High Tea.

Syntinen Laulu posted this question at Wordorigins.org:

I can’t find that this has been discussed here before: in what sense is high tea ‘high’? This puzzled me when I was a child, and I’ve never heard it convincingly explained.

Dave Wilton, who runs the site, gave what is apparently the best answer that can be given:

The OED provides no clue, simply listing high tea with other high phrases.

My guess is that it would fall into the OED’s sense at high, adj. and n.2, 16: “Of a time of day or season (esp. summer): well advanced; fully come, complete. Cf. HIGH DAY n.1 2, HIGH NOON n. 1, high season n.” There is also the high Renaissance and the high Middle Ages.

High tea itself is technically not a time or period, but it’s closely associated with a particular time of day.

There followed a discussion of what exactly “high tea” is that surprised and enlightened me; it’s “sometimes known as meat tea,” and:

[…] anyone in the Southeast [of England] who:

(a) calls their midday meal ‘dinner’,
(b) expects to eat their evening meal fairly soon after returning home from work or school,
(c) drinks no beer or wine with it,

– generally calls their evening meal their ‘tea’; even though as often or not they don’t drink any tea with it.

You can have tea without tea! Furthermore, “I have been told that many Leftpondians understand ‘high tea’ to mean ‘olde Englishe posh afternoon tea à la Downton Abbey’, and that overpriced hotels and tea shops courting the tourist trade accordingly advertise their afternoon teas as ‘high tea’.” Absolutely true, and that was how I had understood it.

Any further information or anecdotes welcome, as always.


  1. I’ve never properly understood “high tea” either, just assumed it was in some sense formal. It brings Edwardian images to mind (or maybe that’s just the Bloomsday talking – there’s a lot of boaters and ankle-length frocks around Dublin this afternoon).

    When I were a lad we used to have our main meal at lunchtime, but we called it lunch, not dinner. (The whole family came home for it, something which probably wasn’t possible for people living in larger towns than ours, with longer trips to school and work.) The light evening meal was indeed called tea, regardless of whether tea was actually drunk with it (it usually was in our case).

    “Dinner” was (and still is for me) a main meal eaten in the evening. But if you had a main meal in the evening, the light midday meal was still lunch. So:

    midday meal = lunch
    evening meal = tea (light) or dinner (hot)

  2. Agatha Christie, who leaved about 300 years ago, already claimed that 5 o’clock is dead. Is it now undead? Also, do southeast Englanders eat supper?

  3. > You can have tea without tea!

    As anyone who completed the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure game could tell you…

  4. In Australia “tea” for the evening meal — early or late, light or heavy, with (liquid) tea or without — is very common among older speakers and in rural areas. Lunch is lunch, though, not dinner — unless we’re talking about Christmas dinner, which is nearly always eaten in the early afternoon.

  5. Somebody made an evening meal map (as well as some others) of the UK. The Southeast seems to prefer dinner – with supper largely confined to Derbyshire for some reason, and the rest of England going for tea.

  6. I met the expression “high tea” in the wild once, c.1988; used by a restaurant that was serving lunch-sized meals in the evening. Dunno if that was a flight of fancy by the proprietor or an established name. Nowadays similar ground is covered by the “early bird menu”.

    In Ireland, dinner-and-tea is lower class or rural; lunch-and-dinner is middle class or restaurants. My parents straddled the divide; “dinner” was the main meal of the day, served in the evenings on weekdays and at lunchtime (!) on Sundays. Dad often referred to “the evening meal”, which I suspect was a sign of uncertain class identity. Saturday was mammy’s day off; we had lunch and tea, no dinner.

  7. Matt_M: There seems to have been a change. Some 40 years ago, returning to Australia on a visit, we agreed with friends in Sydney to join them “for dinner on Sunday”. They were (happily) amused when we arrived at 7 .30 pm, having expected us at 12.30.

  8. La Horde Listener says

    High tea’s more of a formal ritual than what goes on chez Oor Wullie, which seems to be a light meal served without the assistance of a butler: each afternoon his mother flings him a kipper or two on an everyday plate, he’s given a paper napkin and nobody’s invited. High tea implies fancy dishware and a choice of items, not already plated fare, guests in suitable attire and the cloth napkins. “~I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to tea!~” Oops.

  9. My parents were from the Derby/Nottingham area, and even after we moved south we had dinner at noon and tea in the evening. I’m surprised by the reference to the Southeast, which to me is clearly lunch/dinner territory.

    James Joule, the great 19th century physicist, was from Manchester, at a time when northerners were not highly represented in the academic world. Recalling the difficultly he had getting published by the Royal Society when he was young, he once remarked that he “could imagine those gentlemen in London sitting around a table and saying to each other ‘what good can come out of a town where they dine in the middle of the day?'”

  10. In Brazil breakfast is “morning coffee” = café da manhã, or just café, so that you can have coffee without coffee. (Come to think of, an English speaker could snack on something before breakfast, and then their breakfast won’t be breaking any fasts). And I think in Japan you can have any of your “morning-“, “noon-” or “evening rice” without rice.

    Still not as cool as eating your “midday” (middag) during the evening in Norway.

  11. I should add that Sunday dinner was the week’s gala event, with roast beef (or lamb), roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, with some token green vegetable and absolutely no alcohol (parents were Methodists). This was strictly a midday meal.

  12. Rodger C says

    Solemn high tea with sung cucumber sandwiches?

  13. AJP Streabe-Greebling says

    Australians in the bush used to have a meal – a tea break with a roll-up, cake & biscuits at ten or eleven in the morning – called smoke-o (I’m not sure if there’s an authorised spelling). Nowadays, it’s probably called nonsmoke-o.

  14. In my house in southern England, which I think is not untypical, there are two main possible types of evening meal. Dinner is a cooked meal of meat, starch (potatoes, chips, pasta, or rice) and vegetables – or possibly a casserole, or lasagna or the like; while tea is an uncooked meal with bread, ham, sliced chicken, pickles, salad, cake, jam, and snackish things like crisps, samosas, and houmous; generally everybody grabs what they want and probably makes sandwiches. High tea is a variant of tea that includes something cooked, like bacon. Tea need not be drunk with tea the meal; I prefer beer. Both types of meal are eaten between 7 and 8 pm. (Chips and crisps in the above to be read as BrE.)

    There is a third type of meal: supper, which is something I associate with people in a slightly higher social class and means (i) dinner; (ii) dinner, but eaten somewhat later.

    So basically I agree with Breffni.

  15. Jim Parish says

    My family’s custom was something like mollymooly’s; dinner was the main meal, a light meal at noon or so was lunch, and a light meal in the evening was supper. Dinner/supper was Sundays and holidays; lunch/dinner was the rest of the time.

  16. I’ve always heard (mostly from U.S. Anglophiles who like to correct people’s tea terminology) that “high” is in contrast to “low tea” – an actual proper term for the fancy afternoon affair (as are “afternoon tea,” or “cream tea” if served with Devon cream, or so the Anglophiles say), because it’s served on a low side table, while high tea is served at a normal dinner table. It never occurred to me that this etymology is apocryphal.

  17. marie-lucie says

    When I was still a student of English I went to Scotland for a week, staying in Edinburgh. While there I took a bus tour, a whole day on the road with occasional short stops. Around 5 o’clock the bus stopped for an hour or so at a country restaurant for “high tea”. I don’t remember what we ate but it was a substantial hot meal with different things on the plate without a choice of menu.

    Perhaps 35 years ago (!) while living in the country in BC I got to know a family just down the road, an English couple with children born in Canada. The father worked in a nearby sawmill. I think he must have started work very early in the morning, because he came home in the middle of the afternoon and had his “tea”, a hot meal served in the kitchen while the rest of the family was coming and going, the mother perhaps having a cuppa but not eating. I guess she and the children ate their own evening meal together later.

    In an English detective novel I remember, a mother is frantic because her 5-year-old son has not arrived home from kindergarten and is unaccountably late for his “tea”. A five-year-old drinking tea? no, what was meant was his evening meal. (The child does reappear safe and sound later in the book).

    In these two English cases it strikes me that “tea” is prepared and consumed individually, not like dinner which would be eaten by parents and children together. (I think that “breakfast” could be either, depending on habits or schedules).

  18. Jim (another one) says

    There is similar confusion in the US and it is regional. The Army has been using “noon meal” and “evening meal” for decades now. They avoid having to re-fight the Civil War whenever possible.

    In my family “supper” was a shibboleth. My town experienced a lot of immigration from the Midwest but also from the Central Valley, the after bang of the Dust Bowl migration, and in our house “supper” was stigmatized along with “washrag” and “dishrag.” There was a sense of being invaded and overwhelmed.

  19. I have a post on it, if it helps. (I might not help, but the 61 comments may!)

  20. Thanks for that; the post and comments are interesting, and I learned something else:

    Back to high tea: I’ve never heard a British person use the term. They say things like I have to get home and make the children’s tea, by which they mean their evening meal.

    So essentially we should all try to forget the phrase “high tea”!

  21. Trond Engen says

    leoboiko: Still not as cool as eating your “midday” (middag) during the evening in Norway.

    Rightward movement of mealtimes is a linguistic universal if there ever was one.

  22. BerlinBrian says

    No, Hat, we shouldn’t forget it. It’s a real thing in Scotland (if nowhere else). Working-class Scots have ‘dinner’ in the middle of the day and ‘tea’ (the main meal) in the evening. ‘High tea’ is crucially never (or only very rarely when guests are invited) taken at home, but in a hotel restaurant or old-fashioned tea shop. It consists of a light first course, usually smoked fish, fish and chips, or a salad, followed by small sandwiches, sweet teabread (that’s another story), cakes, and biscuits, all accompanied by as much tea as you can drink. Traditionally it is the fitting end to a fine day at the seaside or some Highland resort.

  23. If I ever get to Scotland (which I’d love to do), I’ll try it!

  24. When I was a wee lad it was a source of wonderment that visiting the grandparents (either set) of a Sunday we might be served middag in the middle of the day.

    Also I remember having high tea in Scotland in 1977, in some sort of touristy roadside teashoppery. Probably didn’t have kippers, though, I think I’d have remembered.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    BerlinBrian is absolutely correct. Real thing in Scotland. Jenners used to make quite a thing of it (and I hope still do.)

  26. Jonathan D says

    To give another Australian perspective: growing up “dinner” was clearly the main meal, whether at tea-time (evening) or lunch-time (mid-day), the latter mostly but not exclusively Sundays and Christmas. Low teas need a “morning” or “afternoon” in front. But I clearly don’t regularly use the words the same way now. My four year old recently blanched at “dinner” in the middle of the day, and didn’t even understand “tea” as a meal.

  27. I think the quotation in the OP is correct, but the usage of “tea” as described in the south east is class marked, and a predominantly working class institution.

    I grew up in upper middle class neighbourhood in the south east. The midday meal was “lunch” and the evening meal “dinner” or “supper” (with the latter usage marking you as a bit posher).The exception to this rule was that a large formal meal might be called a dinner even if it took place at lunchtime – a reunion dinner, christmas dinner, etc. A “dinner party”, on the other hand, would unambiguously be an evening event. The event that David L describes with roast beef etc. was called “Sunday lunch”. I don’t think I ever heard “Sunday dinner”. Dinner/supper would be accompanied by soft drinks or alcohol, but NOT by tea.

    The Yorkshire side of my family referred to their evening meal as “tea”and ate it earlier. “Supper” to them meant a late snack before bed.

    “Tea” or “afternoon tea” meant the ritual — mostly associated with hotels and ye olde cafes– of tea, scones, cucumber sandwiches etc eaten between 3 and 4 o’clock. I always assumed that “high tea” was a pretentious name for afternoon tea, but I don’t know if I ever actually heard anyone use the term.

    The two daily breaks in a test cricket match (usually around one o clock and quarter to four) are referred to as “lunch” and “tea” respectively. The tea break is only twenty minutes, so clearly a snack not a meal.

  28. In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, it happens (twice, actually, I believe), that Holmes and Watson need to postpone their evening meal, because they are working on a case; and this is is referred to as changing the meal to be “supper.”

  29. I think that attributing the different usages to regional variation (within the UK) is going to end in confusion.

    afternoon “tea” (cuppa + biscuit/piece of cake) is working-class mid-afternoon, or “High tea” is posh with cucmber sandwiches, scones/jam/cream, and usually after 4:00 pm.

    It’s much more of a class difference: “dinner” at midday/”tea” as a meal early evening is working class. “Lunch”/”dinner” in the evening is middle/upper class. “Supper” is anything eaten later in the evening — whose time would overlap with middle-class “dinner”, so upper-class “supper” is usually later — Bertie Wooster goes to the club/restaurant for “supper” after a show, and it could go on to when the produce markets open in London.

  30. marie-lucie says

    AntC: My English neighbours were working-class people, but the “tea” that the man ate mid or late afternoon after his shift at the sawmill did not consist of cucumber sandwiches and scones, but was a full meal with meat, etc.

  31. Ian Press says

    I’ve lived in London for years, but my south-east Lancashire habits are still alive in me:

    Breakfast (before school/work)
    Elevenses (a break from housework or the like)
    Dinner (proper meal sometime in the middle of the day)
    Tea (proper meal after school/work)
    Supper (drink and biscuit/cake before bed)

    I flinch when I use the word ‘lunch’. Sometimes I just have to use it. I have problems talking about ‘ladies who lunch’. We had no real word for an afternoon snack.

    My mother, who did all the cooking (thank goodness, it was wonderful), never sat down to a meal.

  32. I have lunch at lunch time and tea (with no tea) at tea time 🙂

    But my understanding of ‘high tea’ is that it’s a more substantial meal eaten in the late afternoon, as opposed to the ‘tea’ or ‘afternoon tea’ which is just a kind of afternoon snack to keep people going until a late dinner or supper – so yes, including meat or another hot dish when ordinary tea wouldn’t.

  33. “Its habit of getting up late you’ll agree
    That it carries too far, when I say
    That it frequently breakfasts at five-o’clock tea,
    And dines on the following day.”

    —from the Bellman’s list of the five marks of a Snark

  34. Is ‘elevenses’ common anywhere nowadays?

  35. La Horde Listener says

    I really enjoy any references to tea in Jethro Tull song lyrics.

  36. “Tea” for the evening meal is common in Scotland, especially Edinburgh; West Coasters used to make fun of the supposedly inhospitable East Coast by saying that the standard greeting in Edinburgh was “You’ll have had your tea?” (meaning “evening meal”, with the implication “…because don’t think you’re getting any here”).

    High tea is normally eaten out rather than at home, and (as BerlinBrian says) involves a hot meal plus tea-type components, but it doesn’t have to be eaten out; it’s just that it’s a hassle to prepare at home and doesn’t normally fit in with the way people live. My grandmother used to refer to an early-evening meal for visiting grandchildren as “high tea” – to contrast with “supper” which would be eaten when their parents arrived later in the evening to pick them up.

  37. Augustus Maria von und zu Blattburg says

    High tea is celebrated with incense and a soupçon of Latin; low tea is a vernacular celebration of suet.

    Sadly, high tea, or fifth breakfast, is now a fixture in Dutch restaurants, where it is essentially an excuse for ladies to have prosecco before the sun’s over the yardarm and I diskard it utterly.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Rightward movement of mealtimes is a linguistic universal if there ever was one.

    Interrupted by the occasional leftward jump!

    Slovene supposedly has a word južina. I don’t know what it means today, but, being transparently from jug, “south”, it must have once referred to a meal eaten when the sun was in the south = at noon. The Russian cognate ужин (užin) refers to the evening meal: there’s the rightward movement.

    But the word was borrowed into Austrian German early enough to become Jause*. And there it refers to a bread-based interruption of work in the middle of the afternoon… as well as in the middle of the morning! This is what schoolchildren eat during the longer break (usually 15 minutes, even 20 in some schools) around 10 am. (Unlike in England, school starts at 8 for real, so by the time of literal elevensies everyone would already have starved.)

    The concept exists in Bavaria, but is boringly called Brotzeit there.

    * That’s the retconned Standard German form. In the unwritten dialects, it ends in [n] instead. The verb is jausnen.

  39. So the people at high tea aren’t the same sorts who attend high church and patronize shops on the high road?

  40. @ryan, I have long nurtured a suspicion that high tea is designed to be the sort of meal that people attending roadside teashopperies like to imagine is being served up at the manor at 5 o’clock — which doesn’t have to have anything to do with actual manorial afternoon repast habits.

    Maybe a diligent perusal of the immortal works of Wodehouse would reveal the truth.

  41. One other notable use of ‘tea’ today is in cricket, when it is always used for one of the meals; I think the phrase ‘high tea’ is often used as well.

  42. @ryan: The high street, rather?

  43. Yes, Lazar. Couldn’t quite come up with it late last night. Thanks.

  44. January First-of-May says

    The Russian ужин is preceded by полдник, which is more transparently “midday”.

    And i’ve heard somewhere – not sure of the details – that word обед, now meaning the main Russian meal, originally referred to an interval between meals. (And завтрак is literally something like “tomorrow’s meal”, referring to food prepared in the evening to be eaten tomorrow morning.) Meal name etymology is funny.
    (Then again, as long as the answer isn’t “nobody knows”, etymology generally tends to be funny.)

  45. David Marjanović says

    Then again, as long as the answer isn’t “nobody knows”, etymology generally tends to be funny.

    Quoted for truth. 🙂

  46. Russian обед is from the prefix ob- + *е̌d- ‘eat.’ (Incidentally, I learn from googling [обед Фасмер] that all the online Vasmers are from the same source, which is not the physical book, because they all share the same error: “праслав. *ое̌dъ” instead of *оbе̌dъ.)

  47. On Jause: my impression is that in Alpine tourist speak, Jause is any non-hot meal that one eats during the day out hiking, independent from time of day.

  48. David Marjanović says

    Pretty much; it’s a meal that’s outside the normal schedule.

  49. Matt_M says: In Australia “tea” for the evening meal — early or late, light or heavy, with (liquid) tea or without — is very common among older speakers and in rural areas. Lunch is lunch, though, not dinner…

    Matt, I can vouch for the fact that in Perth there are still people who call the evening meal “tea” and the midday meal “dinner”. But you might take your “lunch” to school.

    I think Jonathan D is on to something when he says that dinner refers to the main meal.

    Also, I seem to recall some sort of a U (upper class) vs non-U distinction in the UK about using the words “dinner” and “lunch”??

    David Marjanović says: Slovene supposedly has a word južina.

    I think the j- might be an addition. The Croatian word is “užina” (with the meaning snack or a small mid-morning meal) and this was adopted into Hungarian as “uzsonna” (snack, light meal).
    “objed” in Croatian means “meal”.

  50. David Marjanović says

    I can’t claim to have understood the instability of Slavic j-; “morning” is jutro in BCSM, but utro in Russian, even though “south” is jug in both…

    That’s fascinating about the meanings in Croatian and Hungarian!

  51. I can’t claim to have understood the instability of Slavic j-; “morning” is jutro in BCSM, but utro in Russian, even though “south” is jug in both…
    The short version – the variants with u- are inherited in Russian, the ones with ju- are loans from Church Slavic, which, being originally Southern Slavic, has kept the /j/.

  52. marie-lucie says

    you might take your “lunch” to school.

    Yes, in a sturdy lunch box. Just like people working outdoors or under conditions such that they need to eat on the work site. Lunch in these cases refers to food brought from home, regardless of the time of day (or night, for shift workers) when it is eaten. The box may contain soup or other hot food in a wide-mouth thermos bottle.

    “White collar” people are more likely to bring a bag lunch of sandwiches in a brown paper bag, to eat in their offices or (in warm weather) on a park bench or other convenient spot outside of their building.

  53. My grandson often takes his lunch to school, but in a bag within his backpack (an item that’s a requirement at his school), not in a lunch box. For a while, this bag was a sturdy but flexible zip-up pouch with cartoon characters on it, and he called it a lunch bag. Nowadays it’s more often disposable paper or plastic.

  54. Not only tea without any tea, but also pudding without any pudding as far as I understand (as in “what’s for pudding?” meaning dessert). To add to the international confusion, in Russian (or in its version I grew up in – 1970/80s Leningrad intelligentsia), “к чаю” (“for/to go along with tea”) was used pretty much in the same way – А что у нас сегодня к чаю? – even if no actual tea was served with it (although it usually was, to be fair).

  55. Bathrobe says

    I second zyxt’s comment. When I was growing up it was “breakfast, dinner, and tea”. “Lunch” was the midday meal (just as likely sandwiches) you had at school, “dinner” was the midday meal you had at home, even if it was just a salad with bread. “Sunday dinner” might be the evening meal, with a roast, etc.

    For working men, there was “morning tea” at around 9:00 a.m. and “afternoon tea” at 3:00 p.m. or later. These were both also known as “smoko” (or “smoke-oh”), not necessarily with any cigarettes being smoked, although tea was obligatory. I don’t think I’ve heard “smoko” for a while.

    “Supper” was a late night snack, usually a hot drink with bikkies.

    If you look at the lyrics of the old Aeroplane Jelly song, it goes:

    I like Aeroplane Jelly, Aeroplane Jelly for me.
    I like it for dinner, I like it for tea,
    A little each day is a good recipe!
    The quality’s high as the name will imply,
    It’s made from pure fruit, one more good reason why
    I like Aeroplane Jelly, Aeroplane Jelly for me!

    Usage has become gentrified within a generation. Most of my family seem to have shifted to “breakfast, lunch, and dinner”. My nephews and nieces seem confused by the use of “dinner” for the midday meal, and don’t seem to use “tea” much, either.

  56. More on “užina”:

    The etymology in the Croatian Encyclopedic Dictionary is that the word “užina” comes from the verb “uživati” (enjoy), which itself comes from the prefix “u-” (in) and the root “živ-” (life).

    Bathrobe :

    Yes I agree with everything you say. Also, what did you call the two breaks you had at school? From memory, in primary school if you had anything to eat at playtime (the mid-morning short break) it was called play lunch, and lunch at lunchtime (the longer midday break). In high school “playtime” was called “recess” – I suppose because high school students are too “old” to “play”.

    Smoko is rarely heard nowadays because of the social stigma attached to smoking. But it’s been well and truly replaced by coffee breaks: “Let’s go out for coffee,” “I’m just goin’ out for coffee.”

    And let it not be unsaid: Brekkie is a popular Australian term for breakfast.

  57. @zyxt: In America, we would say high school students were much too old for “recess.”

  58. Bathrobe says


    If I remember rightly, play lunch was “little lunch”.

  59. The etymology in the Croatian Encyclopedic Dictionary is that the word “užina” comes from the verb “uživati” (enjoy), which itself comes from the prefix “u-” (in) and the root “živ-” (life).

    I wouldn’t trust the Croatian Encyclopedic Dictionary, then. That’s your basic folk etymology.

  60. Frank Gibbons says

    @mollymooly Growing up in Ireland, we moved around a lot, and I remember in each new town, there was a period of adjustment to the local patterns of speech. When I was younger, we lived in small towns, so my brothers and I would come home from school to eat (as did my father from work) in the middle of the day. It was usually the main meal, so we ate our “dinner” at lunchtime. Then we moved, and my brothers and I bussed out to a rural school (two classes to a room), so we transitioned to having sandwiches at lunchtime, eating “dinner” at teatime. I distinctly remember asking friends whether they ate their “dinner at lunchtime or teatime”.

  61. languagehat says: I wouldn’t trust the Croatian Encyclopedic Dictionary, then. That’s your basic folk etymology.

    This started me searching around. The Great Dictionary of the Croatian Literary language (2015 ed.) gives the same etymology, as does the Croatian Language Portal (http://kroatisch_deutsch.deacademic.com/9158/u%C5%BEina). However, the “Pauza” blog (http://www.pauza.hr/blog/pauziraj-malo/pauza-gablec-marenda-uzina) gives both etymologies:

    užina je hrvatska, slavenska riječ, a dolazi od riječi ”uživati”. Drugo moguće porijeklo je od riječi ”jug” koja označava stranu svijeta, ali i vrijeme kad je sunce na toj strani svijeta odnosno podne. Južina je onda podne, ali i obrok koji se jede u podne. Translated: užina is a Croatian, Slavic word. It comes from the word ”uživati” (to enjoy). Another possible origin is from the word ”jug” (south) which denotes the cardinal direction as well as the time of day when the Sun is in the south ie. noon. Therefore južina means noon, as well as the meal which is eaten at noon.

    Interestingly, there is a Croatian dialectal word “jauzna” which comes from the Austrian German Jause which apparently comes from the Slavic južina.

    It seems to me that the form “južina” itself is a derived form; ultimately from “užina”. In the northern Croatian dialects j- is commonly added to words that start in a vowel eg. jezero (thousand) comes from Hungarian ezer; japica (daddy) comes from Hungarian apa.

  62. Well, I shouldn’t have so cavalierly called it a folk etymology; it seems respectable sources are taking it seriously. But it’s not credible to me that the Croatian word would have a different etymology from the rest of Slavic.

  63. And in Polish używać means ‘use’.

    This would be perfect folk etymology for Croatian užina.

    After all, noon meal is certainly very useful!

  64. David Marjanović says

    Fascinating. Could užina be an etymological nativization of južina?

  65. Trond Engen says

    If Jause(n) were native it could be from a PGmc **ju:s-no- “boiled” or some such, and ultimately from IE *juh2s- “broth, soup, sauce”. *ju:s- is found in Germanic in Scand. ost “cheese” < jú:sta-

  66. marie-lucie says

    Trond: IE *juh2s- “broth, soup, sauce”. *ju:s- is found in Germanic

    So is that the origin of French jus ‘juice (of fruits/vegetables or cooked meat)’? And is English juice from the French word or more directly from Germanic (eg Old English or Norse) (but in that case it should probably start with y)?

  67. Etymonline says:

    c. 1300, jus, juis, jouis, “liquid obtained by boiling herbs,” from Old French jus “juice, sap, liquid” (13c.), from Latin ius “broth, sauce, juice, soup,” from PIE root *yeue- “to blend, mix food” (cognates: Sanskrit yus- “broth,” Greek zyme “a leaven,” Old Church Slavonic jucha “broth, soup,” Lithuanian juse “fish soup”). Meaning “the watery part of fruits or vegetables” is from early 14c. Meaning “liquor” is from 1828; that of “electricity” is first recorded 1896.

  68. marie-lucie says

    Merci JC!

  69. David Marjanović says

    a PGmc **ju:s-no- “boiled” or some such

    Wouldn’t that be stressed on the *o? Because that would trigger both Verner’s (*s > *z, later > *r) and Dybo’s law (shortening of long vowels before the stressed syllable).

    **jurn- doesn’t ring any bells, and **jorn- only Norse ones.

  70. Trond Engen says

    You’re probably right, but how would adjectival vs. nominal stress work?

    There’s an ON verb orna “heaten”. I don’t know the etymology. Also, or maybe to the contrary, Scand. ost < *jús-ta-.

  71. David Marjanović says

    Interesting points.

  72. Trond Engen says

    (I forgot a length mark on the ú there.)

  73. I did a google ngram and found that ‘high tea’ is virtually unknown before the late 1850s and then the usage takes off. (The hits from before 1850 seem to be false positives.) Many examples from the 1860s and 70s take pains to explain the term or put it in quotes, showing that it is relatively new. It means an informal cold meal of meats, meat pies, and the like, eaten in the evening in lieu of a hot dinner, the foods set out on a table to be taken by the diners, sometimes eaten with tea as the beverage.

    From the Belgravia magazine, 1873:
    “Another way of sparing the servants is by serving a cold dinner or ‘high tea.’”

    From a Hardy novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, also 1873:
    “Must he have dinner?”
    “Too heavy for a tired man at the end of a tedious journey.”
    “Tea, then?”
    “Not substantial enough.”
    “High tea then? There is cold fowl, rabbit pie, some pasties, things of that kind.”
    “Yes, high tea.”
    “Must I pour out his tea, papa?”
    “Of course; you are the mistress of the house.”

  74. Very interesting, thanks for doing that research!

  75. David Marjanović says

    Lunch has a convoluted etymology, too, according to p. 62 of this PhD thesis:

    If Balto-Fennic belongs to this cultural continuum, the question arises whether lexical exchange has taken place directly between Late Proto-Fennic and Pre-Proto-Celtic, or whether Pre-Proto-Germanic was always the provider: PCelt. *sanesto- ‘secret advice’ (Matasović 2009: 322) is suspiciously reminiscent of Fi. sanasto ‘list of words’ (synchronically analyzable as sana ‘word’ + collective -sto), cf. the semantics of PCelt. *rūno- and PGmc. *rūna- (item 6 above) which in itself must be identical to Fi. runo ‘song; poem’. The vowel in runo is unexpectedly short, i.e. it does not behave as loanwords from Proto-Germanic normally do and may have been borrowed at an earlier stage. Mod. Ir. lón, pl. lóinte (> Eng. lunch) could represent Late Proto-Fennic *louna ‘southwest; noon; lunch’ (Fi. lounas) which is derived from Proto-Uralic *luwe ‘south’. Note that this word is already known to have been borrowed into Baltic (Latv. launags ‘lunch’, Lith. láunagas ‘dinner’).

    I’m currently reading the whole thing. There are other gems in there. P. 70:

    A number of […] pig terms, which we may conveniently name “hyonyms”, are of obscure origin, and many look non-Indo-European. For Celtic alone, Hamp lists the following as unexplained:

    There are no less than eight.

  76. Great heavens! Do keep us posted on any further surprising/interesting finds.

  77. Trond Engen says

    Yes, extremely interesting, and I won’t have time to read much of it anytime soon.

    (I might still do that, of course, with predictable consequences everywhere else.)

  78. Le monde est un système où tout se tient.

  79. David Marjanović says

    How about this one, from footnote 4 on p. 93:

    Chin. chībō < Middle Chin. *tś’iǝt puat, borrowed from Sogdian čǝrϑpāδ- (čyrδpδ) ‘horse used in the valleys’, a formation identical to Lat. quadru-pēs ‘four-legged (animal)’ (Yoshida 2009)

  80. David Marjanović says

    The rest of that chapter (pp. 91–97), too, is about horses. The conclusion ends in:

    Simon’s observations already shed new light on the motivation of denoting the horse ‘the quick one’: because if *kebʰ- was ‘the slow horse’ then *h₁ék̂u̯os is not simply ‘the swift one’ understood as swift runners compared to other animals, but rather ‘the swift (kind of) horse’, i.e. the kind used for riding, as opposed to the slower working-horse.

    This *kebʰ- would be the source of:

    – “Iranian *kaba-, *kabala- (borrowed into Greek as καβάλλης ‘working horse’ [Hes.] and into Latin as caballus)”;
    – “late gloss Lat. cabō ‘castrated horse’”;
    – OCS kobyla “mare”, if that’s not a loan with “the East Iranian animal-term suffix *-ūla-”;
    – a Germanic word ancestral to Danish hoppe “mare” and English hobby. You know hobbyhorse; once upon a time all hobbies were horses.

    The Germanic version was then borrowed into Finnic twice, yielding among other things Finnish hepo “horse”.

    So many loose ends tied up at once!

  81. Very cool!

  82. Hyllested’s thesis is very juicy. Thanks, David!

    I scanned it briefly and superficially. The preface, expounding on the author’s scholarly and familial forebears, is worth reading even if one doesn’t go beyond it.
    Two puzzlements. First, Hyllested’s never mentions Heikillä, whose dissertation, another grand synthesis, some commenters have expounded on here a few years ago. Second, the claim that “there are even indications that Proto-Fennic may have been in direct contact with Pre-Proto-Celtic” (p. 43 and beyond) is remarkable, and I’d like to know what others think about it.

    Overall, Hyllested is bold: he claims to have mined with great success materials previously untried, such as non-standard Scandinavian dialects and the previously unanalyzed Albanian lexicon; and claims to be first in objectively allowing for Uralic loans into IE, rather than the other way around. Are his studies indeed that pioneering?

  83. David Marjanović says

    The next chapter, pp. 119–131, is too complicated to summarize in less than a page. It features names for elder and water-elder (Sambucus nigra, Viburnum opulus) all over Europe, in passing explains the etymology of sand and its Greek cognate psammos, finds the first Balto-Slavic loanword in Proto-Fenno-Permic (Proto-West+Central-Uralic) and a Turkic loanword in “Late Common Slavic” (not Proto-, but close), plus a big helping of mythology and therefore an explanation of why no PIE term for such plants can be reconstructed (they grow in all proposed IE homelands).

  84. David Marjanović says

    First, Hyllested’s never mentions Heikillä, whose dissertation, another grand synthesis, some commenters have expounded on here a few years ago.

    That’s indeed a bit strange, but their research doesn’t seem to overlap much.

    Second, the claim that “there are even indications that Proto-Fennic may have been in direct contact with Pre-Proto-Celtic” (p. 43 and beyond) is remarkable, and I’d like to know what others think about it.

    While perhaps not Pre-Proto-, there’s already evidence that Celtic and Balto-Slavic were in contact during the Celtic expansion to Galatia and everywhere else, vae victis. A bit more mordbrennen* und brandschatzen** would have carried the Celts a bit farther northeast…

    * Murdering everything that moves, burning everything that doesn’t. Not necessarily in that order.
    ** I’m not sure what that actually means, but it obviously involves burning stuff down. Since there’s Schatz “treasure” (earlier “money”) in it, it probably refers to taking everything you can carry and burning the rest… presumably in that order.

    Overall, Hyllested is bold: he claims to have mined with great success materials previously untried, such as non-standard Scandinavian dialects and the previously unanalyzed Albanian lexicon; and claims to be first in objectively allowing for Uralic loans into IE, rather than the other way around. Are his studies indeed that pioneering?

    I’m afraid so. Of course I don’t actually know the literature, but I know that: 1) historical linguistics of languages with a literary tradition has been egregiously biased toward written/standard varieties, with very recent exceptions; 2) Albanian is underused in historical linguistics, because it was never written before the 15th century, it has undergone strange and complex sound changes that remain incompletely understood, and the dialects of the northern half of Albania and all of Kosovo are practically unknown to science, it seems; 3) while reseach of IE loans into Uralic has a long and robust tradition, postulating loans in the other direction (before historical times) has little if any; I’m not even aware of any specific examples proposed by Kalevi Wiik, the guy who tried to find a Uralic substratum in all of northwestern Europe or so.

  85. David Marjanović says

    P. 142:

    Now, one could of course hypothesize that *-g- for expected *-b- not only in *hagra- but even in *hagla- is due to sporadic delabialization or word contamination. However, for the latter it seems more likely that a sound-law is applying. On closer inspection, it indeed turns out that examples with a preserved labial before -l- and following PGmc. *-a are totally absent: There are simply no cases of the expected outcome PGmc. *-afl- ~ *-abl- from PIE *-apl- or *-opl-. Quite a few instances of Germanic *-afl-, *-abl- do occur, but they always come from PIE *-abʰl-, *-obʰl-

    Finally! A hint of an explanation for why PGmc. *-f- seems to have been so strangely rare!

    (Even today, after loans with short /f/ have been coming in for a thousand years, /f/ remains so rare that we use /fː/ for the v in Nerven in Austria.)

  86. David Marjanović says

    P. 150 reminds me of Bahder’s law…

  87. WP.de makes it clear (there is no .en version) that Brandschatzung is ‘pillaging’: that is, seizing enemy property in time of war under threat of its complete destruction. Better to have your pigs confiscated than your house and barn burned down, possibly with you in it. The Thirty Years’ War ran almost entirely on Brandschatzung, which (says the article) is not to be confused with simple Plünderung ‘looting’ or Brandstiftung ‘arson’. Indeed, the first use of pillage in English was in Gower, where it means ‘(unjust) taxation’.

  88. David Marjanović says

    Makes sense. 🙂 The Thirty-Years War has also apparently given us such lovely terms as mit Krieg überziehen “draw war over a landscape like a blanket”.

    and the previously unanalyzed Albanian lexicon […] Are his studies indeed that pioneering?

    Hyllested says it best himself (p. 167/168):

    1 Albanian evidence for PIE reconstruction

    Among Indo-Europeanists today, Albanian has acquired, at least unofficially, a discredited reputation as the more or less “useless” Indo-European language branch: it has allegedly retained all too little of the original lexicon, having replaced many everyday words with borrowings from (especially) Slavic, Greek, Latin, and Romance; many other innovations belong to the notoriously shadowy “Ancient Balkan” vocabulary [the Thracian/Dacian/Illyrian mess]; Albanian often exhibits odd phonological irregularities and aberrant derivational patterns; and Albanian lexemes in general are so short that “anything goes” in etymology, provided your semantic analysis is creative enough. In many cases, Albanian forms are mentioned merely to show the geographical representation of a given lexeme.
         This reputation, I would argue, is based on a skewed perception of the actual state of affairs. It is true that we know comparatively little about the history of Albanian from its split from the Indo-European core until its earliest attestation, and the internal history of a language branch is indeed more difficult to uncover when the branch in question has few members or only a single one – Proto-Albanian must be reconstructed by dialect material and internal reconstruction (disregarding the poorly attested candidates for close relatives, such as Messapian). But Albanian has potential: a fair description would be to say that much of the lexicon can be defined not as obscure loanwords, but rather as unexplained. In other words, unheeded archaisms might be hiding even in the basic vocabulary, waiting for us to give it another try, applying today’s broader knowledge of PIE and the individual branches. One way forward, which is becoming more and more widespread, seems to be the inclusion, in Indo-European etymology, of evidence from even more peripheral languages and dialects. Peripheral, to be sure; but as it turns out, they may still be extremely relevant and provide crucial information about details in PIE reconstruction. This is at least the case with minor Eastern Iranian languages and Nuristani languages, and in recent years this has proven to be true not least of all in the case of Germanic dialects (cf. Kroonen forthcoming). This article is an attempt to solve an obnoxious etymological riddle by straightforward comparison of forms in peripheral languages.

    Messapian is noteworthy for having a word bilia, the only extra-Italic cognate of Latin filia “daughter”. “Kroonen forthcoming” is his Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, published in 2013; while I haven’t seen that book (there’s no preview on Google Books), Kroonen’s use of dialects in his 2011 book is really impressive.

  89. Albanian has acquired, at least unofficially, a discredited reputation as the more or less “useless” Indo-European language branch

    That’s certainly the impression I retain from my studies in the ’70s; I took courses in every other major language/group, but Albanian was just a few words thrown into etymologies for completeness.

  90. This is one of the passages I was referring to. It just seemed amazing to me that one person in one dissertation could have innovated so many approaches. That’s why I wanted some outside confirmation that no one has until now looked as closely at Albanian etymologies, or comparative etyma in Uralic minor dialects, or Uralic to IE loans.

  91. Well, Hyllested’s dissertation is clearly ten different pieces of research that the advisory board has let him submit without even trying to make a whole of it or unifying references. Not even when the references are to other parts of the dissertation!

    I’m sure he deserves his Ph.D., but you should probably evaluate the innovation level for each article on its own merits.

  92. Wait, lunch is from Irish? What’s wrong with the standard etymology, < ‘a chunk’, originally onomatopoeic, usually applied to food? (OED, 1591 “A lunch of bacon, frustum, lardi.” 1600 “He shall take breade and cut it into little lunches [Fr. loppins] into a pan with cheese.” 1622 “Our Master was well content..that we should roste a good lunch of porke.” 1707 “I clapp’d a good Lunch of Bread into my Pocket.” etc.)

  93. David Marjanović says

    the standard etymology

    Isn’t mentioned.

  94. marie-lucie says

    lunch : ‘a chunk’,originally onomatopoeic, usually applied to food

    I have nothing to contribute except to wonder: “onomatopoeic”: in what way? chomping noises? Many words labelled “onomatopoeic” turn out to have very different origins. Not everything makes a noise remarkable enough to become a word.

  95. Yeah, it’s an easy out. ‘Iconic’ would better but still not satisfactory.

    ‘Iconic’ for ‘chunk’, I mean, just like chunk itself.

  96. David Marjanović says

    Huh: the Alans are Aryans, with regular development of -[rj]- to -[l]- (p. 193). A lightbulb moment – I had never even noticed a similarity.

  97. David Marjanović says

    P. 207: “In the following, I will discuss another possible loanword from Mari in Baltic which ended up ultimately in English as the name of a North American species.” It’s mink. BTW, the same page misspells German Nerz with -tz, but fortunately that’s irrelevant to etymology…

  98. David Marjanović says

    P. 209, footnote 6: “In fact one may wonder if Eng. polecat is not a folk-etymological reshaping of the word *pol’eka that yielded e.g. North Saami buoidaga ‘weasel’, brought Southwestwards with the Hanseatic trade or perhaps earlier in connection with the fur trade."

  99. marie-lucie says

    another possible loanword from Mari in Baltic which ended up ultimately in English as the name of a North American species.” It’s mink.

    It does seem very likely that words for furbearers common in cold Northern countries and whose furs have long been articles of trade should be borrowed in the languages of people receiving the furs, but the mink is not just a North American species (although the European species seems to have suffered from the American competition), otherwise the English name of this animal would probably have been a borrowing from an indigenous language (which would in turn have been borrowed into European languages).

    one may wonder if Eng. polecat is not a folk-etymological reshaping of the word *pol’eka … in connection with the fur trade

    This also sounds very plausible. Other names for related animals are native, so perhaps the word first applied to the fur.

    In both English and French there are old words for different kinds of fur which are no longer used, except perhaps in legends and heraldry. One example is le vair (squirrel fur), now only referring to a stylized design in heraldry but also found in the French Cinderella tale. The lost slipper that plays a crucial role in the story was originally une pantoufle de vair ‘a “vair” (fur) slipper” (something quite realistic) , later reinterpreted as the totally unrealistic pantoufle de verre, ‘glass slipper’ when the meaning of the now homophonous “vair” was forgotten. This suggests that the story was borrowed fairly late into English, since the “fur slipper” appears to be absent from the English tradition.

  100. Marie-Lucie: This French Wikipedia article suggests that the verre < vair etymology is by no means certain. I’ve only read it using GT, but you should take a proper look at it.

  101. Yes, my vague memory is that the vair theory, while superficially attractive, runs aground on the facts of actual fairy-tale history. Fairy tales, after all, are not known for their devotion to realism.

  102. David Marjanović says

    This French Wikipedia article suggests that the verre < vair etymology is by no means certain.

    Specifically, the homophony doesn’t work in Occitan, which has veire “glass”, or in the versions from Catalonia, Scotland and Ireland (of which I’d expect at least the last two to have come from France at some point); also, glass and crystal slippers have precedents in other fairytales from those places, not to mention other magic objects like mountains.

  103. marie-lucie says

    I just read about Cendrillon and her avatars in the French, Spanish, Italian and German Wikipedia articles (which are not translations from each other). It looks like the “glass” slipper in most of these started with Perrault (the – very short – German Wiki article mentions a gold slipper).

    It is possible that Perrault, who wrote his versions in part for children, used “verre” because “vair” was no longer in common use. Perhaps he had even learned the story from hearing it recited orally and understood “verre” even if the reciter meant “vair” (which must already have been rather obscure and likely to be misunderstood). Then writers of other languages who were inspired by Perrault used a translation of “verre”. The sources that mention the “uncertain” etymology seem to copy each other rather than provide credible evidence predating Perrault. There is no homophony in the other languages either.

    David, where did you see (or read about) those other versions you mention? That there is a version in Occitan where the homophony does not work does not mean anything: it would only be relevant if it could be shown that that version predates Perrault. (instead, a printed source in Occitan is more likely to be a recent translation).

  104. David Marjanović says

    where did you see

    In the French Wikipedia article – but you’re right that there’s no evidence given that this isn’t a translation of Perrault, even though the article presumes it isn’t.

  105. marie-lucie says

    Thanks David, I had read the article, but perhaps too hastily. I had seen the Occitan quote, which is a tale-ending formula rather than a translation of Perrault as I supposed you were referring to. I knew Cric, crac, moun counte es acabat! which declares the tale ended, but not the rest, which says “I had a little (wooden) shoe made of glass – if it had not got broken, I would show it to you”. This addition sounds like a reference to a glass shoe, but a tongue in cheek one since the ones in tales from various countries do not break: besides glass, there are references to shoes made of gold and iron. Neither do the other objects made of “glass” mentioned in various tales: this glass then is most likely rock crystal or quartz rather than manufactured glass. This would explain that not just ordinary objects but even mountains can be made of “glass”: there are grottoes lined with quartz crystals.

    All right, perhaps “vair” is wrong. But the “glass” shoes then must be “quartz” shoes.

  106. Is it appropriate to note here that the original (?oldest recorded) version of the story doesn’t contain any glass slippers?


  107. marie-lucie says

    Rodger, thank you for this link.

    Of course your comment is appropriate. True, there are no “glass” slippers here, but there are “golden” ones. The German version (or one of them) also has “gold” slippers.

    I think that the point in most of these old stories is that the slippers in question (and other magic footwear in other tales) are made from a very rare, precious, very durable material. With the tale’s transmission to Europe, gold, a very precious, inalterable substance, could have been replaced by quartz, a rare, precious, almost unbreakable material.

    The first manufactured glass (in the Near East I think) must have been seen as a kind of quartz, or of ice, because of its hardness and transparency. Note French la glace which means both ‘ice’ and ‘mirror’, the latter as in “looking-glass”. In early legends, “quartz shoes” would have been unbreakable, unlike the later “glass shoes” which would have to be from a magical source in order not to break, causing the French pantoufle de verre to be doubted as unrealistic.

  108. David Marjanović says

    Long, long ago I reported on a proposal to postulate a PIE root *kebʰ-. I didn’t notice that the well-known constraint against having a voiceless and an aspirated plosive in the same PIE root is very much against it.

    All reflexes except the Slavic one are also compatible with *keb-, and the Slavic one – as mentioned – could be an Iranian loan. But in that case we’re staring the most dread PIE *b straight in the eye. Curiouser and curiouser.

    Perhaps the whole thing is a loanword into PIE… can anyone suggest a source? Hattic (I’m half-joking)?

    must have been seen as a kind of quartz, or of ice

    Same thing – the Romans thought colorless quartz was ice which had somehow hardened in such a way that it didn’t melt anymore.

  109. David Marjanović says

    Another Finnic-or-earlier loanword into Pre-Germanic appears to be hell (p. 124); and Proto-Celtic *klamo- “grave” is suspiciously similar to Finnish kalma “grave, disease, Death-goddess, guardian of the abode of the dead”. That surely explains a lot about the geographic distribution of Black Metal and/or Death Metal *hiding under table because one must never confuse the two, as I just did*.

    On August 1st, I wrote:

    Messapian is noteworthy for having a word bilia, the only extra-Italic cognate of Latin filia “daughter”.

    Except, sure enough, for Albanian, which has bije in the standard and [bilʲə] in unspecified dialects ([lʲ] > [j] is regular in the standard). Also, “son” is bir, plural bij < *[bilʲ].

    Finally, I found a citation of something intriguing about Germanic hyonyms, but I should read the original paper first, and it’s in Russian (and only accessible as a bad scan), so that will take a while.

  110. David Marjanović says

    First I’ll read this 27-page pdf, not quite a year old, on the impersonal pronouns and the comparative phonology of Indo-Uralic… I’ll take it as a good omen that the author’s first name is Rasmus and his last name is a single syllable. 🙂

  111. David Marjanović says

    The mentioned Russian paper is here (pdf, 26 pages – two original pages per pdf page). The scan is not bad at all; the paper is just typewritten with some diacritics drawn in by hand. It’s from 1988, so some features of the Proto-Caucasian and Proto-East Caucasian reconstructions (quite possibly also others) differ a bit from the versions in the 1994 book.

    As example 1.7, the uncontroversial PIE */porkʲo/- is compared to Proto-Caucasian */waˁːrt͡ːɬʼwə/ ‘pig’, which is reconstructed from Proto-Lezgian */waˁt͡ːɬʼʷ/ ( > Archi /boˁt͡ːɬʼ/, Lezgi /wak/, Aghul /wakː/, Udi /boˁqː/ “and so on”, all meaning ‘pig’), Lakk /burkʼ/, Proto-Tsezian */buˁt͡ɬ/ ( > Tsez /bet͡ɬo/, Hinukh /bot͡ɬi/, Hunzib /but͡ɬu/ “and so on”), Batsbi /burukʼ/ ‘piglet’, and Proto-Circassian */ɮawə/ (by assumed metathesis from */waɮə/; > Adygh /ɮawə/, Kabardian /ɮaw/) ‘pig, piglet’.

    [kʲ] strikes me as easily the best PIE sound substitute for a voiceless lateral affricate, perhaps especially in a consonant cluster. Lateral affricates/fricatives become velar central affricates/fricatives in plenty of Caucasian languages (apparently, the velar “plosives” are affricates all over the Caucasus), and lateral affricates/fricatives don’t have to be alveolar as I transcribed them above – they are in fact velar in Archi and who knows where else. Indeed, the paper transcribes them as ǩ, ǧ, γ̌.

    [p] obviously wasn’t the best substitute PIE had to offer for [w]. However, first, rumor has it that PC *w wasn’t [w] at all: PC distinguished *w from *u̯, a phonetic absurdity that can apparently be resolved by assuming that *u̯ was the real [w] while *w was [gw] or something. (Note the huge number of [b] reflexes above.) So, first, to accept */porkʲo/- as a loan, we can suppose that the word wasn’t taken directly from PC, but from a C branch that had already turned /gw/ into /b/. PC is indeed supposed to have been spoken quite a bit earlier than PIE. Second, it helps to assume that the notorious PIE */b/ really didn’t exist, leaving a choice between */p/ and */bʱ/. Third, PIE had a constraint against voiceless and aspirated plosives in the same root, so */bʱorkʲo/- wasn’t an option. That leaves only */porkʲo/-!

    Not mentioned there, but mentioned in the later paper alluded to above that I’ve already forgotten (something by Robert Woodhouse?), is the Germanic ‘boar’ word, PGmc. */βarxa/-. Reverse-engineer that to the PIE level, and you get exactly */ˈbʱorkʲo/- (or the same consonants with one or both */o/ replaced by */a/ if you prefer, or the rarer */k/ instead of */kʲ/). The author wondered if Germanic kept this foreign root structure (in this meaning, as opposed to */farx/- ‘piglet’) while all other branches adapted it to the constraint. Wouldn’t be the first time – Gmc. seems to be the only branch that hasn’t dissimilated the reduplicated */gʷigʷo/- ‘life’ to */gʷih₃wo/-. Or perhaps these are successive borrowings from ‘the same’ source (for a wide sense of ‘same’).

  112. David Marjanović says

    rumor has it that PC *w wasn’t [w] at all

    Later on, the paper actually says *w in initial position was pronounced “as a labiodental β”, presumably either a bilabial [β] or a labiodental [v]. In all other positions, it seems, *u̯ is never reconstructed.

    It also says the lateral consonants seem to have been “lateralized velars”.

  113. First I’ll read this 27-page pdf, not quite a year old — do you have a better link? This looks like a deep link into Academia.edu’s Amazon CDN, and currently gives a permission denied. Searching Academia.edu for the title ‘impersonal pronouns’ doesn’t find anything by a Rasmus either.

  114. Alon Lischinsky says

    @Lars: here you go

  115. David Marjanović says

    Interesting. I found it on Google Scholar (while looking for something else) and was allowed to download it without further ado; I’m not currently behind any institutional server or anything.

  116. I know little of these languages, but what I’ve seen of Proto-Caucasian (encompassing NW and NE Caucasian) has the very flavor that you present here: reconstructions suspiciously longer than the attested etymons (or safe reconstructions), which look like two etymons welded together; and sound correspondences lost among the consonantal richness.

  117. Alon Lischinsky says

    @David Marjanović: in my experience, direct links to Academia.edu PDFs are not stable. Whether that’s a bug or a feature I can’t tell.

  118. David Marjanović says

    Wouldn’t be the first time – Gmc. seems to be the only branch that hasn’t dissimilated the reduplicated */gʷigʷo/- ‘life’ to */gʷih₃wo/-.

    The original form is quite possibly also found in Latin; and I should have translated the stem as the verb “live”; and probably it should be *|gʷi-gʷw-o-| at least on the morphophonemic level, though that detail is lost in the attested descendants.

    which look like two etymons welded together; and sound correspondences lost among the consonantal richness.

    The sound correspondences are very regular indeed, except for an amount of metatheses that rivals the (current and historical) Basque situation. The potential trouble is that very many distinctions found in the extant languages are projected all the way back as separate phonemes, when perhaps looking for conditioned splits could have helped. (That said, the system reconstructed in the etymological dictionary of 1994 isn’t terribly large by Caucasian standards. The system assumed in the 1988 paper I’ve linked to is larger.) Also, for lack of data, the phonemic tones that some East Caucasian languages are known to have were pretty much completely ignored, as were the IE-like paradigmatic accent systems that some others are known to have, though the introduction of the dictionary mentions both; the data on the segmental phonetics of some languages (like Archi) were outdated in ways that may or may not have affected the reconstructions; and there were no data at all on Khinalug, which is a branch all of its own in East Caucasian. In short, plenty of work remains to do, even though the sound correspondences on their own are probably mostly fine.

  119. @Alon, thanks. And now that I’ve followed your link, Academia.edu presents it as the first result when I search… I probably did something wrong the first time. (I assume that the PDFs are copied from persistent storage to a CDN cache on access, and the copies and links expire after a period of no access).

    I note that Rasmus Bjørn is listed as an undergraduate, and I assume this is his bachelor’s thesis. A nice one, but a bit superficial — I don’t see any attempt to identify possible counterexamples, so without knowing all the languages myself it’s hard to tell if he’s just cherrypicking his examples. (I also note that Academia.edu conflates R Gudmundsen B and R Hedegaard B, probably without cause, so contrary to appearances this is his only paper there).

  120. David Marjanović says

    Not mentioned there, but mentioned in the later paper alluded to above that I’ve already forgotten (something by Robert Woodhouse?), is the Germanic ‘boar’ word, PGmc. */βarxa/-. Reverse-engineer that to the PIE level, and you get exactly */ˈbʱorkʲo/-

    That’s actually right there in the original paper – hidden in endnote 16.

    I also note that Academia.edu conflates R Gudmundsen B and R Hedegaard B, probably without cause, so contrary to appearances this is his only paper there

    Two people with such names working in the same department on the same thing at the same time (or within a few months)? The paper I or rather Alon linked to is by R Gudmundsen B; the paper at the bottom of the short list, “Development and dissolution of the PIE case system”, is stated to be R Hedegaard B’s BA thesis and mentions Indo-Uralic in the abstract. (It’s in Danish beyond the abstract, so I’ve only skimmed it yet.) Some Faroese connection is mentioned somewhere, so maybe that explains the flexible name?

    I do agree that the other paper is much too short to deliver on the promises of the title and abstract. It’s a great research proposal, though…

  121. Stephen C. Carlson says

    Based on some internet sleuthing, I’m confident Rasmus Hedegaard Bjørn and Rasmus Gudmundsen Bjørn are the same person. He seems to be in his late 20s, thus more mature than the usual BA student, and I’m guessing he changed his middle name (or first surname?) from the former to the latter when he married.

  122. By Danish law it’s a middle name, and yes, he probably changed it when he got married. I sleuthed as well, and he’s 27. Writing a BA dissertation at 26 is not uncommonly late in Denmark.

    For those deficient in Danish, the dissertation is basically a literature review; no new interesting connections brought to the table, but it effectively demolishes the picture of a consensus view with eight nominal cases in pretty paradigms for PIE — it seems everybody who is anybody has views to the contrary, and if they could only agree on the details, PIE nominals would have three core cases (NAG) and an ‘oblique form’ with adverbial particles that get grammaticalized in different ways in the daughters. And this is much easier to conflate with Uralic.

    He does point out that stem suppletion in nouns and pronouns has a strong tendency to have the nominative different from all other cases — ego/me, R/N stems, and maybe N-stems never had an -n in the nominative. I think that may be his own synthesis.

    (A similar idea occurs in his next paper which points out that in the traditional three-aspect model the perfect is never the odd one out in suppletion, from which he concludes (if I get it right) that the perfect was not originally an independent stem formation, strengthening a hypothesis that the most basic aspect marker was o-ablaut of the root for stative verb forms. But that one is in English so you can all read it).

    There’s a second part of the dissertation that ventures into longer range comparisons, but once Semitic is mentioned my eyes glaze over. Not because I have reason to believe it’s wrong, but because I know too little so it looks like random noise.

  123. Trond Engen says

    I really want to engage in a discussion on Indo-European and Uralic, but there’s not enough time. Let me say that Bjørn’s articles looks like a good start on what could be important and interesting scholarship, but they would benefit from limiting the long(er)-range comparisons to a final note on how e.g. Yukaghir evidence compares to suggested IU reconstructions. And he should avoid a blunder like “Finnish ranta „beach‟ from either Old Norse strönd or Old High German strant.

  124. The evidence for Yukaghir-Uralic has been reviewed by Rédei and found invalid, though there are are quite a few Uralic loanwords in Yukaghir, spanning thousands of years; see also Häkkinen.

  125. Trond Engen says

    Yes, I know. Which is why giving Yukaghir any role at all in the treatment of Indo-European and Uralic is a distraction at best. But I wouldn’t mind a paragraph in the conclusions chapter saying something about it for comparison. “One language group often mentioned as a possible relative of the hypothetical Indo-Uralic is Yukaghir. While most of the perceived similarities are due to a long history of borrowing, the geographical proximity alone warrants a look at how the conclusions in this paper compare to Yukaghir. […]”

  126. David Marjanović says

    Thanks for Häkkinen’s paper!

    I notice on the first page that Häkkinen assumes an East Uralic branch, implicitly dividing Uralic into East Uralic and West + Central Uralic (Finno-Permic) rather than following the traditional placement of the root within East Uralic, opposing Samoyedic to Finno-Ugric. I have no quarrel with this; to the very slim extent to which I’m qualified to have an opinion on it, various hints in the literature and blogosphere suggest to me that it’s progress. But it means that the correspondence of PWCU *s to PEU (also presented on the first page) need not imply a change of PU *s > PEU at all. It could have been the other way around. And in that case, perhaps the correspondence of PEU to Proto-Yukaghir *l isn’t a sign of loans from EU into PY at all; perhaps the last common ancestor of U and Y had , which became *l in PY by a regular sound change.

    Of course this would leave PU without a [s] and with a very strange sound system. This could be repaired if one of the other two sibilants, or , was actually [s]; their reflexes are all over the place, AFAIK.

    All that said, it seems to me that a good argument for the hypothesis that U and Y are more closely related to each other than to anything else has never been made: people have compared U and Y to each other and drawn their conclusions on that basis alone. There is only one unrooted tree (a line) that can connect two points, and only one unrooted tree (a Y) that can connect three points; you need to compare four points before there’s more than one mathematically possible unrooted tree. Of course the probability is high that U and Y have a common ancestor, or that U and IE have a common ancestor! A much more interesting question is what else that common ancestor was an ancestor of. And yet, nobody seems to have worked on that. Even the Moscow School Nostraticists haven’t done anything but their brand of lexicostatistics, and I find it obvious that the mere presence/absence of potential cognate items of basic vocabulary is not sufficient data for reconstructing a robust tree.

    Here are further thoughts on the latest reconstruction of Proto-Yukaghir and what it means for comparisons to Uralic. Häkkinen’s paper and two others of about the same age are cited.

    Random reminder: 2 of the 4 known Yukaghir languages are extinct, and the other 2 are nearly so. Anyone who wants to collect new data should hurry up…

  127. David Marjanović says

    need not imply a change of PU *s > PEU at all. It could have been the other way around.

    I have to call bullshit on myself here. No later than on the 5th page, Häkkinen presents several Indo-Iranian words with *s and *z that show up in Proto-Uralic with *s. That settles that part.

  128. If we wanted to get crafty here, we could suggest that the II loans in question were first loaned into western Uralic with *s, then etymologically nativized with *ɬ once they were transmitted on to eastern Uralic… but yes, there’s indeed the problem that if traditional *s was not [s], what was?

    *š has the problem that this is also reflected in East Uralic as *ɬ (the classic example is *šiŋərə ‘mouse’). (Instead of the traditional reconstruction of an Eastern merger *š > *s preceding *s > *ɬ, I additionally suspect rather a conditional split *s > *š in western Uralic, later reinforced by IE loanwords such as *mekšə ‘bee’.)

    /s/ in East Uralic languages, per the standard view, comes from PU palatalized “*ś”. If we tried to adjust this to *[s], we end up having to posit a very weird sound change for (most) western branches: an unconditional palatalization *[s] > *[sʲ]?! As far as I know, push chains only ever turn *s into a spirant or a weaker sibilant, such as [θ] (e.g. in Bashkir), [ʃ] (e.g. in Albanian), perhaps [h ~ x] (in Iranian?). A pull chain hypothesis would sound even worse. And again, evidence from Indo-Iranian loanwords supports original palatalization here, too.

    (Amusingly enough the original 19th century view indeed used to be though that current standard PU *ś would have been *[s], while current standard PU *s was something else like [θ].)

    I’m tempted to comment some on Hyllested’s work too, but I’m afraid a bit too much of it would have to amount to pointing out poor treatment of Uralic material. For just one example, he claims in his discussion of the mink group of words (p. 208) that Hungarian /e/ ë would preclude a loan original with a front vowel — this is complete nonsense, which I suspect involves a confusion of some kind with the 70s ~ 80s “Uralic Typewriter Alphabet’s” convention of using ë for a back vowel /ɤ/.

    (Also, David, this is likely not the first time you hear this, but may I request you set up a newsletter or similar somewhere? because I for one like all the linguistic sleuthing and synthesis you do, but piecing it together from obscure blog comment threads is far from simple)

  129. David Marjanović says

    Thank you for all the clarifications! 🙂

    (Amusingly enough the original 19th century view indeed used to be though that current standard PU *ś would have been *[s], while current standard PU *s was something else like [θ].)

    Oh, so I reinvented the square wheel! 🙂

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Hyllested got confused by the UPA and UTA; they are quite confusing to outsiders, and I certainly haven’t understood all of their details.

    this is likely not the first time you hear this, but may I request you set up a newsletter or similar somewhere?

    Huh. I’ve occasionally been asked to blog about biology, but this is probably the first time this comes from linguistics. (Or second?) I am after all a trained and publishing biologist, but a complete Internet autodidact when it comes to linguistics.

    I’ve long wanted to start blogging, actually; and most of the posts would be on linguistics, because that’s where I have ideas and knowledge small enough to fit within a blog post as opposed to a paper or a 350-page preprint. I just keep not finding, or taking, the time to even start. I promise I’ll make another effort…

  130. Stephen C. Carlson says

    a 350-page preprint
    Interesting that you’re still using maximum parsimony.

  131. I promise I’ll make another effort…

    Please do! I will put it on the blogroll and pimp it shamelessly.

  132. @David Marjanović: I briefly tried blogging about my own scientific work, and it was a disaster. I haven’t done much on my SF blog of late, but at least it didn’t get bogged down into the minutiae that ended dominating my attempts at science writing.

  133. David Marjanović says


    Interesting that you’re still using maximum parsimony.

    Following a reviewer’s brief question, I wrote a whole page on why I did that (it’s a section featured in the table of contents). In brief, I had to, because the available software for Bayesian inference and maximum likelihood can’t handle our matrix because it contains a few complexities that aren’t encountered in molecular datasets; on top of that, the matrix contains lots of missing data, which is a real problem for model-based methods (under realistic conditions) but doesn’t matter at all to parsimony. Finally, for very large datasets and for fast rates of evolution ( = messy datasets like ours), the performance of Bayesian inference and parsimony converges anyway. See the preprint for references.

  134. Stephen C. Carlson says

    See the preprint for references.
    I read that, thanks. I use maximum parsimony for inferring textual stemmata. I don’t know of a model that would enable me to do maximum likelihood or other such methods.

  135. David Marjanović says

    Rasmus Bjørn has now finished his MA thesis and uploaded it here, where he invites comments. (Also, take a second look at the map at the top of the page. 🙂 )

  136. Posted, thanks!

    (Also, take a second look at the map at the top of the page. ???? )

    ….It appears to show the Black Sea and Caspian Sea? And a bunch of mountains?

  137. David Marjanović says

    Yes. It just took me a few seconds to understand that it was supposed to be a map and not an artistic representation of a landscape.

  138. Oh! Having fairly recently read Valerie Kivelson’s Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and Its Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Russia (see this post), I’m quite used to that kind of map.

  139. Trond Engen says

    I think it’ meant to be both. As a representation of the Pontic-Caspian region, the trees are completely off.

  140. David Marjanović says

    Context for hyonyms. The paper linked to at the end, though, contradicts a few of the arguments in the post.

  141. David Marjanović says

    Stop Co-Occurrence in the Proto-Indo-European Root: A New Perspective. Specifically a statistical analysis that shows that *(-)TVDʰ- roots, like Hyllested’s *kebʰ- occur in PIE half as often as should otherwise be expected – but does not make clear if these 3 (of 6.61 expected) examples all begin with *s-, in which case they could be explained away as underlyingly *-DVDʰ-

  142. David Marjanović says

    There are at least three *TVCDʰ- roots without *s-, but in all three the * seems to be a “root extension”, which might not count.

  143. John Cowan says

    the trees are completely off

    The Lord of the Rings map is in that style: I think the shapes of trees and mountains are purely conventional. The one I’ve linked to is live, with lots of layers.

  144. David Marjanović says

    Me in 2016…

    Dybo’s law (shortening of long vowels before the stressed syllable)

    Only if there’s a resonant in between; *s as in this case would not work.

    Also, probably not a weirdly conditioned shortening of vowels, but a loss of laryngeals: first the laryngeals became [h], triggering a jump in the syllable boundary from e.g *-Vχ.RV- to *-V.hRV-, and then [h] was lost in such positions (or everywhere).

  145. As this was recently linked from LL, I’ll just add that I agree with AntC and AB regarding the usage of “tea” in Britain.

    A “high tea” is afternoon tea with savoury, possibly hot, dishes like sausages or toasted cheese. Janet and John might be given high tea if Mother planned a dinner party in the evening and won’t be serving the children a separate supper.

    The working person’s tea is an early evening meal that someone who used the term “high tea” would call “supper” or at a stretch “dinner”; unlike the leisured (and now WFH) classes, the diner does not have the possibility of “afternoon tea”, “high” or not.

    Tea as served in the cricket “tea interval” is typically “high”, featuring pork pies in England or vegetable curry when served by subcontinental exiles in Rome, or probably anywhere, but is never so described.

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