I was recently reminded of this comment, where I said “I could swear I’d posted about ‘Misirlou,’ but it seems not,” and I thought, “Well, why don’t I?” It’s a perfect LH topic, and not only because of the derivation of the name: Greek Μισιρλού < Turkish Mısırlı ‘Egyptian’ < Arabic مصر Miṣr ‘Egypt’ (to quote the Wikipedia article). No, there’s also the gender issue; as I said at MetaFilter fifteen years ago, quoting the Wikipedia talk page:

[Turkish] Misirli is a gender-neutral word that could refer to any person or object from Egypt. Misirlou [the Greek word, borrowed from Turkish] refers specifically to a Egyptian female person, and even more specifically to a member of the country’s predominant Arab/Muslim population (members of the large Greek/Christian community at the time would never be referred to as ‘Misirlides’ but as ‘Egyptiotes’).

Thus words shift connotation as they wander. As for the song, this is the oldest version I know about (Tetos Dimitriadis, 1927), and this is the rocked-up version (Dick Dale, 1962) that made it famous in America, first when I was a lad and then again when Quentin Tarantino used it in Pulp Fiction (1994). Any way you play it, it’s a great tune.


  1. Γιαχαμπίμπι seems to have been borrowed as a gender-neutral term, otherwise I’d have expected γιαχαμπίμπτι.

    Ed.: I’m referring to the old recording.

  2. Mizzer is the one of the titular planets in Quest of the Three Worlds. Unfortunately, “On the Sand Planet” reads more like Cordwainer Smith fan fiction than authentic Linebarger.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Mizzer is the one of the titular planets in Quest of the Three Worlds.

    That’s not Miṣr, it’s Missouri.

    (…no doubt.)

  4. Gavin Wraith says

    Hittite ‘misrili’ = “in the Egyptian language”

  5. David Marjanović says

    Not with z /ts/?

  6. Y, not many languages have borrowed habibti. Proto-Klingon maybe (the Proto-Welsh branch).

    Habibi and its genderedness is another word that deserves a post.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    the Proto-Welsh branch

    On the other hand, Misrili “Egyptian Language” is clearly formed with the Western Oti-Volta language-class suffix li, as seen, for example, in Mampruli, the language of the Mamprussi, etc etc.

    (Martin Bernal, nothing. Man was a mere amateur.)

    Western Oti-Volta is not derived from Proto-Welsh, though (of course) it has an evident Welsh substratum, as you would expect in West Africa.

  8. Martin Schwartz writes to say:

    It should be made clear that while the Turkish adj. suffix -li/-lı/-lu/-lü
    is genderless but subject to vowel harmony, in Greek the same *Turkish
    suffix is genderized as Masc. -li- and fem. -lu (similarly the vowel of the
    Greek form of the Turkish agent suffix -ci etc., the latter again with vowel

    A very relevant observation!

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    It is canonically claimed (although some persnickety killjoys claim to have a different transcription) that at some point during “Third Stone from the Sun” Jimi Hendrix says “May you never hear surf music again.” So my question is whether google translate’s “Μακάρι να μην ακούσεις ποτέ ξανά μουσική σερφ” is a good rendition of that wish into idiomatic modern/demotic Greek or is somehow off/unidiomatic?

  10. Allan from Iowa says

    In addition to the song itself and its name coming from all over the eastern Mediterranean, Dick Dale uses a double-plucked guitar technique from his Lebanese heritage.

  11. Habibi and its genderedness is another word that deserves a post.

    I’d be glad to know more about it.
    It’s in Modern Hebrew, too, but only as a masculine term. Habibti did not make it in.

  12. It’s in Modern Hebrew, too, but only as a masculine term. Habibti did not make it in.

    Youtube is now advertising:

    Habibti Ensemble – Baghdad | Live at Zappa Jerusalem
    Habibti Ensemble

    At least not in Hebrew…

  13. I think they are just branding themselves with an Arabic name.

  14. It was a complaint on invasiveness of their algorithms:-)

    Though to some extent it is a counterexample: an ensemble’s name is a borrowing too, a line in a song is not daily vocabulary.

    The difference maybe is that a foreign phrase in a song is supposed to be a natural reference to a certain expereince: “If you my listener haven’t heard habibi yet, you would at least want to repeat it if you were in my shoes”. An ensemble’s name can be a conscious creative word play (like “Led Zeppelin” or “Beatles”), unique, not typical.

  15. I saw/hear “habibi” in Russian three times….not much.

    1. a post about Misirlou by my freind / freind of freinds.
    2. in a song by a group whose vocalist/lyricist was inspired by his trip to Morocco. I added “if you haven’t heard it yet…” in my definition of “natural” because of this.
    3. the name of a forum where Russian ladies who like men from Muslim Mediterranean discuss men from Muslim Mediterranean (and where some men from Muslim Mediterranean come and feel happier?).

  16. a line in a song is not daily vocabulary
    This was typical for German Schlager in the 50s and 60s, where foreign appellations were used to convey coolness (English like “baby”, “sugar”, “boy”) or the romance of travel (“signora, signorina, bambino / bambina, cherie” etc.)

  17. the same Turkish suffix is genderized as Masc. -li- and fem. -lu

    Just a note about something I was wondering about… The following is for LH readers who aren’t familiar with Modern Greek and who might get the impression that the phonologically-conditioned allomorphy in the Turkish denominal adjectival suffix appearing as -li, -lı, -lü, -lu simply shook out arbitrarily in Greek as masculine masculine -λής -lis and feminine -λού -lu — and similarly, that the denominal suffix -ci, -cı, -cü, -cu (-çi, -çı, -çü, -çu after a voiceless consonant) forming nouns of profession, etc., shook out arbitrarily as masculine -τζής -tzis /-d͡zis/ and feminine -τζού -tzu /-d͡zu/. To pick a common Turkish word as an example with back round vowels, Turkish huzurlu ‘at ease, peaceful, tranquil’ shows up as χουζουρλής, fem. χουζουρλού ‘lounging in bed after waking up, lying around lazily (as for example a cat)’ (apparently showing the semantic development as Greek from χουζούρι ‘idleness, lounging in bed lazily’, from Turkish huzur, ‘peace (peaceful state of mind), ease, tranquility’.)

    In fact, it did not shake out arbitrarily. Rather, the non-gendered Turkish suffixes were apparently accommodated to a pre-existing and still-productive Greek pattern: masculine nouns and adjectives in -άς -as and -ής -is exist beside corresponding feminines in -ού (with plural in -ούδες). To illustrate, Holton at al. (2016) Greek: A Comprehensive Grammar, p. 70, has some discussion of nouns in -ού:

    γλωσσού ‘gossiping woman’, μαϊμού ‘monkey’, παραμουθού ‘story-teller’, πολυλογού ‘chatterbox’, υπναρού ‘sleepy-head’, and many other words referring to females and often corresponding to a masculine noun in -άς or -ής, e.g. φωνακλού ‘loud-mouthed woman’, φωνακλάς ‘loud-mouthed man’
    Such words are usually confined to informal use.

    In addition to nouns referring to persons of a particular class or disposition, the class of feminines in -ού also includes the more ‘primary’ noun αλεπού ‘fox’, plural αλεπούδες. The type in -ού in is still productive today: recent informal Greek νυχού ‘manicurist, nail technician’, from νύχι ‘nail’. There also adjectives in masc. -άς, fem. -ού, neuter -άδικο/-ούδικο, and (as adaptations of the Turkish suffixes -li and -ci) in masc. -λής, fem. -λού, neut. -λήδικο, and masc. -τζής, fem. -τζού, neuter -τζήδικο.

    It is worthwhile looking into the history of Modern Greek feminine in -ού, which developed in part from the ancient Greek type οι-stems, the type in -ώ, genitive -οῦς (feminine names like Λητώ, gen. Λητοῦς ‘Leto’; deverbal abstracts like πειθώ, gen. πειθοῦς ‘persuasion’, etc.). There is a good discussion of this type (οι-stems) by Carlos Monzó, ‘Ancient Greek οι-stem’, in open access here. Note the following:

    Finally, the οι-stem inflectional type survived in the history of Greek language basically through adjectival feminine nouns with the -ού ending and in women’s personal names (e.g. ψωμού ‘baker woman’, γλωσσού ‘gossip girl’, παραμυθού ‘deceiver, liar [woman]’) that changed to the dental inflexion (pl. -ούδες) following their inflectional masculine counterpart (e.g. ψωμάς -άδες, γλωσσάς -άδες, παραμυθάς -άδες). It is noteworthy that both word classes chiefly belong to the similar intimate and colloquial register as the ancient feminine οι-nouns.

    For the development of the paradigm of nouns in -ού in Medieval Greek, there is this in Holton et al. (2017) The Cambridge Grammar of Medieval and Early Modern Greek, p. 569f (some references omitted for clarity):

    They include nouns such as ἀλουπού/ἀλεπού (< ἀλουπός < ἀλώπηξ), μαϊμού (< Arab. maymūn), nouns that denote professions (e.g. ἀνυφαντού) and characterizations of women such as γλωσσού and μεθού, which generally have masculine counterparts in -άς or -ής. The paradigm further includes nouns modelled on Romance words in -on and -oun (French/Occitan and Italian), which occur regionally (Cyprus, Rhodes, Peloponnese and elsewhere), e.g. βερτού (< Occit. vertut and Ital. vertu(de)); ραζού (< Occit. rasoun), βενεζού (< Occit. venesoun) and others… In the singular the paradigm also covers names in -ού developed from those in -ώ via an intermediate phase in which a new acc. sg. in -ούν and nom. sg. in -ούς appeared, modelled on the gen. sg. in -οῦς; see Dieterich 1898: 168, who mentions two inscriptional examples in -ού that pre-date the 10th c[entury]. Names in -ού can also be found in lower-register EMedG texts such as Saints’ Lives.

    I had never looked into the fate of the Greek οι-stems (an Indo-European inheritance in Greek, with cognate morphology most notably in Indo-Iranian and Hittite) in the later stages of Greek, and this was extremely interesting to me in both the Indo-European aspect and the Turcological aspect, so I thought I would share it.

  18. It is indeed extremely interesting (and I love the definition of χουζουρλής/χουζουρλού), so thanks for taking the trouble!

  19. David Marjanović says

    extremely interesting to me in both the Indo-European aspect and the Turcological aspect

    Also, TIL that Greek has a regional layer of chivalric Occitan loans. I can see what historical sense that makes, I just wouldn’t have guessed.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    According to GPC, the Welsh siarad “speak” may be a loanword from Occitan charrada “chat” (whence also “charade.”) Presumably not chivalric, unless perhaps the nobs acquired the non-British habit of making small talk from their Occitan mates when they went on their Crusades.

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