Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries.

I realize this post will be of interest to a limited portion of my readership, but I have to be true to my roots, and even though my days as an Indo-European scholar are four decades behind me now, Matthew Scarborough’s Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries: A Guide for the Perplexed gets my blood racing and I have to share it. He begins:

Over the last three years I have worked more-or-less intensively and widely on Indo-European etymological problems […] Because I have been working on this over the last three years, have come into contact with all manner of etymological resources I had never used before, and (most importantly) because I’m the perverse sort of individual who delights in making lists and bibliographies, I thought I ought to compile a working bibliography of Indo-European etymology as a kind of where-to-go list if you need to make etymological enquiries – something that could be of interest to laypeople who are etymology hobbyists who want to know the relative reliability of different sources and so forth, or maybe you just want a quick resource to know where to go to fact-check dodgy etymology memes floating around the internet.

I will be doing this series in a piecemeal form, first with the general handbooks covering cross-branch cognacy for all of the older Indo-European languages, then the main handbooks that exist branch by branch. […] So, I’ll now begin this series in this post starting with an overview of the general Indo-European etymological dictionaries that are commonly in use today.

He starts with Pokorny’s venerable and still necessary Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (1959–1969), and continues with the Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben (2001), Nomina im Indogermanischen Lexikon (2008), and Lexikon der indogermanischen Partikeln und Pronominalstämme (2014), with some appetizing images of entries, and for lagniappe adds Cal Watkins’ American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (3rd ed., 2011). I can’t wait for the promised coverage of handbooks for individual languages/branches!

Update: Scarborough has added an “Appendix to Part I“:

Somehow, up until now (and having discovered this work only today through a random Google search trying to find information about a somewhat obscure etymological glossary of Old Cornish I feel fairly sheepish to admit it) it has largely escaped my notice until today that in 2005 Frank Heidermanns published a massive three volume work Bibliographie zur indogermanischen Wortforschung. Wortbildung, Etymologie, Onomasiologie und Lehnwortschichten der alten und modernen indogermanischen Sprachen in systematischen Publikationen ab 1800 [Bibliography for Indo-European Lexical Research. Word-formation, Etymology, Onomasiology, and Loanword Strata in the Ancient and Modern Indo-European languages in systematic publications from 1800] (Tübingen, 2005), which contains 28000 references for the various subject categories. If you have access to a university library that subscribes to De Gruyter Online, you can also read the full thing here. There’s also a limited preview in the Google books page in that first hyperlink.

The existence of this bibliography probably renders some of my efforts here to be a little bit pointless, but I suppose there is still probably a certain audience for an annotated bibliography of Indo-European etymological resources, and in any case much has appeared since 2005 besides. I just now feel remiss for not knowing about this and including some discussion of it in my initial post.

I will only add that the book costs $699, so thank god for the preview function.


  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Stephen!

  2. It’s nice to have someone acknowledge us etymology hobbyists.

    Professional linguists should think about building up their fanbase the way that other academics do. (EO Wilson, for example.)

  3. You’re not thinking of entomologists?

  4. I wonder how Indo-European entomologists differ from Altaic entomologists…

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    I have mentioned this before but it will be four decades this coming spring since I was given an earlier version of the Watkins work simply by virtue of the 8th grade version of me being given whatever the then-current version (possibly still 1st edition) of the AHD was as some sort of academic prize. And I can’t have been the only kid of that generation to have been led onto the primrose path toward the iniquity of majoring in linguistics in college by getting sucked into that back-of-the-book piece of the AHD as an adolescent. Whatever the virtues of the Lexikon der indogermanischen Partikeln und Pronominalstämme, it seems less likely to be the sort of thing that a curious thirteen-year-old might stumble into semi-randomly and then get hooked.

    (For some reason my memories of being given that AHD are tightly bound up with my memories of an award ceremony for being a math league state champion, even though it seems highly bizarre in retrospect that the math league authorities would have wanted to give their champions a non-STEM type of prize to keep us from becoming overspecialized or whatever. There were probably two different academic-achievement-type ceremonies I am conflating. At least my memories of buying my first punk-rock album that same spring — Give ‘Em Enough Rope, on sale for $4.49 — have remained distinct.)

  6. Not sure who these goofballs are that would find this of limited interest. I could read LH PIE posts all day.

  7. marie-lucie says

    Watkins’ AHD is great, but it only covers PIE roots that are found in English words, and even if English has borrowed from a number of IE languages, adding their descendants to its native Germanic fund, there still exist other PIE roots which I have often been frustrated not to find in the AHD. As I am not an Indo-Europeanist, this lack does not significantly affect my own work, as opposed to personal interest, but it is still annoying.

  8. I hope this is an appropriate place to drop some PIE etymology that tickled me recently. I learned that English “word” and its Germanic cognates go back to PIE *werh₁- ‘to speak, say’, as does Latin verbum, so I wondered, what about the other IE languages? The AHD appendix has seven different roots glossed ‘to speak’, plus *leǵ- ‘to gather’ with its many speech-related derivatives, plus those glossed as ‘to call’, ‘to cry’, ‘to shout’. That’s a lot, out of a lexicon of only ~1300 roots. Furthermore, some languages have repurposed a different PIE root: Proto-Slavic *slȍvo ‘word’ comes from PIE *ḱléwos ‘fame’, I don’t know how, but that’s what Wiktionary says.

    In most of the Romance languages, the current primary word for ‘word’ goes back not to PIE, but to Latin parabola from Greek parabolḗ ‘placing side by side, comparison, illustration’. But French departed from the rest: parole has been overtaken by mot from Latin muttīre ‘to mutter, to moo’. The sense of ‘incoherent speech’ was turned upside down into ‘unit of coherent speech’. Semantic drift is amazing.

  9. It certainly is, and this is definitely an appropriate place!

  10. Stu Clayton says

    In view of French pronunciation, there has been no semantic drift. It’s more a realization that cows communicate.

  11. Adding a comment to call attention to the update.

  12. Marie-Lucie Tarpent says

    Stu, the French word is pronounced mo , but French cows say meuh! There is no possible way to get the two utterances confused.

  13. Altaic entomologists

    Presumably being those who study butterflies in the Altai Mountains. (I note that the linked Wikipedia page is the first English-language Web page I have seen featuring vertical Mongolian — I’m using Chrome on a Mac — but I suspect something is very wrong with the rendering.)

  14. January First-of-May says

    There is no possible way to get the two utterances confused.

    It’s not unusual for terms describing animal sounds to get affected by sound changes even as the onomatopoeias themselves don’t get affected, or at least snap back much easier (being grounded by the relevant animal sounds themselves).

    My linguistics teacher’s favorite example was Russian мычать “to moo”, where the initial /mɨ-/ was probably *mū- in Pre-Proto-Slavic (I’m not sure of the exact chronology).
    My own favorite example is English (to) mew (a somewhat archaic form of (to) meow); it requires a much shorter sound change accumulation period, however.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Sometimes the meaning does change along: pfeifen “to whistle” < *[piːp]-; Pfeife 1) “whistle”, 2) “pipe for smoking”, but never “tube”.

  16. “to moo”

    That reminds me of a rather lame Finnish joke:

    Lehmä meni kaupunkiin. Vastaan käveli poliisi.
    Lehmä kysyi:
    – Saako täällä ammua?
    – Ilman muuta, vastasi poliisi.
    Lehmä jatkoi matkaansa kauppatorille ja äänteli:
    – Am am am am…

    (A cow went to a town. A policeman came walking towards it.
    The cow asked, ‘Is it permitted to moo (‘ammua’) here?’
    The policeman asnwered, “Sure” (literally, “without muu”).
    The cow proceeded to go to the marketplace, (m)uttering:
    ‘Am am am am …’)

  17. January: It’s not unusual for terms describing animal sounds to get affected by sound change even as the onomatopoeias themselves don’t get affected.

    I know! French cats say `miaou`(mya-u) but the verb is `miauler`(myo-le)`.
    But for a cow the verb is `meugler` with the same vowel as `meuh`.

  18. but never “tube”

    This reminds me of Paul Alverdes’s 1929 short story “Die Pfeiferstube” (English: “The Whistlers’ Room”), about World War I soldiers with permanent tracheotomy tubes as a result of throat wounds: they can’t talk, all they can do is whistle.

  19. In English, there is actually another onomatopoetic word indicating of cattle noises: low. As a verb, it is relatively uncommon; as a representation of the actual sound the animals make, my impression is that it is practically obsolete.

  20. marie-lucie says

    I think there is a corresponding German verb lauen.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Not known to me or to Wiktionary. What German-speaking cows do is muhen, boringly enough. Bulls may roar (brüllen) if they’re feeling poetic.

  22. lauen — Found in the Grimms’ dictionary:

    lauen, verb. brüllen. Nemnich; mugire lawen Dief. 369c; niederd. lauen, vom brüllen des rindviehs, auch übertragen, auf eine niederträchtige art weinen (vgl. Heinatz antib. 2, 216 anm.); in Augsburg lauen stammeln. Schm. 1, 1401 Fromm. es ist das mhd. lüejen, lüewen, lüen brüllen; vgl. unten leuen und lögen.

    — but otherwise seems to be vanishingly rare.

  23. I don.t remember where I saw it, but at least I did not invent it!

  24. Der Kunstpfeifer. “Und Sie pfeiften — Sie pfiffen! — schon immer so wie Sie jetzt pfeifen? — Ich meine, bevor Sie… pfuffen wie Sie jetzt… pfeif… ten…?”

  25. David Marjanović says

    auf eine niederträchtige art weinen

    Heh. “To cry with nefarious motives”!

    Sie pfiffen!

    Exactly. Unremarkable strong verb: pfeifen, pfiff, gepfiffen.

  26. Disappointing all the same that it’s not pfeifen – pfuff – gepfuffen. But where do you come down on the separability of kunstpfeifen?

    Interviewer: Wo haben Sie, ich meine, wo kunstpfeifen Sie zur Zeit in der…
    Der Kunstpfeifer: Ich befinde mich auf einer Tournee durch Europa und pfeife heute abend im Münchner Herkulessaal kunst, begleitet von den Berliner Philharmonkern.

    It actually spoils the joke a bit to learn that Kunstpfeifer (as opposed to just, you know, really good whistlers) really exist, with a German WiPe article and all. I thought Loriot made it up. Next it’ll turn out you really can get a Jodeldiplom.

  27. David Marjanović says

    Kunst- “as an art” is one of those productive prefixes that are neither separable nor inseparable! In situations where separable prefixes would separate, verbs derived this way cannot be used straight-up at all and need do-support or a noun-based circumlocution.

    *Wir notlanden (inseparable)
    *Wir landen not (separable)
    Wir tun notlanden (kept out of higher registers)
    Wir machen einen Notlandung
    “we’re performing an emergency landing”

  28. Kerlachu shartsa!

  29. GT says that is Uzbek (in Latin script) for “Kerlachu is obligatory!”, but alas, I am no more informed than before.

  30. It’s Happy New Year in Chechen.

  31. According to my little Hippocrene Chechen dictionary, ‘new’ is kerla(n) and ‘year’ is sh(w)o.

  32. Scroll to ‘novogodniy’ on this page.

  33. Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar says

    Genetic and archaeological evidence for OIT of IE languages

    Findings from the latest genetic study conducted by ASI in collaboration withe Reich Lab at Harvard using the ancient DNA from Rakhigarhi

    slides at 29:00 mark

    Also ,
    Five waves of Indo-European expansion: a preliminary model (2018)


    The Recorded History of the Indo-European Migrations – Part 1 of 4. Who Were the Vedic Aryans?

  34. David Marjanović says

    Wir machen einen Notlandung

    WTF… typo.

    eine Notlandung, f., not m.

  35. David Marjanović says

    Five waves of Indo-European expansion: a preliminary model (2018)

    No later than the second paragraph, this essay gets bogged down in nonsense about “race type”s – and that right after emphasizing in the subtitle that it’s about “linguistic considerations”, bold and italics in the original.

    Do I really need to read on?

    …No, because you already told us about that same essay on November 17th of this year here. Read the replies; last time you failed to do that.

  36. Керлачу шарца again:

  37. ETYGRAM Association (Ancient & Medieval Greek Etymologies Association) is an international Association formed in December 2016.

    The purpose of the Association is:

    to promote the study of ancient Greek and Byzantine texts dealing with etymology-related issues on Greek language and ancient Greek semantics, and to disseminate the results of that research
    to produce an online dictionary of etymologies proposed or suggested by ancient and medieval Greek texts for Greek words through collaborative work and to develop other free-access electronic tools on ancient and medieval Greek etymology
    to encourage any undertaking linking research and educational activities on investigating the words of the Greek language as a creative operation, both scholarly and playful.

  38. I don’t really see the point of it. “Hey, check out these completely wrong medieval etymologies!” sounds like a basis for a blog, not a scholarly organization. I mean, sure, it’s important to understand how people used to think about things, but “both scholarly and playful” doesn’t bode well.


    Academia Prisca is an international, non-profit organization located in Europe, whose main mission is to promote the revival of the reconstructed Late Proto-Indo-European language, with a focus on North-West Indo-European language and culture.

  40. Oh, the dnghu people have a new site.

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ll stick with Modern Cornish, which after all is pretty much the same thing.

  42. Trond Engen says

    Reviving Western Indo-European as a language is one thing. Reviving the culture could be a Jurassic Park scenario.

  43. They could have different factions, fighting over the pronunciation of laryngeals. I mean real fights, with chariots and blood and everything.

  44. *kréwh₂s!

  45. John Cowan says

    I mean, sure, it’s important to understand how people used to think about things, but “both scholarly and playful” doesn’t bode well.

    I think those adjectives are meant to refer to the ancient etymologies rather than the modern scholarly productions on them. I mean, was lucus a non lucendo meant as a joke, or what?

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