This is one of those occasions when I spend so much time and energy correcting an annoying error that I am compelled to post about it here. I ran across a reference to the Kashmir Smast caves and, being me, wanted to know what that odd-looking “Smast” was from. After far too much work, I learned that it was supposedly the Pashto word for ‘cave.’ Well, as it happens, I have a Pashto-Russian dictionary, but I couldn’t find such an entry; looking around, though, I found سمڅ смəц (i.e., sməts). Aha, someone had mistranscribed the Pashto word at some point! So I added the following footnote (with three references, just for full assurance):

“Smast” is a mistranscription of the Pashto word for ‘cave,’ which is actually smats (Pashto: سمڅ). See Pashto – English Larg Dictionary; M.G. Aslanov, Pushtu-russkii slovar (Moscow: “Russkii yazyk”, 1985), p. 522 (سمڅ смəц); and, e.g., Edward George G. Hastings, Report of the Regular Settlement of the Peshawar District of the Punjab (Central Jail Press, 1878), p. 16: “Smats is the Pashto word for cave.”

Not only is it annoying that the mistake was made in the first place, but some blockhead is quoted in the Wikipedia article as writing “‘Smast’, or ‘Smats’ as it was referred to by colonial sources, is the Pushtu word for ‘cave’.” Yeah, it was referred to by colonial sources that way because that’s the Pashto word, doofus. And furthermore, the Wikipedia article is obviously a vanity production, or started that way, and needs serious editing, but it’s not going to be by me. I’ve done my bit.


  1. Is it barely possible that this word has actually undergone a sporadic transposition in Pashto, one that your dictionary doesn’t record?

  2. “Central Jail Press” !?!?

  3. Is it barely possible that this word has actually undergone a sporadic transposition in Pashto, one that your dictionary doesn’t record?
    Anything’s possible. If you can find a source that says so, by all means share it. As it stands, I think the weight of evidence is pretty clear.
    “Central Jail Press” !?!?
    Weird, right? I had the same reaction. But: Central Jail Press.

  4. “Pashto – English Larg Dictionary; M.G. Aslanov, Pushtu-russkii slovar (Moscow: “Russkii yazyk”, 1985″
    The date caught my eye. What an ocean of pain is contained in that.

  5. Why didn’t you change the name of the article to “Kashmir Smats”, or would that have been asking for trouble?

  6. I just assumed the official name of the place was Kashmir Smast, thanks to the chucklehead who invented that designation. But now that I google “Kashmir Smats” I see there are quite a few hits, even on Google Books (“This may be a small chamber or cell, which still exists, built into the rock, below the cave temple known as Kashmir Smats”; “The Kashmir Smats is a large, apparently natural, limestone cave high up near the top of the hill”; “Kashmir Smats (Monastery & Cave)”; &c. &c.). But I’ll let someone more eager than I to do Wikibattle try dealing with that.

  7. Isn’t there a technical term for such a transposition of consonants – something fancier than “transposition” ? I mean not a transcription error, but a pronunciation change. You had a blog recently about something similar.

  8. @Grumbly Stu: Metathesis. Another example is Old English brid > modern English bird.

  9. Stu: Isn’t there a technical term […]?
    I think you mean metathesis (or, more properly, methatesis).

  10. Trond, Norwegian capres for “capers” in English, the delightful little green edible things, is that an example of metathesis? (The plural has an enunciated S ending, so it makes me think it might have come from English.)

  11. “Central Jail Press”. Cheap way of printing offical reports, and trained prisoners in printing techniques ?

  12. Sorry, offishul…

  13. >A. J. P. Crown
    I don’t know if Galician “cancro” is a metathesis of Latin “cancer” although, unfortunately, it can be related to metastasis. Joking apart, maybe Latin “cancer, cancri” is the explanation.
    A well-known Spanish metathesis is “cocodrilo”.

  14. What Norwegian capres? If that’s used somewhere, it seems like a mis-anglification of Norwegian kapers.
    Is there a singular caper in English? Or does capers yield plural forms: These capers are delicious? Since the Latin name is Capparis, I guess the singular is a result of reanalysis.

  15. @Jesús: Galician (and Spanish) cancro does not involve metathesis. It is indeed < L cancrum, the accusative case of cancer, but the syncopation of short /e/ and the addition of final /o/ come from Latin morphology. (The doublet cáncer is a parallel reborrowing of the classical word. There’s also cancre, now obsolete, and chancro, borrowed from French; the initial consonant shows a pattern of palatalization and subsequent deaffrication that’s peculiar to that branch of Romance).
    The example you use, cocodrilo, experienced metathesis in Vulgar Latin already: cocodrillus < Classical L crocodilus. Good examples specific to the Iberian Romance languages include Sp murciélago < OSp murciégalo < L mus cæculus, lit. ‘blind mouse’; and milagro < L miraculum.

  16. >Alon
    Thanks to you the “maybe” I wrote is superfluous. And thank you for the Spanish “cancro” that I didn’t know (I’m ashamed of that.)

  17. Is there a singular caper in English?
    There is, but it is rare because one caper is never enough.

  18. @Jesús: Cancro doesn’t seem to have ever been a widely-used form in Spanish, and CORDE only has a handful of attestations in the 19th century.
    Contemporary usage seems to be limited to a plant disease also known as cancrosis (Eng canker).

  19. @Trond Engen: Or metasethith.

  20. one caper is never enough
    so why does anyone ever cut capers ?

  21. Trond, there is a noun “caper” in English, but it has nothing to do with capers. It’s from a verb that means to hop around like a goat, and it is extended to mean some kind of quick foray, especially a bank robbery.
    Wait, when you garnish a deviled with a single caper, you call it a caper.

  22. so why does anyone ever cut capers ?
    For reasons of economy, I suppose – like cutting corners. Good capers are expensive.

  23. Oh never mind, sorry. It was something I saw in the fridge the other day and I thought it must be the Norwegian spelling, but I suppose they were French (câpres).
    A well-known Spanish metathesis is “cocodrilo”.
    Thanks, Jesús. Apparently French fromage was originally “formage” (shaping).
    Grumbly Concertnotes: Good capers are expensive.
    What, you can buy bad capers? Is this a German thing?

  24. What, you can buy bad capers? Is this a German thing?
    I didn’t say good capers can be bought. I said they are expensive. Successful bank robberies require considerable investment and planning.
    But you may have the pickled flowers in mind. I imagine that in Norway there is only one kind available. On that basis you will have had little opportunity to learn to distinguish the good from the bad, so I understand your puzzlement.

  25. It’s not such a straight forward case of a goof up. In the Southern Dialects of Pashto prevalent in Peshwar (the provincial capital of the region where the cave is located), the څ is pronounced as a ‘s’, not a ‘ts’. That yields ‘Smas’. An Urdu speaker would read سمڅ as ‘Smash’.
    The word may not even ultimately originate from Pashto directly. There are several languages spoken in the region, like Hindko, which are very similiar to Pashto, and may be the original source for the name.

  26. Whoops, major typo. That should read ‘Smach’, not ‘Smas’. څ of سمڅ should be read as the t͡s or t͡ʃ, depending on the dialect.

  27. What does the ligature in ” t͡s or t͡ʃ  ” mean ? That the whole is to be pronounced “as one consonant”, instead of “one consonant followed by another” ?

  28. Rohan: Thanks very much for your well-informed comment. I take your point about the possible readings of the form سمڅ, but it still doesn’t sound like /smast/ is a likely one.

  29. Grumbly: Indeed.

  30. Grumbly: Extrapolating from Urdu, it should be read as a single consonant.
    Languagehat: I’m not sure how سمڅ gives /smast/ either. This would be immediately apparent to a native Pushto speaker. One possibility is the transmission of the word through Punjabi. Hindko is a punjabi dialect spoken in the region, but I am unable to find any information about how much it varies from standard punjabi dialects. Standard Punjabi does seem to be missing t͡s, and Punjabis tend to break diphthongs into separate consonants. Considering the British had far better relations with Punjabi tribes compared to the Pashto tribes, it’s quite likely they received the word through Punjabi speakers. As for the trailing ‘t’, here’s my theory. Urdu speakers in Pakistan tend to add a silent ‘h’ at the end of words, which is represented by ہ, which combined with the southern Pashto ‘s’ pronunciation, might lead to the cave being called transcribed as سماصه. Punjabi, unlike Urdu, has a single ‘t’ sound, written as ط. It’s possible a British noob misread the word. Compare the word endings: سه (sah) and سط (sat).
    Full disclosure: I’m a native Hindi speaker, though I have some proficiency in Urdu. I could be horribly horribly wrong!

  31. I could be horribly horribly wrong!
    I should add that as a tagline at the end of all my posts. But anyway, you clearly know a lot more about this stuff than the rest of us, so I deeply appreciate your thoughts about it.

  32. Better, “I might be completely right!”

  33. You may be right, I may be crazy… but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for!

  34. @AJP Crown: cf. Catalan “formatge.”

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