My wife was checking to see if we had a good supply of garbanzo beans when she asked me where the word was from (she knows how to keep me occupied). I thought the answer would be simple, but once you go beyond Spanish it’s a morass. Wiktionary:

From Spanish garbanzo, initially borrowed as garvance in the 17th c. and anglicized as calavance (“chickpea; any kind of bean or pulse”). The original garbanzo was re-established in the 19th c., primarily via American Spanish. The Spanish garbanzo is from Early Modern Spanish garbanços, from Old Spanish arvanço, which is of uncertain origin, presumably influenced by garroba (“carob fruit”) and galbana (“small pea; a variety of pea”), which is borrowed from Arabic جلبان‎ (“peas”). Other theories for the origin of garbanzo include the Basque compound garau (“seed”) +‎ antzu (“dry”) and the Ancient Greek ἐρέβινθος (erébinthos).

I got excited when I went to the OED and discovered that their entry was updated in June 2020, but alas, for the etymology they say “< Spanish garbanzo chickpea (see calavance n.),” and the calavance entry (with its label “Perhaps Obsolete”!) is from 1888. For what it’s worth, here’s that antique version:

Etymology: Originally garvance, caravance, < Spanish garbanzo chick-pea, according to Larramendi < Basque garbantzu, < garau seed, corn + antzu dry. (Diez says the question of derivation < Greek ἐρέβινθος chick-pea is not worth consideration; though the Portuguese form ervanço suggests connection with the Greek) Calavance appears to have come into English through some foreign language which changed r into l.

The AHD has a fresh take, bringing in the Goths:

Spanish, from Old Spanish garbanço, perhaps alteration (perhaps influenced by Old Spanish garroba, carob) of Old Spanish arvanço (compare Portuguese ervanço, chickpea), perhaps from Gothic *arwaits; akin to Dutch erwt and Old High German araweiz, pea, both from Proto-Germanic *arwait-, *arwīt-, pea, pulse, probably from the same same European substrate source as Greek erebinthos, chickpea, and Greek orobos and Latin ervum, bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia), a vetch once widely cultivated in the Mediterranean region as a pulse and as fodder for livestock.]

At any rate, I like the older form calavance, and I like very much this OED citation:

1997 Church Times 14 Mar. 10/5 Chickpeas, or more excitingly, garbanzos, are one of the best pulses.


  1. While Kroonen calls PGmc *arwīt- ‘pea’ a “demonstrably non-Indo-European word”, a more recent paper by Sagot derives it from a PIE root he reconstructs as *h₁er ‘(to be) dark red, dusk red’.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Made me think of Garance (C’est le nom d’une fleur) but it’s just coincidence, of course:

  3. Trond Engen says

    If it belongs to the European agricultural substrate — and I think it does, being red or not — I don’t see why we need to invoke irregular borrowing from Greek or Gothic. It could just as well be a local Iberian substrate form,

  4. Owlmirror says

    WordPress posting systems cope with posts with duplicate titles by putting a dash and a number (and incrementing the number for each reduplication). So the fact that the URL for this post ends with “-2” almost certainly means that there is a prior posting called “garbanzo”. Sure enough, from 2015:

    I agree that erwt is a weird-looking word.

    I suspect that it might be possible to rename this one as “calavance”, if one so desired.

  5. Argh! I usually check, but obviously I forgot this time. Ah well, it’s been six years, and I guess it’s time for more garbanzos!

  6. Trond Engen says

    … or “Garbanzo 2”, leaving the link unchanged and acknowledging the 2015 post.

    (I was afraid to find a comment of mine with the exact opposite opinion of the one I just gave here.)

  7. From sci.lang a report about a 1770 letter from Benjamin Franklin to William Bartram (a botanist) about garavances and Tau-fu.

    but in the comments there Franklin may have used garavances to mean “dry beans” and not specifically chick peas as we now know them.

  8. David Marjanović says

    a more recent paper by Sagot

    Finally the cran morpheme in Rebhuhn “partridge” is explained!

    (…there’s Rebe “vine”, but that doesn’t fit semantically.)

  9. January First-of-May says

    I add, totally irrelevantly, that I have always loved the phrase “bitter vetch,” though I wouldn’t know one if I saw it.

    I knew that there was such a thing as a sweetvetch, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a bitter vetch before. I wonder what “vetch” means. I also suspect I wouldn’t know one if I saw it though (…even if I knew what it was called in Russian).

    I also kinda like, in a weirdness way, the reference to (presumably) some subset of plants as “pulses”. It sounds like a very unexpected term for any kind of plants; surely plants (normally, at least) don’t actually pulse.
    Is it in fact a derived meaning of the same root in some way, or some different root that happened to coincide in English?

    As for chickpeas, the usual modern Russian word for them is нут – which at first glance looks like it should be somehow related to English nut (chickpeas aren’t nuts, of course, but they do look very much like little walnuts), but Wiktionary says it’s actually from Persian via Turkish and entirely unrelated to the “nut” word.

  10. David Marjanović says

    I wonder what “vetch” means.

    Latin vicia, which is now the taxonomic name of the vetch genus. The species have interesting names, BTW, like Vicia faba and Vicia orobus

    Must be a borrowing right into Pre-Proto-West-Germanic or earlier: German Wicke. Note the West Germanic consonant lengthening triggered by /j/.

    Chickpeas, German Kichererbsen as if “giggle peas”, must have been borrowed from cicer at the same time.

  11. Dmitry Pruss says

    Of course you know мышиный горошек and probably астрагал too. I thought that somewhere scattered over the depths of LH, there may be my post about about Maragata, Morenica, and Goya’s scary painting “Gracias a la Almorta”, about the famine-food vetch which has been only recently banned from human consumption in Spain despite its severe neurotoxicity.
    But I might have written it somewhere else? Can’t spot it now.

  12. @January First-of-May: Bitter vetch is strictly starvation food for humans. While the split grains resemble red lentils, they are practically unpalatable. However, they are very easy to grow in thin or alkali soil, and so they have a long history as animal fodder. (Bitter vetch may in fact be the earliest crop that was grown essentially exclusively for the consumption of livestock.)

    Regarding English pulse for legumes: It is evidently unrelated to the rhythmical sense. Although both come to English from Romance, they trace back to different Latin sources. For the grains, the OED says there is no certainty about the ultimate origin or about how the word developed after it entered English:

    Apparently < classical Latin pult-, puls pottage made of meal, pulse, etc., of uncertain origin, perhaps < ancient Greek πόλτος porridge, of uncertain origin, perhaps related to πάλη fine flour, or to classical Latin pollen fine flour.

    The semantic development of this word is not clear, as there is only one late and isolated attestation in English [J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs, from the Fourteenth Century (1847)] for the sense that the word has in Latin.

    For the rhythmic sense:

    < (i) Anglo-Norman puls, pus, pous and Middle French poulz, pouls, pous, pousse throbbing of the arteries, place where the pulse is felt

    and its etymon (ii) classical Latin pulsus action of beating or striking, beat, stroke, impact, beat or throb of the heart or arteries (especially in pulsus artēriārum , pulsus vēnārum) < puls– , past participial stem of pellere to drive, beat… + –tus, suffix forming verbal nouns.

    The OED says that the sense appearing in impulse, repulse, etc. (including the obsolete noun form meaning “a stroke, a blow, an impact; an attack, an assault” and a verb form, “to make recurrent thrusts, sallies, or attacks”—dryly noted by the OED as “apparently only in the works of Thomas Carlyle”) “may show an independent word.” However, its etymology for repulse goes back to the parallel repellere + –tus, so I’m not sure what to make of that.

  13. Finally the cran morpheme in Rebhuhn “partridge” is explained!,

    I want an explanation for “rowan”, actually.

  14. OMG, “arbes” is a chickpea snack prepared in Ashkenazi communities for a certain type of ceremony, fits right into the Germanic branch of this discussion, I never saw this connection before!

  15. Ashkenazi hummus, who knew? I’d never heard of it.

  16. David Marjanović: A pre-West Germanic borrowing of Latin “vicia” would have yielded an English form with an initial /f/ or /w/. The /v/ of the English form indicates a later borrowing from Romance, and the final consonant indicates a Picard French origin. So English “vetch” and German “Wicke” have a common Latin etymon, but no common etymon within Germanic.

  17. “more excitingly” because the Church Times is English of the English and ‘garbanzo’ is American of the Spanish

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. One has to raise an eyebrow at such modish language from the Church Times. As I was just saying to the Archdeacon’s wife when we were drawing up the Flower Arranging Rota, they’ll be endorsing Rap Music during Eucharist next, mark my words.

  19. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm, Etienne
    Middle English fecche=
    Any of certain cultivated or wild leguminous plants belonging to the genus Vicia or to allied genera; vetch.
    There is a known process where initial f is voiced in certain Modern Standard English words, e.g. dialect borrowing. So I think it is not necessary to assume borrowing of a specific Picard word and to me, common ancestry of the ME word and German Wicke looks possible.

  20. the famine-food vetch which has been only recently banned from human consumption in Spain despite its severe neurotoxicity

    I wanted to make some kind of Radio Yerevan joke about this being true in principle, only it was not recently banned, but unbanned 😐

  21. Dmitry Pruss says

    Unbanned, oy. In my timframe recently was “compared to the time of Francisco Goya” …. as i recall in the 1960s or 1970s

  22. David Marjanović says

    A pre-West Germanic borrowing of Latin “vicia” would have yielded an English form with an initial /f/ or /w/.

    Yes. My ignorance of Picard allowed the final consonant to mesmerize me.

    There is a known process where initial f is voiced in certain Modern Standard English words, e.g. dialect borrowing. So I think it is not necessary to assume borrowing of a specific Picard word and to me, common ancestry of the ME word and German Wicke looks possible.

    But then German would have /f/, too.

    It’s more likely that just the German form is an old borrowing, with Early Classical Latin [w] rather than Romance [v], and with Classical [ɪ] rather than Romance [e].

    Old English borrowed Romance /v/ as f (e.g. fers “verse”). So, maybe vetch was updated once that became possible (like German Paradeis to Paradies, Basque baradizu to paradisu, and perhaps verse itself). Another option is that vetch was borrowed into Middle English at a point when the dialect in question hadn’t established /v/ yet; yet another is borrowing into a southern dialect with initial voicing, followed by etymological nativization upon borrowing into the Danelaw.

  23. cuchuflete says

    More excitingly… had a look at the RAE’s Autoridades to see what etymological gems might be lurking.
    None visible, but some delicious idioms and refranes are appended to the definition.

    Diccionario de Autoridades – Tomo IV (1734)

    GARBANZO. s. m. Planta bien conocida, que produce un tallo corto, que apenas sale de la tierra. Sus ramas son mui abiertas, las hojas menudas, y en las ramas hecha unos zurroncillos, en que produce el fruto, que es el garbanzo, de figura redonda, menos un pico con que está asido al zurrón. Latín. Cicer. PRAGM. DE TASS. año 1680. f. 50. La libra de garbanzos secos ordinarios, a veinte maravedís. COMEND. sob. las 300. copl. 129. Cicerón se nombró assí, porque tenia en el pico de la naríz una carnecilla semejante a garbanzo, que en Latín se dice Cicer … o segun la opinión de otros, porque sembraba garbanzos.

    Cuenta garbanzos. Expressión con que se nota al miserable y demasiadamente económico en su casa. Latín. Nimis parcus.

    [bean counter. Expression applied to one who is impoverished and excessively frugal in his home.]

    Echar o poner garbanzos. Además del sentido recto, vale echar especies a alguno, para que se enfade, o enrede, hable o diga lo que de otro modo callaría. Latín. Offendicula parare, objicere.

    Tropezar en un garbanzo. Phrase. con que se nota al que en todo halla dificultad, y se enreda en qualquier cosa, o al que toma prolixamente motivo de cosas fútiles, para enfadarse o hacer oposición. Latín. In paleam caespitare, vel offendere.

    De adonde le vino al garbanzo el pico. Refr. con que se nota y reprehende al que siendo de baxa esphera o linage, y pocas prendas, se ensoberbece y desvanece, jactándose. Latín. Quid est cur infirmus se extollat.

    This may or may not cast light on the Spanish, garbanzo, but chickpea in Portuguese, both Brasileiro and Iberian, is grão-de-bico, or grain of the beak. And so we are back to Cicero.
    And even to the Quevedo poem about the gent with the big nose.

  24. John Cowan says

    I want an explanation for “rowan”, actually.

    It’s < ON reynirSorbus aucuparia‘, and spread southwards from Scotland to Northumbria to all Britain. It is plainly ‘the red one’: cf. ON rauðr ‘red’ > NB rød, NN raud, Da rød, Sw röd) as can be seen in this picture of rowanberries.

    Before the arrival of rowan, the OE word was cwicbēam ‘living tree’; the ModE form quickbeam is unusual but still current. In Tolkien Quickbeam is the name of a rowan-like Ent known in Sindarin as Bregalad, also ‘living tree’. He sings a song about three of his rowan friends who have been cut down by Orcs, naming them in Quenya as Oropharne ‘mountain ash’ (another by-name of the rowan), Lassemista ‘leaf-gray’ and Carnimírie ‘adorned with red jewels’ (namely the berries).

    (One HTML Award, please.)

  25. Brief interruption to offer a new Late Bronze Age alphabetic ostracon from the middle 15th century BCE at Lachish as a possible topic for Hat, or just for discussion. The authors suggest it’s the missing link between Serabit el Khadim and the larger corpus of the 13th century, and helps strengthen uncertain early dating for some other alphabetic inscriptions.:

    It came to my attention at I can’t begin to assess its importance but imagine there are people here who would have interesting things to say.

  26. I already posted it here but nobody seemed to want to discuss it.

  27. Oh, I didn’t see it there. Thanks.

  28. Dmitry Pruss says

    It’s NB rød, NN raud, Da rød, Sw röd) as can be seen in this picture of rowanberries.

    Before the arrival of rowan, the OE word was cwicbēam ‘living tree’; the ModE form quickbeam is unusual but still current. In Tolkien Quickbeam is the name of a rowan-like Ent known in Sindarin as Bregalad, also ‘living tree’. He sings a song about three of his rowan friends who have been cut down by Orcs, naming them in Quenya as Oropharne ‘mountain ash’ (another by-name of the rowan), Lassemista ‘leaf-gray’ and Carnimírie ‘adorned with red jewels’ (namely the berries).

    Ooh I may need to rename my now-fav homemade rowanberry infusion by one of Tolkien’s names for gravitas. Not Quickbeam I mean, but maybe Oropharne? Locally accepted mtn ash is also kind of imperfect for a liquor.

    If ON reynir is from “red”, then why Russian рябина is from “brown” / “spotted / pockmarked”? In all Slavo-Baltic laguages it’s cognate with quail but I don\t know if “spotted like a quail” came before or after the bird/ Vasmer also mentions Old Icelandic jаrрr “brown”…

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    What you seem to be saying is that
    Via > Weg (German), way (English) can be a direct ancestral borrowing from Latin because the initial consonants correspond between the two daughters but
    Vicia > Wicke (German) , fecche (M. Eng) cannot be in M. Eng a reflex of an ancestral borrowing, because it has the wrong initial consonant, whereas Wicke has the right consonant? Are there no pathways within West Germanic to allow f in English and w in German due to some [Beta] > w in German but > f in English, something like Weste and vest (i.e., this one is probably from French in both languages, but I can’t think of a good equation and at least it is not west in English ????) .

  30. David Marjanović says

    Via > Weg (German), way (English) can be a direct ancestral borrowing from Latin because the initial consonants correspond between the two daughters but

    …but the rest of the word doesn’t fit. Rather, they’re independently inherited from PIE and may not even be cognate.

    Are there no pathways within West Germanic to allow f in English and w in German due to some [Beta] > w in German but > f in English

    No. There was a [β], but not word-initially.

    And the vowels probably can’t be cognate either within West Germanic.

  31. Note that, although quick in quickbeam has the older sense of “alive,” the name of Quickbeam the ent is also an unsubtle pun. Quickbeam, who is among the youngest ents (although still definitely an adult at an age of perhaps 3500, there having been no entings since the disappearance of the entwives some time before the Battle of Dagorlad), has already made up his mind to fight Saruman after seeing the destruction wrought by his uruk-hai. Treebeard (correspondingly the oldest of the ents) says Quickbeam is thus the closest thing there is to a “hasty”* ent.

    The other famous rowan-name from British fantasy is the Thearah, or Rowan Lord, chief rabbit of the Sandleford Warren where Watership Down begins. The narrator muses that there may have been only a single rowan tree in the area, and so the chief rabbits of the warren were considered to be the lords of that specific tree. I have never seen it confirmed explicitly, but I have always assumed that there was indeed just the one rowan in that vicinity.

    * The description of the smaller races as “hasty” by Stephen R. Donaldson’s giants is the most obvious example of Donaldson drawing on Tolkien as an influence. It’s an unusual example in that it feels like a genuine lack of creativity on Donaldson’s part.

  32. John Cowan says

    Threah=rah. Fiver’s son is also Threah, though not a chief.

  33. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks. When Etienne ruled out vetch because it was not with f or w, I got confused because of the earlier fecche. But now I see that his answer was short for a longer answer based on knowledge I did not have ????. Thanks for explaining.

  34. John Cowan says

    Say what? Most of Donaldson’s fantasy tropes are Tolkien’s. Stonedownors and Woodhelvennin are human Elves and Dwarves, and Ents are split into Giants and Forestals. Other equivalents: Cavewights:Orcs, the Creator:Ilúvatar, Lord Foul:the Dark Lord, Ranyhyn:mearas, Ramen:Rohirrim, Ravers:Ringwraiths, the Lords:the Wise, the Spoiled Plains: Mordor, Andelain:Lorien, the list goes on. What isn’t an equivalent, though, is Covenant:Frodo, “and that has made all the difference.”

    But see also Nick Lowe’s essay “The Well-Tempered Plot Device”, which demonstrates how to reduce absolutely everything to cliches; it only lacks the reference to Hamlet as “one famous saying after another, strung together by a moldy old plot.”

  35. @John Cowan: Yes, and the book Realms of Fantasy has a whole list of parallels between Middle-Earth and The Land. However, the case of the giants and the ents was the only one where—thanks to the repetition of the word “hasty”—it really felt like Donaldson was just copying, rather than paying more subtle homage or relying on older common mythopoetic tropes. Even the deadly forbidden forests seemed characteristically distinct enough that it didn’t really feel like straight duplication. On the other hand, if I were more interested in horses, I imagine Donaldson’s inclusion of super-horses might also have seemed too close an imitation of Tolkien.

    And the list in Realms of Fantasy didn’t even agree on all points with yours. The authors there equated the orcs with the ur-viles; in actuality, both the cavewights and the ur-viles are evil servitor races, although they are different types of evil servitor races (and with one exception, the ur-viles are consistently more important). However, it may be that the influence of Tolkien’s orcs (and trolls too; remember, Tolkien also had two evil races populating Sauron’s nonhuman armies, with the smaller race being wiser in lore and thus more important to the story) ​is so profound that having an evil races under the sway of a dark lord has become the standard for epic fantasy in a way it was not before the middle of the twentieth century. Tolkien himself was influenced by the multiple fantasy races in The Worm Ouroboros, with each country (and thus each evil ruler) having their own autochthonous fantasy race—although there are few practical differences between the races, and most of them might as well be human. The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson also features servitor races of the evil gods, and this time with more than mere cosmetic differences between them. The pig-things from The House on the Borderlands are also quite orcish—bestial and cannibalistic but also clearly not unintelligent—although whether they serve any master (such as the larger monster that appears only near the beginning and the end of the book) is unclear.

    Having a dark lord is also a very old idea. (See this Stack Exchange question for some specifics on the origin of the particular term “dark lord” and its connection with Christian Manichaeism.) For modern fantasy/science fantasy examples, one may look at the John Carter of Mars novels,* which feature several—each often having their own brutal, orc-like slave race. Many epic myths (such as The Shahnameh and the Ramayana) have demon king villains, and Tolkien’s friend Lewis published the Space Trilogy, featuring a dark Oyarsa who is literally the Devil. And naturally, many dark lords will choose to live in blasted wastelands—representing how they are enemies of life itself. (Tolkien and Donaldson are among the relatively few authors who seem to have put much, if any, thought into how such an evil lord’s armies could be supported out of such territories.) For a classic instance of such a despoiled territory, there is the terrain childe Roland must pass through on his way to whatever final confrontation awaits him:

    Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
    Next a marsh it would seem, and now mere earth
    Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
    Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
    Changes and off he goes!) within a rood —
    Bog, clay and rubble, sand, and stark black dearth.

    Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
    Now patches where some leanness of the soil’s
    Broke into moss, or substances like boils;
    Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
    Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
    Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.

    On the other hand, the equivalence of the Ravers and the Nazgul (while obvious enough to make both lists) is fairly shallow, in my opinion. (I would say skin deep, but neither group really has any skin.) If a cosmology has a sorcerous dark lord, it often makes sense for them to have a core group of powerful minions who share a common set of magical abilities. Conan faced off against such groups of foes in The Hour of the Dragon and The People of the Black Circle. However, one characteristic, common to the Ravers and the Ringwraiths, that other early examples like these (at least the ones I can think of) do lack is having traversed far beyond their original humanity through their devotion to their evil master—although the Nazgul and the Ravers have clearly done that in very different ways.

    Finally, I really have to disagree with equating the common people of The Land with elves or dwarves. For the stonedownors, I think it makes no sense at all. The normal stonedown residents, after all, really have no special affinity for stone lore; it is made clear early on in Lord Foul’s Bane that the stone lore is simply the lore they had not forgotten during their exile after the Ritual of Desecration. They are not deep delvers or miners, and the one place in The Land where humans occupy an underground city is where stone and wood lore are both preserved—although Revelstone was actually excavated by the giants, and it is actually the craftsmanlike giants who (in spite of being partially and very obviously based on the ents) are probably the most dwarf-like race in The Land.

    There is also nothing faerie about the woodhelvinin except (and I admit it is a very big except) that they dwell up in trees. They are (figuratively, if not literally) much more down to earth than most of the elves from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. (Note that Lord Foul’s Bane and its two sequels were written before The Silmarillion—which, since most of its major characters are elves themselves, shows the elvish race in a rather different light— was published.) The biggest similarity is not actually between the elvish and woodhelvinin peoples themselves, but rather in how they enter into the plots of the books. Covenant and Frodo (who both bear magical rings of extraordinary power; but there the similarity ends) are both tested by the wood dwellers, and in each case, the protagonist turns the test back on the tester—although beyond that the similarity is fairly superficial. The mechanisms of the tests are totally different, and the way they are turned around are correspondingly different.

    Actually, I think the most effective depiction elves as a race that is characteristically different in appearance but still human at an underlying level comes from Fires of Azeroth by C. J. Cherryh. However, this is another** example where I don’t recommend reading the book. There are bits of the second and third Morgaine Stories novels (such as the introduction of the full-blooded elves) that work, but there are also long stretches that simply do not. (And the less said about the fourth book, the better.) However, the first book, Gate of Ivrel, has some really impressive material. I would put it as one of the very best specifically “science fantasy” novels, along with, for example, The Dark World by Henry Kuttner. There is a really eerie deja vu scene near the beginning of Gate of Ivrel and another sequence where Cherryh depicts what is happening in such a way that the viewpoint character (and the reader) get a totally backward impression of what is actually going on. To those interested, I would suggest reading the entirety of Gate of Ivrel, then the beginning chapters of the first sequel, Well of Shiuan. Once the main characters show up in Well of Shiuan, it’s time to stop; that will leave the story hanging, but the series has no ending anyway, and cutting it off there avoids hundred of pages of dreary retreads and inconsistencies. You miss out on the elves, but it’s only their introduction that is any good. (It’s not possible just to skip to the introduction of the elves, either. Appreciating their appearance would require wading through a lot of the drek earlier in the book, and I don’t think it’s worth it, unless one is particularly interested with this kind of portrayal of human elves.)

    * I don’t actually recommend doing more than looking at the John Carter novels, unless one is an intense fan of planetary romance pulp. Within the genre, the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs are certainly better than, say, the sadomasochistic Gor books, but that is not saying a whole lot.

    ** As per the other footnote above.

  36. Yes, the comment about rowan has to do with the Russian word.

    Ryaba is a classic hen given name in Russian. Ryabchik is “hazel groos”.
    ryab- is “speckled”.
    ryab’ is “ripple”.

    Vasmer also proposes:

    Lithuanian raĩbas, Latvian ràibs “пестрый”, “bunt”,
    Lithuanian raĩbti “рябить (в глазах)”, “flimmern (von der Augen)”, ribė́ti “рябить, мерцать”, “flimmern”,
    Irish ríаbасh “пятнистый”, “gesprenkelt”, OHG rераhuоn “куропатка”, “Rebhuhn”.

    NAturally uin the context of Rebhuhn these are mentioned and so is Rebhuhn in the context of Slavic words.

    But there is parallelism between Slavic “rowan” and Slavic “speckled”:

    Slovenian jerebíka, Czech jeřáb, jeřabina, “rowan”
    Slovenian jerệb, jеrеbíса, Czech jeřábek “hazel groose”.

    Wiktionary explains this with Vogelbeere, deriving Slavic rowan from partridge/hazel groose. Indeed if German has (since when?) Vogelbeere and someone (who,? when?) came up with Sorbus aucuparia (<aucupor < auceps "fowler"), it is interesting, but I am not sure about this etymology.

    The Etymological Dictionary of Slavic Languages goes in a counter-offensive:

    Eberesche is explained with metathesis (r-b b-r) and compared to ryabina. I don’t like it, but what is Eberesche? Yew-ash*? I do not like it too.

    After this, exact morphology and derivation for reynir woudl not harm.

    * As Wiktionary says. Ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₁ebʰros (“yew”).[1] Cognate with Proto-Celtic *eburos, Albanian bërshen. . with reference to “*eburo-”, in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic .
    Eber “boar” is better:)))

  37. Orel also compared these to an Albanian form: here.

  38. PlasticPaddy says

    I think Yew-ash is not that bad. You have to consider that
    (1) the leaves of rowan are in shape identical to the leaves of ash
    (2) At least in Old Irish glosses, ibar was more generic and this is seen in later compounds, e.g., iubhar beinne = juniper

  39. David Marjanović says

    Eberesche previously on LH.

    High German has a few other Celtic borrowings not found elsewhere in Germanic, too. I bet Stiege “staircase” is one.

  40. Dmitry Pruss says

    “Sorbus aucuparia L. ” meaning it was classified by Linnaeus himself. Like most of common plant species, naturally. But he wasn’t a linguist and this may have been his attempt at folk etymology.

    Not sure if this is better in the old thread referenced by DM, or here, but Russian also has an unrelated plant with umbrella-like flower clusters and ash-like leaves called “rowan”: tansy ( Tanacetum boreale )

  41. David Marjanović says

    I don’t actually recommend doing more than looking at the John Carter novels, unless one is an intense fan of planetary romance pulp.

    I do recommend the TV Tropes article.

  42. I bet Stiege “staircase” is one.
    Why do you think so? To me, it look like it belongs to steigen “climb, rise up”.

  43. Trond Engen says

    Scandinavian has the word too, from ON stigi/stegi, a weak masculine. it’s also a vowel balance word in Central Scandinavian (stega in trad. E. Norw.). The meaning is “ladder”.

  44. David Marjanović says

    Yes, it’s related to steigen, and there are three related masculine nouns (though not with meanings like “stairs” or “ladder”). But the vowel is really hard to explain within Germanic. It’s not a recently lengthened i (as found in the past participle gestiegen), because it’s the usual diphthong in my dialect. So it must come from the Proto-Northwest-Germanic *ē, which occurs in past-tense forms with lost reduplication* (so not in nouns) and in a long list of Latin loans. The trick here is that Celtic turned *ei into *ē. Borrowing a Celtic root cognate of Steig would yield Stiege.

    The traditional explanation for Stiege is to postulate a vrddhi form *stēigʰ- and to further postulate that *ēi became *ē in NWGmc (rather than the *āi expected from the normal development of PGmc *ē), which is impossible to test because there don’t seem to be any other examples of PIE *ēi in Germanic.**

    * meaning that *CeCa- turned into *Cea- with a vowel cluster that was smoothed to *Cē-. Examples: lief, rief, blieb, also ging, hing with much later shortening of the overlong syllable. Examples of Latin loans: Brief “letter”, Ziegel “brick”.
    ** The DWDS does postulate that the same happened in the traditionally puzzling “here” word, but that has a much better explanation, whose author, BTW, also blames the similarity of der, die, das to er, sie, es on Celtic (in another paper, also on

    Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen (in DWDS):
    steigen, Steig, Stieg

  45. January First-of-May says

    I don’t actually recommend doing more than looking at the John Carter novels, unless one is an intense fan of planetary romance pulp.

    I’ve read them, and (IIRC) a few more classic planetary romance series, back in (my second) 10th grade, because my (fourth) school’s website (we were doing distance learning long before it became mainstream) had an online library full of that sort of stuff.
    (I tried my best to read the entire library, but I don’t recall all that much of what else was in there. IIRC the conceit was “early stories about space travel” or something to that effect, so they had Micromégas and Tsiolkovsky and a bunch of other stories like that, but once they got into the 20th century they ended up branching into pulp. OTOH, IIRC for some reason they didn’t have The Chase of the Golden Meteor.)

    I think I’ve liked the John Carter/Barsoom series themselves, all the way up to the (alas unfinished) Skeleton Men of Jupiter, as well as the side-quel Amtor series (forgot the name of the protagonist), but I never really liked the sequel series (forgot both of their names) where aliens from the Moon end up conquering the Earth. OTOH, I was about 15 years old at the time and might have just been sufficiently immature to enjoy that sort of stuff properly.

    Latin vicia, which is now the taxonomic name of the vetch genus.

    Also borrowed (by some pathway I don’t know) as Russian вика, as in чечевица с викою (indirectly previously on LH – I only know of the line in question via that post) and in no other context I recall.

    Russian Wikipedia says горошек, вика, with the former as the name of the article.

    Of course you know мышиный горошек and probably астрагал too.

    I know the former as the plant that we kept having to identify at the Summer Ecological Schools… which I probably would not have recalled if not reminded. I’m not aware of any plant meaning of the latter, though, only the Roman bone dice thing.

    The “sweet vetch” (actually “sweetvetch”, in one word) that I mentioned in my comment is apparently Hedysarum; Russian Wikipedia has it under копеечник, another plant name I can’t recall having ever heard of before.

  46. I also enjoyed the John Carter/Barsoom series when I was twelve or thirteen.

  47. I know the former as the plant that we kept having to identify at the Summer Ecological Schools… which I probably would not have recalled if not reminded.

    The status of the 7,983 names (including infraspecific names) for the genus Astragalus recorded in The Plant List, are as follows:
    Status Total
    ◕ Accepted 2,704 33.9%
    ◕ Synonym 3,651 45.7%
    ◕ Unplaced 0 0%
    ◕ Unassessed 1,628 20.4%

    The status of the 6,603 species names for the genus Astragalus recorded in The Plant List, are as follows:
    Status Total
    ◕ Accepted 2,455 37.2%
    ◕ Synonym 2,599 39.4%
    ◕ Unplaced 0 0%
    ◕ Unassessed 1,549 23.5%

    Of the species names,

    99 are recorded as a spelling variant


  48. Trond Engen says

    The first vowel of ON stigi/stegi is short, hence the vowel balance yielding -a in trad. East Norwegian and adjacent Swedish.

    Sti(g) m. &lt ON stígr/stigr is the default word for footpath.
    Steg n. < ON stig means “step”, also in a ladder or a staircase.
    Steig(-) exists in several toponyms and is believed to have meant “climb, steep access”, Most farms by the name are situated high above the main settlement, a couple where the flattish valley bed yields to more rough terrain, and one near a short stretch of rapids in the river.

  49. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t think I have reread any of the Burroughs/Barsoom books, which I quite enjoyed as a boy, since I was maybe twelve at the oldest, and I appreciate that they would probably not particularly reward rereading as an adult. On the other hand, I’ve never read most of the Donaldson/Covenant books in the first place because I got past the maximum age at which I could manage to take them seriously (probably fourteen but possibly fifteen) when he was only three or four books in. Your mileage may vary (as to both authors).

  50. @David Marjanović, Trond Engen: English has the word sty, with several different meanings: “narrow path,” “ladder,” and “pig enclosure”—although the first two are archaic or regional. Interestingly, although they all converged on the same pronunciation and spelling in late Modern English, the three different meanings probably arrived in Middle English via different routes. One was inherited directly; one came from low German; and one came via Scandinavian.

    @J.W. Brewer: It is hard to know which stories one read as a young child or teenager will hold up when rereading them as an adult. Often, the first book in a series may be really excellent, but the sequels (which might have seemed just as good as the first book when I was a kid) are hugely disappointing in contrast. The Bunnicula series is in that category; Bunnicula is a quick and still enjoyable read as an adult, but the sequels are just painful to page through now. Similarly, A Wrinkle in Time is a really impressive novel, but the quality falls off quickly afterwards; the second book, A Wind in the Door still has a lot of great ideas, but it loses a lot through the introduction of a more conventional gang of villains and a more rigid structure. Some of the early children’s novels by John Bellairs are really excellent—certainly The House with A Clock in Its Walls, probably also The Curse of the Blue Figurine, and I still have a personal (although maybe not so shared) fondness for The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost—but by the time I was reading The Eyes of the Killer Robot and The Lamp From the Warlock’s Tomb, the books already felt like guilty pleasures at age 12; I have not even tried to reread his later output as an adult.

    I can certainly imagine the John Carter of Mars novels appealing to me when I was in elementary school or maybe middle school; however, I found they have far too much brainless thud and blunder for me today. Some pulp fantasy still works for me though—such as the better Conan stories, like “The Tower of the Elephant” or “Red Nails”; on the other hand, I found “The People of the Black Circle” to be almost John Carter-level tedious even the first time I read it (in spite of it often being listed as among the very best Conan tales).

    Another series that I find largely still works for me, even though it is aimed explicitly as kids is the four-volume Last Legionary series by Douglas Hill. In that case, I am not sure how would feel about the books if I had not read them when I was younger (and the one I didn’t get read until I was about eighteen—the second book, Deathwing over Veynaa—is definitely my least favorite, not counting the execrable prequel written later). One of the things I appreciate about Hill’s plots is that he makes an effort to explain how his hero manages to get caught up in such epic events and to function as an effective one-man army. The character has a backstory explaining why he is the most badass individual in the galaxy, and he specifically takes advantage of the fact that he can endure things that his enemies expect to be unsurvivable and also the fact that those enemies tend to be overconfident enough not to kill him immediately whenever they have a chance. Hill also managed to come up with a convincing final villain; the first book was titled Galactic Warlord, and when the Warlord finally appears in the last book, its nature is appropriately impressive; there are definitely some weak parts to the final confrontation, but the payoff of the Warlord’s identity is compelling enough to work even for a more mature adult reader. However, as I already noted, Hill also tried to write an episodic prequel that just cannot match the quality of the original’s story, so he did eventually fall into that commonplace trap.

    The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher is another example where the story is strong enough to stand up for several books. The middle volume, The City of Gold and Lead is the best, but the story is strong enough to sustain an adult reader through it. There is a lot of gradual, careful world building, as the main characters and the reader learn, effectively side by side, about the aliens that have conquered the Earth. The same cannot be said about most of Christopher’s other works for children. A number of his do books have some really interesting ideas—The Guardians, The Lotus Caves, Beyond the Burning Lands—but they don’t have logical or meaningful enough plots for me to enjoy much as an adult reader. (And again, the later Tripods prequel is absolutely best ignored—especially by adults. It is extremely dated, in a way that original books were not, although that’s hardly the prequel’s biggest problem.)

    Finally, when it comes to Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, it is clear that Donaldson was trying to write a fantasy series for adults. Whether it was actually more appropriate for teens is something I am frankly not sure about. The series was recommended to me when I was about thirteen by the father of a friend. My friend’s father also knew my father professionally; he was a mental health social worker and licensed counselor, specializing in teens and young adults—so I imagine that he had a pretty good idea what was appropriate for a reader like me. On the other hand, my eighth-grade journalism teacher seemed really surprised when she saw that I was reading White Gold Wielder. (Actually, she saw the book and first thought that it was another student’s, which really, really surprised her; she was a bit less shocked when she learned the book was mine, not his.) I still find that Donaldson’s original trilogy is a good read as an adult, but not the subsequent books (or the separately-published “episode” that was cut from the second book). Moreover, the falloff in quality from the very first book is still evident even in the first trilogy. In fact, most of Donaldon’s writing after The Power That Preserves is pretty weak (as well as suffering from editing problems), and I doubt I would touch much of it again.

  51. PlasticPaddy says

    Re steigen/Stiege there are the etymologically related steil/Stiel. The vowel in Stiel is explained as a Latin borrowing (stīlus).

  52. @DM: thanks for the details. I somehow always had assumed the root vowel was a secondarily lengthened [i].

  53. David Marjanović says

    Huh, interesting. The DWDS has Stiel as a mixture of Latin stilus, apparently with a short vowel that underwent the lengthening of monosyllabic words in Early New High German, and a similar native word that has cognates all over IE and is a root cognate of stellen “put so that it stands” and Stollen “horizontal tunnel in a mine”. The entry on steil says it’s a Low German borrowing that replaced steigel, which I didn’t know at all, only in the 18th century; it’s the root of steigen with a Germanic suffix *-Vla-.

  54. Chickpeas, German Kichererbsen as if “giggle peas”, must have been borrowed from cicer at the same time.

    In Dutch: kikkererwten, “frog peas”.

  55. And I forgot that there is one more English version of the *stig– word that did not converge on the spelling and pronunciation “sty.” There is also stile: “an arrangement of steps, rungs, or the like, contrived to allow passage over or through a fence to one person at a time, while forming a barrier to the passage of sheep or cattle” (OED).

    There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
    He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
    He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
    And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

  56. January First-of-May says

    There is also stile

    Whence the probably more familiar turnstile.

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