian (Farsça) form of the word

    For readers who aren’t familiar with the Codex Cumanicus, part of it consists of a trilingual dictionary or glossary, with Latin words in the left column, the Persian words in the middle column, and Cuman words in the right column. It is written in the Latin alphabet. The page with duchan can be seen here. The relevant entry is the second line from the bottom of the page (in this instance, there are two Cuman terms):

    apotecha duchan chebit u̅l̅ tuga̅

    In the Latin column, apotecha is Latin apotheca, of course. Note the inconsistent (to say the least) orthography throughout the different parts of the Codex Cumanicus.

    In the Cuman column, chebit ‘shop, booth, stall’ is a Turkic word still continued today in Tatar кибет (dialectal кибит) and Bashkir кибет, ‘small shop’, for example, and also widely borrowed outside of Turkic, as in Mari кевыт ‘shop’, Udmurt кебит ‘smithy’, Middle Mongolian kebid ‘shop’. A reflex of the word can also be seen in Russian кибитка. (In much of the rest of Turkic, this word has been replaced by our word, Persian dukkān. The Turkic kebit itself is probably a loanword from Sogdian qpyδ ‘shop, stall’, from Greek καπηλεῖον.) As is apparent, the ch in chebit most likely spells a front k.

    And tuga̅ (that is, tugan) is just our word again, Persian dukkān (variant dukān), Arabic dukkān (u̅l̅, scribal abbreviation for Latin vel, ‘or’).

    It worthwhile comparing other uses of the digraph ch in the Persian column of this part of the Codex. Here is a selection of clearer cases that I made quickly scanning the columns in the first few pages above our entry:

    lentus rendered chakal, apparently Persian کاهل kāhil ‘slow, lazy, indolent’, from Arabic (Cuman given as kagal, the same word)

    veterus (sic!) (i.e. vetus) rendered chogun, Persian کهن kuhan ‘old, ancient’

    sichus (i.e. siccus) rendered ghusch, Persian خشک khušk ‘dry’ (note خ kh rendered gh, but with ک k rendered ch)

    benedictus rendered barchat, Persian برکت barakat (colloquially pronounced barkat)

    scuritas (cf. Italian scuro) rendered tarichi, Persian تاریکی tārīkī ‘darkness’, from تاریک tārīk ‘dark’

    In light of this, it seems to me that the easiest interpretation of the ch of duchan is /k/. I am going to write Sevan and suggest that he look into this entry again. I use his dictionary every day and am grateful that he offers this wonderful resource free to everyone, especially to the often impoverished university students of Turkey.

  101. David Eddyshaw says

    For readers who aren’t familiar with the Codex Cumanicus

    Thanks on my own behalf and on behalf of the other two. (They know who they are.)

  102. *raises hand furtively*

  103. In my dream I saw Google that showed the order of Lenin (as when you enter one word and it offers a definition) with a text: “the Order of Lenin. Only sorcerers of the second rank can perform magic rites with it”.
    I found it peculiar (for the same reason why I would find it peculiar now) and wanted to post a link here.

  104. “…As is apparent, the ch in chebit most likely spells a front k….”
    “…In light of this, it seems to me that the easiest interpretation of the ch of duchan is /k/. …”

    Ch (Africha) is a common spelling. I wonder how it arose and how it was distributed. Presumable students of medieval romance know…

    Why for example, affricha (the city), africha (the land), chastel (Castilia), mare ochceanum, mecha (Mecca), domasch, but cafsa (Gafsa, qafṣah), cumania and castels (castles) in the Catalan Atlas?

  105. Google Translate and eyes:

    It is singulative of миндаль “almond” (cf. картофель – картофелина “one potato”). In modern literary Russian uncommon, but colloquially I think one can form it.

    —- “almond-shaped eyes” always confused me (particularly when I was a child and wanted to know what it means), because any eyes (human eyes) are almond shaped:/ Two arcs joined at two corners…
    I guess the comparison originated in lands where almond grows.

  106. Kennst du das Land, wo die Mandelbäume blühen?

  107. His nose was heigh, his eyen were cytryne,
    His lippes rounde, his colour was sangwyn

  108. It seems Chinese has it too:

    杏仁 – apricot kernel, almond
    杏眼桃腮 – almond-shaped eyes and peach-red cheeks.
    杏眼圓睜 – her almond eyes glared round with rage.

    (some 19th century dictionary).
    Wiktionary says 杏 is “apricot”. And apprarently untranslatable 圓睜 is best illustrated with google images.

  109. On the Romani origin of divvy: as mentioned at Lake Talk, divia ‘crazy’ also appears in the Romani-influenced argot of Nonantum, Massachusetts.

  110. I don’t know if he means they were actually tattooed

    it’s hard to know! my understanding is that kurdish and amazigh jewish women traditionally did have similar tattoos to other kurdish and amazigh women, but that those practices have largely been wiped out as part of the general flattening-out of diasporic jewish cultures since european colonialism arrived in those regions (which has, of course, accelerated with the rise of zionism). but that might or might not be relevant, since “mountain jews” – which usually refers to juhuri ([judeo-]tat-speaking) communities these days – has been used to refer to all the caucasus jewish communities (juhuri, georgian, kurdish, and others) at various times*.

    but it’s also quite clear that henna, indigo, and turmeric were used for temporary and semi-permanent skin decoration in those communities and others. i would expect juhuri “mountain jews” to be among them, as part of the greater persian cultural world. noam sienna’s henna-centered “eshkol hakofer” blog (moribund, afaik) is a great collection of materials on that, with some nice philological tidbits along the way.

    and, of course, very little popular writing about any of this is reliable at all, since it almost invariably starts from the post-khurbn anti-tattooing stance of most european-descended jews and takes prohibitions on tattooing by maimonides and joseph karo as if they were universally accepted both in theory and in practice.

    * i wonder whether it’s ever been applied to the subbotnik and other “judaizing” heterodox-/post-christian communities that wound up in the caucasus.

  111. Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoonboxes of Daghestan (academia)

  112. !!

  113. David Marjanović says

    [ç] and [xʲ] sound almost the same. If you find a language described as having one of these, always wonder if it’s the other.

    [ç]-less varieties of German: in and around Switzerland, /x/ is [χ] with no allophony; on the middle Rhine, [ç] has shifted to [ɕ] or thereabouts and may have merged into /ʃ/ in some places.

    And apprarently untranslatable 圓睜 is best illustrated with google images.

    Googly-eyed madness?

  114. When I was 16 (or about that) I wondered if крутой would sound the same if it were крутохь (and experimented with my friends).

    Both sounds are basically allophones of other phonemes.

    Soft consonants (including хь) are considered independent phonemes, but velars almost never occur before -ы, (and гы хы кы are difficult to pronounse, ги хи ки are preferable) or before -я (гя хя кя are also not too convenient, га ха ка are preferable again) or as -гь -хь кь.
    I suppose these issues with distribution make it somewhat less phonemic.

    [ç] only arises from devoicing of one possible realisation of /j/, but it still arises in my speech sometimes.

    So it’s a situation when two allophones (or almost allophones) approach each other in sound closely from two different directions (morphonological directions)… while still maintaining slightly different articulation. Weird.

  115. David Marjanović says



    (And a known phenomenon in historical linguistics.)

  116. JC (2015): “OED … doesn’t bring the chiton/tunic doublet past its immediate sources”

    OED revised tunic in September 2023 and now shows the link to chiton, though they’re still not willing to go beyond Semitic: “classical Latin tunica … probably a borrowing from a Semitic language (compare Hebrew keṯōneṯ), from a word also borrowed into ancient Greek as χιτών chiton n.” Chiton is yet to be revised.

    The revision also points out a gap of several centuries between the rare attestations of tunic in Old English and its reappearance in the Early Modern period: “Originally < classical Latin … probably subsequently reborrowed” from French and/or Latin.

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