Taboo Deformation and the Bear.

Dan Nosowitz has an Atlas Obscura piece on what linguists call taboo deformation; he starts and ends with “dagnabbit,” along the way discussing the idea that “if someone finds out your true name […] that person will have all sorts of power over you,” the Jewish name of God, and “mother-in-law languages,” but the bit Trevor excerpted, quite understandably, when he sent me the link is this:

“Bear” is not the true name of the bear. That name, which I am free to use because the only bear near where I live is the decidedly unthreatening American black bear, is h₂ŕ̥tḱos. Or at least it was in Proto-Indo-European, the hypothesized base language for languages including English, French, Hindi, and Russian. The bear, along with the wolf, was the scariest and most dangerous animal in the northern areas where Proto-Indo-European was spoken. “Because bears were so bad, you didn’t want to talk about them directly, so you referred to them in an oblique way,” says Byrd.

H₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is pronounced with a lot of guttural noises, became the basis for a bunch of other words. “Arctic,” for example, which probably means something like “land of the bear.” Same with Arthur, a name probably constructed to snag some of the bear’s power. But in Germanic languages, the bear is called…bear. Or something similar. (In German, it’s Bär.) The predominant theory is that this name came from a simple description, meaning “the brown one.”

In Slavic languages, the descriptions got even better: the Russian word for bear is medved, which means “honey eater.” These names weren’t done to be cute; they were created out of fear.

It’s worth noting that not everyone was that scared of bears. Some languages allowed the true name of the bear to evolve in a normal fashion with minor changes; the Greek name was arktos, the Latin ursos. Still the true name. Today in French, it’s ours, and in Spanish it’s oso. The bear simply wasn’t that big of a threat in the warmer climes of Romance language speakers, so they didn’t bother being scared of its true name.

Of course, the idea of a “true name” of the bear or anything else is untenable (and the PIE word itself may have been a taboo deformation or euphemism), and the hypothesis that “the bear simply wasn’t that big of a threat in the warmer climes of Romance language speakers, so they didn’t bother being scared of its true name” shouldn’t be presented as settled fact, but hey, it’s just a blog post, and it’s a fun roundup. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. The wolf is known in Mongolian as чоно (ᠴᠢᠨᠣ᠎ᠠ), but its avoidance names include хээрийн нохой (ᠬᠡᠭᠡᠷ᠎ᠡ ᠵᠢᠨ ᠨᠣᠬᠠᠢ) kheeriin nokhoi ‘dog of the steppes/wilderness’ and хээрийн юм (ᠬᠡᠭᠡᠷ᠎ᠡ ᠵᠢᠨ ᠶᠠᠭᠤᠮ᠎ᠠ) kheeriin yum ‘thing of the steppes/wilderness’. The two are marked as euph. in my Mongolian-English dictionary and the former as 讳称 huìchēng ‘taboo name’ in my Mongolian-Chinese dictionary.

    The wolf is also called боохой (ᠪᠣᠬᠠᠢ) bookhoi, another euphemistic name.

    The bear in English is also called ‘bruin’, which, according to Wiktionary, is from “Middle Dutch bruin ‘brown’ via William Caxton’s 1485 translation of a Dutch version of the legend of Reynard the Fox. Bruin is the bear, named for his brown color”. Didn’t know that!

  2. Would modern French renard (fox, from Reynard the Fox) fall into the same category?

    And, on an Easter theme: Where does “bunny” for rabbit (or is it hare?) come from? Are there any cognates for “bunny”?

    On “wolf”: the Hungarian word, farkas, apparently refers to the tail. This too is possibly taboo avoidance.

  3. I doubt if goupil, the older French word for ‘fox’, became taboo. Rather, Reynard was so popular that in telling a story one no longer needed to say Renard le goupil, as everyone knew he was a fox, and so lower-case renard became a word for any fox. The character in German is Reinecke, -icke, though the French form presumably comes from Reginhard ‘strong counsel’, later folk-etymologized as ‘rain-resistant’ in the sense of rain of blows.

    Nobody knows the etymology of bunny, except that it is obviously a diminutive and that it once referred to squirrels rather than rabbits. Emerson (not our guy) wrote a little poem about a squirrel named Bun:

    The mountain and the squirrel
    Had a quarrel,
    And the former called the latter
    “Little prig.”
    Bun replied,
    “You are doubtless very big;
    But all sorts of things and weather
    Must be taken in together
    To make up a year
    And a sphere.
    And I think it no disgrace
    To occupy my place.
    If I’m not so large as you,
    You are not so small as I,
    And not half so spry:
    I’ll not deny you make
    A very pretty squirrel track.
    Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
    If I cannot carry forests on my back,
    Neither can you crack a nut.”

    Similarly, the lullaby:

    Bye, baby Bunting,
    Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
    Gone to get a rabbit skin
    To wrap the baby Bunting in.

    was often sung to me as a child at my request, and “Bun” became my family nickname.

  4. There’s a Simon Armitage poem that tries to work with this:
    https://thelifeofwords.uwaterloo.ca/origins-of-bears/

  5. Mongolian word for bear is likely an euphemism too. From a word meaning “father, grandfather, ancestor”

  6. marie-lucie says

    zyxt: Would modern French renard (fox, from Reynard the Fox) fall into the same category?

    I don’t think so. The old noun meaning ‘fox’ was le goupil, from Latin vulpillus, a diminutive of vulpis ‘fox’. In the Middle Ages there was a very popular series of tales called le Roman de Renart, with animal rather than human characters. The main ones were the fox, the wolf and the bear, with many others as well, both wild and domestic. I think that country people continued to use le goupil for a long time to talk about the animal they knew very well, but urban dwellers who rarely saw a fox were more familiar with the name Renard than with the actual animal. So the character Renard eventually became the generic le renard.

  7. marie-lucie says

    I see that JC wrote faster than I did! But we agreed, which is the main thing.

  8. Thanks, SF, I was wondering about that one. I assume that it is:

    Баавай ᠪᠠᠪᠠᠢ baavai term of respect for elderly male relatives.

    Баавгай ᠪᠠᠭᠠᠪᠠᠭᠠᠢ baavgai ‘bear’.

    The old word for ‘bear’ was өтөг ᠥᠲᠡᠭᠡ ötög.

    (I hope I’m not annoying people with the traditional script. Cyrillic seems somehow … inauthentic.)

  9. Greg Pandatshang says

    We had some bear etymology talk a few months ago, e.g. http://languagehat.com/med-vay-deva-whatever/#comment-2763082 about Ringe’s theory that English “bear” is from PIE *ǵʰwē̆r- and there is no *bʰer- root at all. *ǵʰwē̆r- would also be taboo avoidance; it would mean they simply called the bear “beast”. The same root gives us feral/ferocious and Greek θηρίον.

  10. So… logically, doesn’t this mean that we can fix the point at which bears stopped being a supernaturally scary threat as when “brown” and “honey eater” stabilised in the lexicon? Because once Brownie becomes the normal word, with no sense of being a taboo avoidance strategy, and the so-called true name is forgotten, you’d expect that absent a cultural change, it too would become a taboo word that needs a new avoidance strategy.

  11. That’s probably what happened to Slavic bear.

    Cause it was originally called in Slavic just like in Germanic language – ber (brownie).

  12. I’m a bit of a fan of historical nature artwork, and you can kind of see when bears became (nearly) extinct in various countries. Illustrators who have never seen a live bear tend to draw their faces wrong, so that they resemble canids, felids, or mustelids.

    For example, look at this drawing of polar bears from Georg Hartwig’s The Polar World. The two snouts shown in profile do not look right. The book was published in 1874, and this particular illustration is not as inaccurate as many pictures of bears from a couple centuries earlier; but the shape of the face retains some of the traditional inaccuracies of western European depictions. (I tried to find an earlier picture, ideally from around 1700, in which the problems would be more glaring, but my Google-fu failed me; so I had to go with the image from Hartwig’s book, which I remembered specifically, because I own a copy.)

  13. January First-of-May says

    There were plenty of avoidance words for the bear in Slavic, they just didn’t happen to be stabilized in most of the extant branches (even then, I’m not sure about Bulgarian mechka).

  14. Medved was also tabooized into a honorific Mikhail Potapych

  15. Is there any actual proof of this theory, or is it all based on the fact that there is more than one root for bear among Indo-European languages. “Brownie” could as easily become the name because northern Europeans were aware of white bears further north. What kind of bear did you see, a white one? No, a brownie.

    By the way, the rock-solid reason that renard is not a taboo-avoidance word is that foxes just aren’t frightening. If you’re larger than a rabbit. Some of the nature-word etymology I see seems uninformed by any actual experience of nature. I recently followed a link to someone supposing that the etymology of beaver was something like “carrier.” You would have to ignore a lot, about beavers, about other creatures, and about what it means to carry or bear something, to settle on carrying as the defining quality of a beaver. Even when they do transport a branch, they are overwhelmingly pullers or draggers.

  16. Trond Engen says

    What’s the evidence for Slavic ber? What would it do to Ringe’s etymology?

  17. eg Russian ‘berloga’ “bear’s lair”, West Slavic placename Berlin.

  18. Trond Engen says

    That someone with the ‘carry’ etymology for beaver is Piotr Gąsiorowski. I love it, but I do agree that “carry” in a strict, modern sense would miss the target. You might think “transport” or even “work”. Anyway, his formal derivation is so solid, not at least with the variation in placement of stress on the reduplicated stem, that in order to avoid the “carry” word I think one would have to come up with a homonymous verbal root.

  19. For tens, if not hundreds, of taboo names for ‘bear’ in Ob-Ugric see Marianne Bakró-Nagy’s 1979 book ‘Die Sprache des Bärenkultes im Obugrischen’, Budapest.

  20. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    The etymological dictionaries I have connect берлога with a verb *bьrliti ‘litter, scatter garbage’ (attested in several daughter languages), probably of ‘onomatopoeic’ (ideophonic?) origin. Seeking connection with Germanic ‘bear’ (via borrowing or cognacy) seems to have gone out of fashion a long time ago. Btw, the word doesn’t refer just to bears in other Slavic languages. How/Whether all of this relates to Berlin, I have no idea.

  21. Trond Engen says

    Fred: ‘Die Sprache des Bärenkultes im Obugrischen’

    Yes. Taboo replacement has as much to do with cult and supernatural powers as with real-life danger. But no doubt the two are intertwined.

    I remember hearing something about Russian bear tamers being descended from an old class of bear priests. Probably very speculative, but I think there was some linguistic evidence for it.

    SFReader: eg Russian ‘berloga’ “bear’s lair”, West Slavic placename Berlin.

    Ксёнѕ Фаўст: The etymological dictionaries I have connect берлога with a verb *bьrliti ‘litter, scatter garbage’ (attested in several daughter languages), probably of ‘onomatopoeic’ (ideophonic?) origin.

    Onomatopoetic origins are common, but litter is not a bird. Shouldn’t sound at least be a defining characteristics of the object? Ideophonic is a bit wider, but I don’t much like sound-symbolic origin for anything either. It may change the semantics, though, as a source of contamination.

    Seeking connection with Germanic ‘bear’ (via borrowing or cognacy) seems to have gone out of fashion a long time ago. Btw, the word doesn’t refer just to bears in other Slavic languages. How/Whether all of this relates to Berlin, I have no idea.

    I should have remembered ‘berloga’, but if it can’t be analysed within Slavic, it’s not really evidence of anything. Superficially it looks rather Germanic, fashion or not. Ber having a wider use in other Slavic languages would be supportive of Ringe’s etymology, if it weren’t for the inconvenience that *gʷʰ- doesn’t yield Slavic b-.

    I thought the “bear” of Berlin was a Germanic folk etymology.

  22. David Marjanović says

    [Corrected version of comment in moderation, which I tried to edit twice and was then told “you can no longer edit this comment” – it contains a link and was therefore sent to moderation when I edited it the first time, I think.]

    And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    H₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is pronounced with a lot of guttural noises,

    Just one 🙂

    “Arctic,” for example, which probably means something like “land of the bear.”

    Ursa minor contains the north star.

    Same with Arthur, a name probably constructed to snag some of the bear’s power. But in Germanic languages, the bear is called…bear. Or something similar. (In German, it’s Bär.)

    This is one of the very few cases of a completely unetymological ä.

    The predominant theory is that this name came from a simple description, meaning “the brown one.”

    This suffers from the massive flaw that the very concept of “brown” is completely newfangled. Much more likely, Ringe is almost right and the bear is derived from an exact cognate of ferus.

    the PIE word itself may have been a taboo deformation or euphemism

    With its stress on the zero-grade first syllable, not to mention the “thematic vowel”, it certainly looks like a nominalization of some adjective.

    The character in German is Reinecke, -icke, though the French form presumably comes from Reginhard ‘strong counsel’,

    Same thing – let the [ɣ ~ j] drop out, truncate and add the Low German diminutive suffix -ken.

    later folk-etymologized as ‘rain-resistant’ in the sense of rain of blows.

    R[e]ginhard (from ragn-) reinterpreted as R/ɛ/ginhard… nice, that might help date a merger that doesn’t show up in spelling!

    Later yet, folk-etymologized as containing German rein “pure”. This is how Rainhard/Reinhard, Rainer/Reiner (historically a nickname like Heiner < Heinrich) and probably Raimund are interpreted today.

    Is there any actual proof of this theory

    Proof? What do you expect? It’s only science!

    “Brownie” could as easily become the name because northern Europeans were aware of white bears further north. What kind of bear did you see, a white one? No, a brownie.

    Aware of white bears in southern Sweden?

    foxes just aren’t frightening

    Well, unless they’re rabid. But if they’re not, you can simply imagine that they’re frightening anyway. They’re the personification of cunning* – surely they’re secretly plotting to kill you, just like your cat is?

    * Except in England, apparently, where they’ve been somehow replaced with weasels…?

    I recently followed a link to someone supposing that the etymology of beaver was something like “carrier.” You would have to ignore a lot, about beavers, about other creatures, and about what it means to carry or bear something, to settle on carrying as the defining quality of a beaver. Even when they do transport a branch, they are overwhelmingly pullers or draggers.

    So? Schleppen is a dysphemism for “carry” over here, but in the US it refers to dragging stuff (or oneself) along on the ground. Perhaps *bʰer- shifted in the opposite direction, or covered both to begin with?

    West Slavic placename Berlin

    After all!?! Wikipedia gives the standard explanation: “may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- (‘swamp’).” The area certainly is flat and full of water.

  23. There is also a tradition of giving protective names to children, using the names of these so-called taboo animals. So in Croatian: Medo, Metko, (bear); Vuk, Vukan (wolf). Slovenian: Metka. Italian: Urso, Ursula (bear). Gothic: Ulfila (wolf).

  24. the decidedly unthreatening American black bear

    Whoa there friend. It’s not a grizzly or a polar bear, but that bear is not to be trifled with. (my keyboard doesn’t have that, replaces with “trolled”; no trolling bears either)

  25. January First-of-May says

    And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    My Latin sucks, but as far as I could guess from what I could figure out from Wiktionary, it should probably be atlas obscurorum.

    I might be misinterpreting what they intended by it, however.
    (Besides, chances are it’s probably a direct quote from somewhere.)

  26. Trond Engen says

    Aware of white bears in southern Sweden?

    Incidentally I just read the Venetian Pietro Querini‘s report of his shipwrecking on the coast of Northern Norway in the winter of 1431-32 and his travel south through Norway and Sweden that summer. The placement of a huge fell of a white bear in the Cathedral of Trondheim makes pretty clear that this was still considered a treasure and a marvel 400 years after the settlement of Greenland.

    (Also, this happened almost exactly at the time when the Norse settlement in Greenland was abandoned. This is probably not coincidental. Increased international activity in the North Atlantic has been evoked as a major factor in the collapse of Norse Greenland. Strange, since you’d think international activity would be a lifeline after the demise of the traditional Norse Atlantic trade. But it included stiff competion between traders, up to and including destroying what you’d otherwise leave for your competitors – and those who came to an empty packhouse looted and took slaves, or raided other ships, to have some return on the investment.)

  27. If the “true name” was genuinely taboo (never uttered), how did it get handed down the generations?

    And how do we know there weren’t many iterations of a “true name” falling into disuse; being replaced by a euphemism; and that becoming taboo?

  28. @ryan, have you ever heard foxes fighting?

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qPLJ0Gbu5D8

    You’ll want your headphones on and the volume down low for that link. It’s a whining sound that sounds almost too human.

    When I was visiting family in Delaware last year, two foxes started fighting outside the house late one night, and it startled everyone there, as none of us recognized what the noise was.

    Unlike our ancestors however, we could start from natural rather than supernatural assumptions and then use YouTube to confirm our speculations.

  29. @David Marjanović: In America, schlepp just means transport wearily. There’s no particular implication of the burden being dragged, although drag itself is often metonymic with the same meaning.

  30. Illustrators who have never seen a live bear tend to draw their faces wrong, so that they resemble canids, felids, or mustelids.

    I love Wiley Miller’s comic Non Sequitur in general, but I especially love his bears, e.g.

  31. And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    Good point; their (hideously corporate) “About Us” page says nothing about the name. I’d send them an e-mail except I’m afraid they’d just tell me to “Like us on Facebook!”

  32. Trond Engen says

    I should have added a link to Piotr’s post on the etymology of beaver. But read the whole series on reduplication.

    It’s also been a recurring theme here at the Hattery.

    Here’s Etienne five years ago making the first mention of a connection of beaver and the root *bher-.

    Here’s John Cowan bringing it up the year after.

    (Adding multiple links against my better judgment. I’m hoping for a quick rescue from the spam trap.)

  33. And still nobody dares to tell them it’s atlas obscurus?

    Per WP, “In late 2017, following another funding boost of $7.5m, the site launched Gastro Obscura, a food section covering ‘the distinctive food locations of the world.'” [Bold added.] Yuk.

  34. Yuk indeed.

  35. Beowulf

    How do you know taboo deformations are not kennings and vice versa?

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    Nudity is obviously a taboo-attracting topic in many cultures and I am pleased to see that at least one on-line source confirms my vague recollection of something some professor mentioned to me some decades back, namely that the Gk word for nekkid, i.e. γυμνός, is “from a metathesis of PIE *nogw-mo-, suffixed form of *nogw- ‘naked'” — and thus plausibly deformed by that taboo (metathesis being one common deformation strategy).

  37. marie-lucie says

    Brett: I’m a bit of a fan of historical nature artwork, and you can kind of see when bears became (nearly) extinct in various countries. Illustrators who have never seen a live bear tend to draw their faces wrong, so that they resemble canids, felids, or mustelids.

    I like those too, and I am especially interested in depictions of the tiger, then and now. You can find hundreds of tiger pictures on the internet, but popular representations (“a tiger in your tank”, etc), including children’s toys, are not at all tiger-like, they tend to look like dogs with stripes. A few years ago WWF (I think) promised a tiger toy to people who donated a certain amount of money. I would gladly have done so but the photograph of the toy was all wrong, basically a (not very resemblant) dog.

  38. The fall of the Soviet Union was also a blow to the appearance of realistically illustrated bears.

  39. marie-lucie says

    northern Europeans were aware of white bears further north. What kind of bear did you see, a white one? No, a brownie.

    Polar bears are very large, and so are the Kodiak bears of coastal Alaska, which are dark brown. But their heads and necks are quite different in shape, and they don’t have the same habitat. I would be surprised if indigenous people who might be familiar with both did not have quite different words for the two subspecies.

  40. marie-lucie says

    JWB: Nudity is obviously a taboo-attracting topic in many cultures …. some professor mentioned to me some decades back … that the Gk word for nekkid, i.e. γυμνός, is “from a metathesis of PIE *nogw-mo-, suffixed form of *nogw- ‘naked’” ….

    I can’t comment on the alleged etymology, but if nudity is taboo, why are there so many statues of naked humans in Greece, especially men? Fully naked, or with some skimpy accessory leaving nothing to the imagination?

  41. David Marjanović says

    (Besides, chances are it’s probably a direct quote from somewhere.)

    I bet it’s from camera obscura.

    If the “true name” was genuinely taboo (never uttered), how did it get handed down the generations?

    Evidently it became more taboo in some branches than in others, and in those it really was lost.

    And how do we know there weren’t many iterations of a “true name” falling into disuse; being replaced by a euphemism; and that becoming taboo?

    We don’t. See above on the morphological complexity of h₂ŕ̥tḱos as evidence that it’s already a replacement.

    Here’s John Cowan bringing it up the year after.

    A bit farther down there’s more on berloga, notably its lack of *e, followed by “runaway euphemisation” of bears in Russian, by foxes being taboo in Irish, by wolves being taboo in Turkic and Mongolic and of course by bears being taboo in Baltic and Welsh.

  42. J.W. Brewer says

    marie-lucie: well, that’s what makes it funny, especially since gymnos then comes in to English via words like “gymnasium” (originally, “place where ancient Greek dudes worked out w/o even wearing loincloths”). As Stephen suggested way upthread, once a word stabilizes and the “original” word it alludes to in a minced way is forgotten, either there’s still a taboo which will make the cycle repeat (a version of the “euphemism treadmill”) or the taboo is faded, so gymnos just means “naked” and not “the minced word we use to evade saying the real one in polite company,” just as English “bear” means “that animal conventionally called ‘bear'”
    and not “deliberately evasive word we use to avoid the Wrath of Bearkind descendng on our clan and eating us all up.”

  43. marie-lucie says

    Merci JWB!

  44. Badger is a large and common European and Asian animal. It would be reasonable to expect that its original Proto Indo-European name would not vary much in the daughter languages. But its name does vary considerably. Is this for the same alleged reason as the name of the bear? What is the reconstructed Proto Indoeuropean name?

    By way of example, here is a list of some of the names for the badger:

    – English: badger, brock
    – Irish: broc
    – Welsh: broch, mochyn daear
    – Breton: broc’h
    – Slovenian: jazvec
    – Croatian: jazavac
    – Czech: jezevec
    – Macedonian: jazovec
    – Sorbian: šwinc
    – Polish: borsuk
    – Ukrainian: borsuk
    – Russian: barsuk
    – Romanian: bursuc, viezure
    – Albanian: vjedulla, baldosa
    – Latvian: āpsis
    – Lithuanian: opšrus
    – Modern Greek: asvos
    – Latin: meles
    – French: blaireau
    – Picard: grizàr (according to Wikipedia)
    – Neapolitan: melogna (according to Wikipedia)
    – Catalan: toixó
    – Spanish: tejón
    – Portuguese: texugo
    – Italian: tasso
    – German: Dachs
    – Dutch: das
    – Norwegian: grevling, svintoks
    – Swedish: grävling
    – Danish: grævling
    – Armenian: goršuk
    – Kurdish: kurbeşk

  45. marie-lucie says

    Picard: grizàr

    Picard is a Northern French dialect. This word is obviously equivalent to Standard French grisard, a derivative of French gris ‘grey’ (with the often derogatory adjectival/nominal suffix -ard, of Germanic origin).

  46. marie-lucie says

    PIE *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, Greek arktos, etc

    The consonants are the same, but the medial ones seem to have been subject to metathesis in Greek (and Latin, etc), thus PIE *-tk- ending up as Greek -kt-, the latter a common sequence in Greek, with -tos a common suffix.

    This means that the original root is approximately (h)art-, as in Hittite hartagga (if I remember correctly). Is the same root in Greek Artemis, a goddess whose cult included a rite where little girls were disguised as bear cubs? And what about the Basque word for ‘bear’, arth? a coincidence, or a borrowing from, perhaps, Celtiberian?

  47. Trond Engen says

    zyxt: Badger is a large and common European and Asian animal. It would be reasonable to expect that its original Proto Indo-European name would not vary much in the daughter languages. But its name does vary considerably. Is this for the same alleged reason as the name of the bear?

    There’s more than taboo that could cause frequent replacement — a reason to be careful about invoking taboo. In the case of e.g. the badger or the fox, it might just as well be that they lived close to humans, giving rise to a more nuanced vocabulary of both eu- and dysphemisms, cutesie nicknames and technical terminology. Also words for domestic animals tend to be replaced by specialized terms or by words for offspring.

    What is the reconstructed Proto Indoeuropean name?

    Just looking at your list without retreating to reference works, I’d say:

    1) Greek, Baltic and southwestern Slavic share a word.

    2. Armenian, Romanian and northeast Slavic share another word. Armenian has a different onset, but otherwise almost identical. If the Kurdish form belongs here, it’s more deviant.

    3. Continental Germanic and Western Romance share a third word. It’s head of a compound in one of the Norwegian words.

    4. The Sorbian form and the Norwegian compound look similar.

    5. Celtic and English share a word.

    6. Latin, Neapolitan and possibly Albanian share a word.

    The rest seem to be transparent late coinages.

    Vetting out borrowings:

    1. The Greek form might be borrowed from Slavo-Macedonian, but it looks too different. The Slavic suffix is secondary. If this is common heritage, it’s old.

    2. The distribution suggests a Turkic or Iranian borrowing. The Kurd form might point to Iranian, but thanks to juha we know it’s Turkic, at least as an immediate source.

    3. Germanic borrowed from Latin. Western Romance borrowed from Germanic. Both borrowed form Celtic. But we know a different Celtic word, and the Germanic form is also in Norwegian.

    4. The Sorbian word might conceivably be a borrowing from Germanic.

    5. The English word would be borrowed from Celtic.

    6. Albanian borrowed heavily from Latin. The suffixes are secondary.

    This yields:

    1. aps-/asv- Balto-Slavic, Greek

    2. borsuk/gorsuk Turkic, possibly from Iranian

    3. toks Germanic

    4. svintoks Germanic compound from toks

    5. broc Celtic

    6. meles Latin

    Of these, only the first is found in more than a single branch after vetting.

  48. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    I can’t comment on the alleged etymology, but if nudity is taboo, why are there so many statues of naked humans in Greece, especially men? Fully naked, or with some skimpy accessory leaving nothing to the imagination?

    Sometimes metathesis just happened for reasons no longer recoverable, cf. Slavic *zьdati ‘build’, Lithuanian žiesti ‘form from clay’ from *ǵʰ(e)idʰ- vs Slavic *děža ‘kneading trough’ from *dʰoiǵʰ- (cf. English dough with no metathesis). Somehow Proto-Balto-Slavic speakers saw it fit to swap the consonants in the verb but not in the noun. Was this connected to some construction magic or taboo? To me it’s as good an explanation as none.

    I should have remembered ‘berloga’, but if it can’t be analysed within Slavic, it’s not really evidence of anything.

    Берлога totally can be analysed within Slavic; the suffix -ogъ (feminine variant: -oga), while not very common, is found in several other deverbal nouns, e.g.: rarogъ [kind of falcon or mythological bird] from *rarati ‘make loud, shrill noises’, Ukrainian вертьог ‘burrowed hole’ from вертіти ‘bore, turn’, Serbo-Croatian krtog ‘garbage (dump)’, Bulgarian крътога ‘animal lair’ vs къртя ‘I tear off’.

    Onomatopoetic origins are common, but litter is not a bird.

    In my experience, using ‘onomatopoeic’ to mean something like ‘sound symbolism’, ‘ideophone’ is a widespread disease of etymological dictionaries, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the word where one clearly cannot speak about natural sound imitation. Somehow eminent linguists appear to be ignorant of the latter terms. Maybe they are only fit for Native American and African savages?

  49. Trond Engen says

    marie-lucie: This means that the original root is approximately (h)art-, as in Hittite hartagga (if I remember correctly).

    The standard reconstruction is *hṛtḱo-, also based on e.g. OInd. ṛkṣaḥ, Av. arša, Lat. ursus and Celt. art(h).

    I believe the regular modern Germanic forms would be something like Eng. urrow, Scand. urr. One of the Norwegian variant words for bear is rugg “bear; big, strong man” < ON ruggr “big man”. This is usually seen as a taboo replacement, but I think it could be a Kluge variant with the Vr- metathesis known from Eng, arse, No. rass. And how about Tyrolian ork, which Wikipedia on Orc helpfully links to the Serbian mythological creature bauk with very similar features? The bauk is in turn explained as the bear turned mythological after going extinct.

  50. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Wikipedia gives the standard explanation: “may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- (‘swamp’).”

    The root bьrl-, if that’s what is meant, does occur in words meaning ‘puddle’ or ‘mud’ in some Slavic languages, but also ‘seethe’, ‘bubble’, ‘garbage’ and ‘dirt’ (generally, it describes various intense/chaotic/disorderly phenomena). It looks like ‘swamp’ is a huge oversimplification, although I suppose it’s better PR for the city than ‘garbage’.

  51. Trond Engen says

    Берлога totally can be analysed within Slavic; the suffix -ogъ (feminine variant: -oga), while not very common, is found in several other deverbal nouns

    Thanks. I see that I overinterpreted your statement. But it can’t be parsed as ber-loga using known Slavic elements, which effectively does away with *ber- and rather suggests the *berl- “swamp” of Berlin and the verb *bьrliti “litter”, quoted by you above. If the similarity with Germanic is more than coincidental, it could be by folk-etymology in the Germano-Slavic contact zone.

  52. David Marjanović says

    The consonants are the same, but the medial ones seem to have been subject to metathesis in Greek (and Latin, etc), thus PIE *-tk- ending up as Greek -kt-, the latter a common sequence in Greek, with -tos<i< a common suffix.

    The metathesis is regular. It seems to have happened at the base of the crown-group; Anatolian and Tocharian lack it.

    This means that the original root is approximately (h)art-, as in Hittite hartagga (if I remember correctly).

    Well. *h₂ertḱ- (morphophonemic transcription; *e next to *h₂ came out as [a]) and *h₂retḱ- both wouldn’t fit the phonotactic restrictions on roots, but I’m at a loss to explain what a suffix *-ḱ- or *-ḱo- could be doing here, and neither *h₂ert- nor *h₂ret- are known to Wiktionary at any rate. We seem to be looking at something with a complex history. Wiktionary does know a root *h₂er-, but it means… “nut”.

    Is the same root in Greek Artemis, a goddess whose cult included a rite where little girls were disguised as bear cubs?

    Perhaps, but if so, the name can’t be of Greek origin because it lacks the *-ḱ-.

    And what about the Basque word for ‘bear’, arth? a coincidence, or a borrowing from, perhaps, Celtiberian?

    That’s Welsh, not Basque. 🙂 The Basque word is hartz, though, which is certainly similar. A correspondence PIE *h₂ ~ Basque h might have one precedent in the PIE “white/bright/silver” root *h₂erǵ-, which makes me appreciate just how incomplete the Wiktionary appendix is, and Basque hargi “light, bright”.

  53. David Marjanović says

    I believe the regular modern Germanic forms would be something like Eng. urrow, Scand. urr.

    Not at least urk? Sending *h₂ŕ̩tḱos into Proto-Germanic would mechanically give *urþkaz. I don’t know what would happen to the three-consonant cluster.

    One of the Norwegian variant words for bear is rugg “bear; big, strong man” < ON ruggr “big man”. This is usually seen as a taboo replacement, but I think it could be a Kluge variant with the Vr- metathesis known from Eng, arse, No. rass.

    But that requires a *-n- somewhere, either in an adjective or in a deverbal noun as far as I know.

    Tyrolian ork

    Huh.

    I had no idea of it, but it does fit phonologically: *u…a gives Northwest Germanic *o, and if the survived into OHG times, it would have become d which could have been assimilated.

    but also ‘seethe’, ‘bubble’, ‘garbage’ and ‘dirt’ (generally, it describes various intense/chaotic/disorderly phenomena). It looks like ‘swamp’ is a huge oversimplification, although I suppose it’s better PR for the city than ‘garbage’.

    Morpork, then. 🙂

    (But Bonn isn’t exactly Ankh either, is it?)

  54. marie-lucie says

    Thanks David for the corrections.

    I had recently read something on Basque and was struck by the “bear” word. Obviously I did not remember it correctly.

    About “Artemis”: With the survival, adoption and other manipulation of deities in ancient mythologies, it would not be surprising if this name was not Greek nor based on a Greek root.

  55. Trond Engen says

    Not at least urk? Sending *h₂ŕ̩tḱos into Proto-Germanic would mechanically give *urþkaz.I don’t know what would happen to the three-consonant cluster.

    *urþxaz, I think, though I imagined that the þ would go, leaving *urxaz. But you’re right that this would yield NWG *o-, so Eng. orrow and Scand. orr. (And orre / orr(fugl) “black grouse” is “bear bird”? Probably not.).

    Turning to rugg, I’m not saying it’s possible, just that I think it’s worth trying. But I agree that Kluge was the wrong man to ask. If metathesis accounts for the gemination, like in rass, by preserving vowel length, the one we need is Verner, to account for the g by *urxaz ~ *ur'[ɣ]az. But he’s only helping on his own specific conditions, which he says aren’t met. Or could *-x-have become voiced between the voiced consonant and the apocopated suffix, *urxz ~ *ur[ɣ]z? At least I can’t think of any counter-examples.

    Edit: Forgot the closing paragraph. A better way would probably be to work backwards from the attested forms, rugg and ork, and see what that would do to the reconstruction.

  56. Trask’s Etymological Dictionary of Basque says, s.v. hartz, artz: “Possibly attested as Aq[uitanian] HARS- in male names like HARSUS (M. 1961a: 219). Scholars from Schuchardt onward have tried to see this as a loan from Celtic, but the probable Celtic nom. *artos should have yielded *(h)artotz, not the observed form.”

  57. CuConnacht says

    Comparable to renard becoming the standard word for fox is English robin for the bird earlier called the redbreast, then given the nickname Robin Redbreast (Robin being a nickname for Robert), then shortened.

  58. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    In some rural Polish the stork is known as wojtek, which is a diminutive for Wojciech.

  59. David Marjanović says

    *urþxaz, I think

    No – as in modern Greek, plosive clusters became fricative + plosive. But never mind, because I overlooked the metathesis, too! We’d actually land at a much less weird-looking *urxtaz.

    There is a name element Ort- in the names Ortwin and Ortrun. It’s explained as yet another term for the edge of a sword, but who knows?

  60. @ryan: Besides fear, another reason for taboo replacements was avoiding to alert prey by naming it. That’s why traditional hunters’ language has special names for hunted animals.

  61. David Marjanović says

    Personal names as generic terms for animals… including humans. We talked about the Alpha-Kevin not that long ago, but the tradition is much older, spanning across the Vollhorst (modeled on Vollidiot “moron”) to the rather alpine [ˈhɪɐ̯sl̩] “silly/stupid guy” < Matthias.

  62. Trond Engen says

    No – as in modern Greek, plosive clusters became fricative + plosive.

    Oh, right. I picked the counterfactuals from memory of previous play with the word and forgot. What I assumed then was that the *t would have fallen off before Grimm. But…

    But never mind, because I overlooked the metathesis, too!

    I’ve not been aware that the metathesis is considered regular in Core IE (or maybe Core Core IE). I may have wasted a lot of time, then. But does the metathesis work for Celtic?

    We’d actually land at a much less weird-looking *urxtaz.

    It does look better, but it’s still a rare cluster in Germanic. The only example I can think of is Cont. Gmc. *furhta- “fear”, and even here the attested forms are a mess of u and o and Vr and rV. Modern German has Furcht.

    There is a name element Ort- in the names Ortwin and Ortrun. It’s explained as yet another term for the edge of a sword, but who knows?

    Would the *x disappear between PGmc and German, or would it have to have been lost earlier?

  63. But [the badger’s] name does vary considerably. Is this for the same alleged reason as the name of the bear?

    I don’t think I’ve heard of any substantial badger taboo, but I have heard that this would be a typical substrate term across languages. Though, the widespread but clearly non-substratal borsuk group shows that this cannot be the full story.

    I believe I originally mentioned Finnic *mäkrä to Dan as a word of unknown etymology, but I’ve since then come to think that the proposed etymology from the Germanic Marder (*marþraz) group can be probably modified a bit to be acceptable. (The main hitch in this is *-kr- versus *-(r)þr-, for which I have figured out a new line of explanation.)

  64. I’m impressed by Trond Engen’s etymologies! The Turkish for badger is “porsuk”, and Nişanyan’s etymological dictionary gives it as being from old Turkish (possibly derived from ‘boz’, meaning ‘gray’, usually referring to animals).

  65. From Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic:

    *þahsu- m. ‘badger’ — MDu. das m. ‘id.’, Du. das c. ‘id.’, MHG dahs m. ‘id.’, G Dachs m. ‘id.’ ⇒ *taks- (WEUR/NIE).
    Most WGm. forms can straightforwardly be derived from *dahsa-, but dial. Nw. toks implies ON *þǫx < *þahsu-. This u-stem may have split off from a dat.pl. of an n-stem *þahsan- (cf. *uhsan- ‘ox’) that can be postulated on the basis of the late Latin loanword taxo (beside taxus), the source of Fr. dial. taisson, It. tasso, Sp. tejón ‘badger’ (EWAhd: II, 498-501) and possibly also Basque dial. azkoin ‘id.’ (with loss of initial t, cf. Trask 2008: 122). Out­side Germanic, one compares MIr. Tadg, the name of a king whose totem was a badger. The underlying proto-form *tazgo- is further retrieved from the Gaulish proper names Tascos and Tasco-uanus. In view of the irregular alternation of Pre-Gm. *taks- and PCelt. *tazg-, the word may be of non-IE provenance (Watkins 1985: 69). Unrelated to Hitt. tašku-, an unspecified subcaudal bodypart (pace Katz 1998 [Hittite tašku- and the Indo-European word for ‘badger’. Historische
    Sprachforschung
    111/1, 61-82]).

  66. Matasović, in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, writes on *tasko: “OIr tadg < *tazgo-. It is unknown why Goidelic replaced the cluster *sk with *zg (dissimilation in voicing with the initial *t?).” Also, “There are also reflexes of the Gaulish word for ‘badger’ in VLat taxo and in various Romance dialects [taisson, tasso, tejón] (some believe these words were borrowed from Germanic, but initial t- points to Gaulish).”

    He also has *brokko- ‘badger’ (MIr brocc, MW broch, MoBret broc’h, Gaul. Broco-magus). “The word has no known cognates in other IE languages, and it has all but replaced the inherited word for ‘badger’, *tasko-. It may have been borrowed from some non-IE language into Proto-Celtic.”

  67. More in Joshua Katz, Aristotle’s Badger, in The Frontiers of Ancient Science: Essays in Honor of Heinrich von Staden, 2015, p. 267 (here). He quotes a paper by Irene Balles which proposes that *brokko- reflects PIE *bʰrog-ko ‘the stinky one’.

  68. David Marjanović says

    But does the metathesis work for Celtic?

    I guess so… I don’t really know.

    It does look better, but it’s still a rare cluster in Germanic. The only example I can think of is Cont. Gmc. *furhta- “fear”, and even here the attested forms are a mess of u and o and Vr and rV. Modern German has Furcht.

    u/o messes are common due to paradigmatic levelings. Ringe 2013 has several pages about them, IIRC. One is northern *wulf- vs. southern *wolf-.

    *berxt- immediately comes to mind, where German has both (-)bert(-) and -brecht in names (sometimes in the same name: Albert, Albrecht) and full preservation in the Perchten.

    (The main hitch in this is *-kr- versus *-(r)þr-, for which I have figured out a new line of explanation.)

    Intriguing.

  69. Trond Engen says

    j.: I don’t think I’ve heard of any substantial badger taboo, but I have heard that this would be a typical substrate term across languages.

    Thanks for the link. Very handy. Not sure how well-sifted the list is, but it’s meant to have force by number, not by the individual quality of each member.

    Y: From Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic: “[…] Unrelated to Hitt. tašku-, an unspecified subcaudal bodypart (pace Katz 1998 [Hittite tašku- and the Indo-European word for ‘badger’. Historische Sprachforschung 111/1, 61-82]).”

    Heh. I read that as Katz being dismissive of the Hittite link. Bjorvand & Lindeman say that “According to Katz’ perceptive analysis in HS 111 (1998:61ff.), this word for ‘badger’ may be an old derivation of a word for a bodypart which in Hittite had the form tasku-.” But I agree that without further evidence it’s best treated as unrelated. The words are too far apart in time, space and semantics.

    [Joshua Katz] quotes a paper by Irene Balles which proposes that *brokko- reflects PIE *bʰrog-ko ‘the stinky one’.

    I remember encountering that etymology. I think it’s what I had vaguely in mind when I said dysphemism.

  70. The expected outcome of *h₂ŕ̥tḱos in Germanic depends on the expected development of the “thorny” clusters. The evidence is sparse. PGmc. *ɣuman- ‘human being’ must be ruled out because we know that DG-type clusters were simplified to G- word-initially before nasals (also syllabic ones). The same may have happened before *j in the etymon of ‘yesterday’ (cf. Skt. hyas). *tetḱ-tlom ~ *-tlah₂ ‘adze’ probably lost the *t of the suffix early (cf. Slavic *teslo ~ *tesla). OIc. þexla, OHG dehsala suggest that *-tḱ- yields Germanic *-xs- word-medially. If so, one could expect *urxsaz in Proto-Germanic. Which makes me wonder if Lat. ursus isn’t by any chance a loan from Germanic.

  71. A mysterious animal called Al-Wark

    The paper examines the mysterious term al-wark, which–according to Maḥmūd of Kāşğarī (11th century AD)–denotes a small animal similar to a badger (Turk. borsmuk) in the Xakani language. This animal was treated as a symbol of fatness. It is suggested that the term in question was borrowed from a Tocharian source. The Indo-European term *wṛḱos (m.) ‘badger’ (originally ‘fat animal’, cf. Hittite warkant- adj. ‘fat’) is reconstructed on the basis of Indic, Greek and Anatolian lexical data.

    http://real.mtak.hu/37262/

  72. I read that as Katz being dismissive of the Hittite link.

    The key word there is pace ‘we respectfully disagree with’.

    *brokko-

    English brock is of course a loan from Celtic into OE rather than a cognate. There is a family of hobbits, living both in the Shire and in Bree, called Brockhouse, alluding to the resemblance between hobbit-holes and badger setts.

    Which leads to Kevin Wald’s mnemonic for the Celtic borrowings in OE, to the tune of “Do, a deer, a female deer”:

    Dunn, a broc or assa‘s hue;
    Staer, what dry and ambeht tell!
    Rice, carr-strewn torr and cumb;
    Clucge,cross-decked ancor‘s bell!

    Bratt, a cloak not cine-thin;
    Luh, a funta‘s overrun!
    Bannoc, cake kept in a binn;
    And with gafeluc we’re done, done, done, done . . .

    These words are respectively ‘brown, dun’, ‘badger’, ‘donkey, ass’, ‘story’, ‘magician’, ‘service’, ‘power, kingdom’, ‘stone’, ‘tower’, ‘narrow valley, coombe, cwm’, ‘bell’, ‘cross’, ‘anchor’, ‘cloak > ragged garment > unruly child’, ‘folded sheet of parchment’, ‘pool, loch/lough’, ‘spring’, ‘cake, bannock’, ‘bin’, ‘kind of spear’. Some may be directly or ultimately from Latin, or routed into English from Old Norse.

  73. marie-lucie says

    CuConnacht: English robin for the bird earlier called the redbreast, then given the nickname Robin Redbreast (Robin being a nickname for Robert), then shortened.

    “Redbreast” seems to be a calque of French le rouge-gorge, the name of the same bird.

    I wonder what the names are in Germanic languages.

  74. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Does the Persian word for bear keep the initial laryngeal of PIE?

  75. Yes, it’s Middle (and Modern) Persian xirs (cf. Av. arša-). It is debatable whether the x- really reflects *h₂, but Martin Kümmel’s explanation of West Iranian x- ~ h- in laryngeal terms makes sense to me. There are occasional exceptions, though.

  76. Danish had rødkælk after German Rotkehlchen = ‘red throat.DIM’ which is the same idea as in French. (-kælk is a cranberry morpheme in Danish).

    For some reason this was deemed incompatible with modern scientific principles and we are now supposed to say rødhals. But a pox on that.

  77. @marie-lucie: “Robin Redbreast” is definitely a calque from French, and the progression redbreast > Robin Redbreast > robin probably took place before 1500.

    I was going to cite “Who Shot Cock Robin” as evidence of the medieval provenance of bare robin, but things actually turn out to be a bit more complicated. There is evidence that a version of the rhyme is medieval, including a fifteenth-century stained glass depiction of Cock Robin shot with an arrow, and the use of the rhyme

    Who’ll dig his grave?
    I, said the owl,
    with my little shovel,
    I’ll dig his grave.

    which appears to require middle English pronunciation. (Many modern versions, actually including the earliest 1770 attestation of this verse, get around this by replacing “shovel” with “trowel.”)

    However, the actual text mentioning “Cock Robin” is not attested until 1744, so it is possible that the medieval versions of the rhyme might have used a different version of the dead bird’s name. I suspect that the whole rhyme, in something very close to its modern form, is hundreds of years older, but I don’t know for sure. The OED’s earliest citation for robin without redbreast is from 1550.

  78. It doesn’t have to be ME. The owl word had /uː/ until the GVS (even it was spelt ou or ow), while shovel comes from OE sċofl ~ *sċufl, whose intervocalic [v] was variably vocalised/lost in ME, hence the numerous variants (which survived well into Modern times). Outcomes with /uː(ə)/, /oː/ or /ɔʊ(ə)/ seem to have coexisted in ME (in addition to those with /-v-/) and their reflexes continued to be used later (cf. Scots shuil, earlier also shoul).

  79. So is modern shovel with unvocalized /v/ a spelling pronunciation or what? The OED doesn’t say.

  80. David Marjanović says

    suggest that *-tḱ- yields Germanic *-xs- word-medially.

    Oh, that makes sense: PIE *|TT| = */TsT/ > PGmc. *ss; PIE *tḱ > *tsḱ > *ḱts > PGmc. *xs (**xss being phonotactically impossible).

    If so, one could expect *urxsaz in Proto-Germanic. Which makes me wonder if Lat. ursus isn’t by any chance a loan from Germanic.

    I was wondering about that u-

    While I’m at it: the German cognate of shovel, Schaufel, is one of the few words that has a short /f/ south of the White Sausage Equator (where consonant length is generally kept). Being attested with both f ~ v and with b in OHG*, it seems to be an example of “Bahder’s law”, a strange devoicing of PGmc. fricatives (before the West Germanic *[ð] > *[d] change!) before resonants in most but not all of the speculative dialects that ended up contributing to OHG. Google seems to think nobody has ever mentioned this except for Guus Kroonen in his 2011 book; IIRC, Bahder’s publication dates from 1901.

    * Oh, and the Swabian-looking last name Schäuble looks like it’s the diminutive of this word in b-form.

  81. David Marjanović says

    Bahder’s law very briefly shows up here on the last slide of 1.1, so Kümmel knows about it and doesn’t say it’s bunk. Also, Bahder’s publication dates from 1903.

  82. Marja Erwin says

    John Cowan,

    Good and helpful poem!

    Doesn’t ambeht originally refer to the person, a retainer –with Welsh amaeth, Latin ambactus, Gothic andbahts, etc. from the same Celtic root– rather than to the services one may provide?

    But if we include (other) Celtic borrowings into common Germanic, then we would have a much longer list…

  83. Makes sense to me. German Amt is a cognate, I see.

  84. marie-lucie says

    So is French ambassadeur!

  85. is modern shovel with unvocalized /v/ a spelling pronunciation or what?

    The vocalisation was sporadic, not regular. It produced a number of doublets which existed more or less in free variation and were subject to dialectal sorting.

  86. Marie wrote
    > I would be surprised if indigenous people who might be familiar with both (Polar bears and brown bears) did not have quite different words for the two subspecies.

    Meet the Naskapi. Their word for Polar bear IS different from the word for brown bears. But … the Naskapi word for Polar bear (waapiskw) comes from the root for white (waap-). In other words, they’ve actually done exactly what I predicted: “which bear did you see?” “I saw a whitey.”

    But David M. objects “aware of white bears, in southern Sweden?”
    Polar bear fossils from the Younger Dryas have been found not far from Copenhagen, and the researcher who summarized the evidence for a southerly range suggests these conditions persisted through 10K bp. A long time before any IE incursions. But how long Polar Bears may have lasted in the northern Baltic, where sea ice is still an annual occurrence, I don’t know. There are polar bears in similar habitats in Canada today. But that’s idle speculation. The reality is that in the 800s Vikings are attested receiving polar bear pelts from the Sami as tribute and selling them south. There’s no reason to think the trade, or for that matter, the suzerainty, had just begun then. Polar bear skins would have been an extraordinary luxury good. So yeah, I think people were aware.

    In the middle ages, captured bears themselves were brought south!!

    Trond, in relation to beaver, you suggest if not *bher = carry, we would have to postulate a homonym. Did you read the beaver blogpost? The etymologist in question concedes two homonyms, one of which is in the semantic field for cutting. Not sawing or chopping, but engraving is within the semantic range.

    When you’re in beaver habitat, you see far more beaver sticks than beavers. If you pick one up, you’ll see it’s absolutely covered with teeth-marks — engravings.

    There are, of course, two other important avenues that weren’t explored. First, beaver skins would have been an amazingly important item of trade — one medieval text suggests they were worth 15 wolf pelts or 5 marten pelts.. And they would have been something which the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware folks or whoever would have obtained the way the British did in North America – buying them from hunters who probably weren’t IE speakers. The assumption that beaver must be derived from an Indo-European root is not a strong one.

    Second, beaver may have been a visual description. Someone will retort “But he did explore that idea … he pointed out that in older Germanic sources, bruna didn’t even mean brown. It meant swarthy, and also shiny and bright, as with metal items.” But whoever makes that retort is someone who doesn’t see beaver very often. If you do, you think – swarthy and shiny with a color that might be brown but might not? yep, that’s be a beaver. To arrive at “Bruna didn’t mean brown, it meant swarthy and shiny” and think you’ve excluded a beaver suggests you don’t know beaver.

    I doubt that the name comes from a visual desciptor. My point is just that knowledge of the thing itself is awfully useful in thinking about derivations.

    I own a canoe rental business. I’ve spent a surprising amount of time observing beavers, thinking about what is interesting and distinctive about them in order to amuse our customers. It would never occur to me to describe the beaver with any of the nouns the distinguished etymologist offers – not the piler, the heaper, the collector, the carrier, the dragger, the toter. None of those are interesting features of beavers. The builder, the sawyer, possibly the plugger, since it’s plugging holes in their dams that actually make them look busy; maybe, just maybe, the etcher or engraver, if I lived in a culture where the skill of engraving was prized, and looking for an avatar of that skill.

    The heaper? The collector? Honestly, I have trouble even acknowledging that as a serious effort.

  87. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Yes, it’s Middle (and Modern) Persian xirs (cf. Av. arša-). It is debatable whether the x- really reflects *h₂, but Martin Kümmel’s explanation of West Iranian x- ~ h- in laryngeal terms makes sense to me. There are occasional exceptions, though.

    Thanks, it’s fascinating to see a tangible reflex like that in a modern language.

  88. David Marjanović says

    But how long Polar Bears may have lasted in the northern Baltic, where sea ice is still an annual occurrence, I don’t know. There are polar bears in similar habitats in Canada today.

    Really? Because the northern Baltic is almost freshwater. The diversity of marine animals there is way low. Are there even enough seals for a population of polar bears?

    But that’s idle speculation. The reality is that in the 800s Vikings are attested receiving polar bear pelts from the Sami as tribute and selling them south. There’s no reason to think the trade, or for that matter, the suzerainty, had just begun then. Polar bear skins would have been an extraordinary luxury good. So yeah, I think people were aware.

    But the skins, let alone the rest, of polar bears were much too rare to necessitate specifying the default bear as “brown” or “dark”.

    Trond, in relation to beaver, you suggest if not *bher = carry, we would have to postulate a homonym. Did you read the beaver blogpost? The etymologist in question concedes two homonyms, one of which is in the semantic field for cutting. Not sawing or chopping, but engraving is within the semantic range.

    When you’re in beaver habitat, you see far more beaver sticks than beavers. If you pick one up, you’ll see it’s absolutely covered with teeth-marks — engravings.

    That particular beaver blogpost, one out of several in a series, is this one. It says:

    But wait a moment: *bʰé-bʰr-o- and *bʰi-bʰr-ú- look exactly like the reconstructed variants of the ‘beaver’ word. If beavers owe their Indo-European name not to their coat colour but to some characteristic habitual activity, the verb describing that activity should be similar to *bʰer- ‘carry’. There are, for example, a couple of known roots of the shape *bʰerH-, one meaning ‘cut, strike, pierce, fight’ (with an unspecified laryngeal) and the other ‘move rapidly, rush, chase’ (in which *H = *h₂ or *h₃). The laryngeal would have been lost in a reduplication containing the root in zero-grade, so we would not be able to see any difference between the outcomes of *-bʰr- and *-bʰrH-.

    Stretching the imagination a little, one would be able to connect the meaning of any of these roots with the beaver’s habits. For example, the first *bʰerH- is glossed ‘mit s[c]harfem Werkzeug bearbeiten’[footnote 7] in the LIV; and what are the beaver’s incisors if not “ein s[c]harfes Werkzeug”?

    Footnote 7 is:

    That is, ‘work on (something) with a sharp tool’ – a bit conjecturally, to be sure, since most of the attested meanings suggest the use of a weapon rather than a carpenter’s tool, or are figurative: ‘scold, rebuke’, etc.

    And then in the author’s first comment (this isn’t YouTube – always read the comments!):

    I’m torn between what you expected [*bʰerH- ‘to handle with a sharp tool’] and good old *bʰer-, but looking at the data I don’t see much evidence for this “sharp tool” thing (and if there’s any, the tools are those for drilling, boring or piercing rather than chisels). It’s certainly a possibility, and would be my second choice at the moment.

    So, while “cutting ~ engraving” is certainly attractive, interpreting any of the available *bʰer(H)- roots as meaning that is a bit of a stretch. That leaves “carry”, reduplicated to “collect”, as the next best hypothesis.

    First, beaver skins would have been an amazingly important item of trade — one medieval text suggests they were worth 15 wolf pelts or 5 marten pelts.. And they would have been something which the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware folks or whoever would have obtained the way the British did in North America – buying them from hunters who probably weren’t IE speakers. The assumption that beaver must be derived from an Indo-European root is not a strong one.

    Why? Beavers are native to the whole range of Yamnaya & Corded Ware. And if the word isn’t IE, why does it fit IE morphology so well?

    What are Uralic “beaver” words like?

    If you do, you think – swarthy and shiny with a color that might be brown but might not? yep, that’s be a beaver. To arrive at “Bruna didn’t mean brown, it meant swarthy and shiny” and think you’ve excluded a beaver suggests you don’t know beaver.

    Have you read that post (which isn’t the one I’m linking to, but the preceding one)? 🙂 One of its points is that brown is a Germanic word that doesn’t have any identified cognates outside of Germanic, very much unlike beaver.

    The heaper? The collector? Honestly, I have trouble even acknowledging that as a serious effort.

    Collecting stuff and heaping it up is unique to beavers and ants in Europe. It’s a rather conspicuous feature.

    “Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals!… Except the weasels.”
    – Homer Simpson

  89. David Marjanović says

    Thanks, it’s fascinating to see a tangible reflex like that in a modern language.

    It is! I just hope for a thorough investigation of this, and of the idea that *h₂- survives as Armenian h- in some environments but not others, and of the mystery of Albanian h-

  90. What are Uralic “beaver” words like?

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/majava

  91. A SHORTER
    FINNISH DICTIONARY
    [with etymologies]
    compiled by Andras Rajki
    2008

    http://toimeentulo.blogspot.com/2011/01/etymologinen-sanalista.html

  92. Trond Engen says

    Wow! Thanks.

    majava [from FPrm *maya. Cf. Kar majaj, Lap madjit] : beaver

    and two lines up:

    maja [from Bal. Cf. Est maja (house), Ltv maja] : hut

    Chance resemblance?

  93. Hardly.

    This suffix latches itself onto nouns (liha ‘meat’ ~ lihava ‘fat’, maja ‘hut, house’ ~ majava ‘beaver’) and it also provides the present participle morpheme (aja-ya, above).

    Raimo Anttila
    Greek and Indo-European Etymology in Action
    Proto-Indo-European *ag

  94. Trond Engen says

    ryan: But how long Polar Bears may have lasted in the northern Baltic, where sea ice is still an annual occurrence, I don’t know. There are polar bears in similar habitats in Canada today.

    David M.: Really? Because the northern Baltic is almost freshwater. The diversity of marine animals there is way low. Are there even enough seals for a population of polar bears?

    There are viable populations of seals in the Baltic. There are even small populations of ringed seals in Ladoga and in the Finnish lake system. Before modern human activity these could well have supported a population of polar bears.*) The same could probably be said of the White Sea. Maybe the large mammal predator was an early victim when human activity increased. But (arguing from ignorance) there are no archaeological traces of post Ice Age polar bears from the Baltic. I would guess that the limiting factor is summer temperatures. The polar bear is not built for temperatures staying much above 0°C for long periods of time.

    ryan: But that’s idle speculation. The reality is that in the 800s Vikings are attested receiving polar bear pelts from the Sami as tribute and selling them south. There’s no reason to think the trade, or for that matter, the suzerainty, had just begun then. Polar bear skins would have been an extraordinary luxury good. So yeah, I think people were aware.

    David M.: But the skins, let alone the rest, of polar bears were much too rare to necessitate specifying the default bear as “brown” or “dark”.

    The polar bear was clearly known in Medieval Norway. There may have been one arriving on a drifting iceberg on the Finnmark coast every other generation, and even before the discovery of Greenland it may have been occasionally traded from the regions east of the White Sea, but it was too rare for any regular payment of Finnskatt tribute in skins of polar bears. Regular brown bears would be ubiquitous in the forests and along the fishing rivers of modern day Finnmark and the Kola Peninsula.

    *) After all, Baltic marine mammals are said to have supported the Pitted Ware Culture, a late blooming mesolithic culture resisting, even pushing back against, and coexisting with incoming neolitihic farmers.

  95. Trond Engen says

    Piotr: If so, one could expect *urxsaz in Proto-Germanic. Which makes me wonder if Lat. ursus isn’t by any chance a loan from Germanic.

    David M.: I was wondering about that u-…

    So was I. How early is ursus attested in Latin? Is it known from other branches of Italic?

  96. The polar bear is not built for temperatures staying much above 0°C for long periods of time.

    And yet Gus the Polar Bear lived with his partners Lily and Ida in the Central Park Zoo here in NYC for more than twenty years in a habitat that included a tank of fresh water kept close to ambient outdoor temperature, ranging from 7 to 45 C, though he had an air-conditioned den on the worst days. Granted, Gus was a bit neurotic, but what New Yorker isn’t? (He was eventually treated with Prozac when he became seriously depressed.)

    You wouldn’t expect to find a large semi-aquatic tropical mammal up in polar bear country either, but you do.

  97. majava ~ maja: oh, that’s an idea I don’t think I’ve heard before. The Proto-Finnic form is *majaga though, cf. Veps majag, Olonetsian majai < *majaja, Finnish dialectal variant majaa. So not **majaba as we’d expect if this were an adjectival derivative ‘housey’. But, a general diminutive in *-ka is just about as workable here as well.

    (The agent noun suffix *-ja also has nothing to do with either of these; Anttila probably is confusing this with the suffix *-ba > -va, as in ajava ‘driving’)

    There’s a small distributional problem too. ‘Beaver’ has cognates stretching into Mordvinic and Permic: Erzya мияв /mijav/, Komi мой /moj/, Udmurt мый /mɨj/ (and also Sami, but perhaps as loans from Finnic in there), while ‘hut’ is limited to Finnic and has no established etymology (but with interesting similarity to paja ‘workshop’, vaja ‘shed’).

    More on cast(o)ronyms in Uralic, Hungarian and Mansi have a root *kuNt-, borrowed at a very old time from Turkic — or, why not, vice versa. Proto-Samoyedic has *pučə, with no known good etymology (it’s been compared with Moksha пача /pača/ ‘otter’, but this doesn’t look very likely to me).

  98. Trond Engen says

    The etymological dictionary that juha linked to and I quoted says

    maja [from Bal. Cf. Est maja (house), Ltv maja] : hut

    But no reference to the reconstructed Baltic form. Without a further etymology it could just as well have been borrowed the other way.

    If the “hut” word is an old Baltic loan, a distribution in Finnic and Mordvinic is as expected. The Permic word for beaver could (as the Sami) have spread through fur trade. The buyer’s word tend to wander upstream.

  99. Trond Engen says

    John C.: And yet Gus the Polar Bear lived with his partners Lily and Ida in the Central Park Zoo here in NYC for more than twenty years in a habitat that included a tank of fresh water kept close to ambient outdoor temperature, ranging from 7 to 45 C, though he had an air-conditioned den on the worst days.

    Can’t argue with that, but would they have survived if they had to do anything at all to sustain their existence in summer? Polar bears on the coast of Labrador or even Newfoundland have access to cold water all year. On the Norwegian coast less so, and in the shallow waters of the Baltic the water temperature often exceeds 20°C in summer.

  100. David Marjanović says

    paja – vaja – maja is too good to be true!

    45 C

    I hope you mean 35?

  101. David Eddyshaw says

    I would be surprised if indigenous people who might be familiar with both (Polar bears and brown bears) did not have quite different words for the two subspecies.

    Iñupiatun has iyyaġriq “black bear” akłaq “brown bear, grizzly bear” nanuq “polar bear” (and also pisruktuaq “bear, black or brown”, literally “one that walks”, which looks pretty euphemism-y.)

    (They may not have all that many words for “snow”, but they can do “bear” proud. Also “seal.”)

  102. My fingers were misaligned: the temperature range was 7 to 23 C. Still warmer than the Baltic.

  103. How early is ursus attested in Latin? Is it known from other branches of Italic?

    The first known use was by the comedy-writer Titus Quinctius Atta (died 77 BC). I don’t think it’s attested anywhere else in Italic. For what it’s worth, Varro says this of ursus (On the Latin language V):

    Ursi Lucana origo vel, unde illi, nostri ab ipsius voce.Ursus is of Lucanian origin, or the ancestors of the Lucani called it from its voice, and so did ours.’

    The Lucani, who lived in southern Italy (in what is now Basilicata), spoke a variety of Oscan. But before you believe Varro, remember that he etymologises volpēs ‘fox’ as that which volat with its pedes.

  104. Piotr, what do you think of the idea (due to Kortlandt) that the initial u- of ursus can be explained through analogy with urcāre ‘to roar’?

  105. Trond Engen says

    Piotr: But before you believe Varro, remember that he etymologises volpēs ‘fox’ as that which volat with its pedes.

    But he does give valuable information on the pronunciation of intervocalic d.

  106. >Collecting stuff and heaping it up is unique to beavers and ants in Europe. It’s a rather conspicuous feature.

    Eurasian cranes nests would be found in the same wetlands. Many large wetland birds heap mud and grasses.

    Regardless, the word is just inapt for what beavers do. Most people don’t think of heaps as hollow with a living place inside. A beaver lodge is more wigwam than pile of stuff. That’s why no one calls them beaver-heaps. They’re called lodges or dens. I just don’t think any of the proffered meanings (and it was quite a shotgun approach – “it must have been *berh, though I have no idea which of the dozen wide-ranging meanings of *berh it derived from”) … none of those meanings make much sense to me as someone who has paid a lot of attention to wildlife.

    >More on cast(o)ronyms in Uralic, Hungarian and Mansi have a root *kuNt-, borrowed at a very old time from Turkic

    Gah! At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive, that’s exactly where my googling of beaver pile led me.

    >On the Norwegian coast less so, and in the shallow waters of the Baltic the water temperature often exceeds 20°C in summer.

    Perhaps, but I’m talking about the Gulf of Bothnia, where temps don’t get above 14 C. And that’s today. We’re presumably talking about the time when IE came to the Baltic, on the order of 5,000 years BP. How did the currents flow, if Doggerland was perhaps not yet sunk to current Dogger Banks levels? I’m not sure we know what Baltic water temps would have been. Maybe we do, and maybe the answer is warmer than today, for all I know.

    The skeletal remains of the south Swedish bear were just found recently, in a fairly well peopled area that must get much more attention than the northern Baltic. We would expect that polar bears were there at SOME point since the last glacial maximum, no? So the failure to find remains may have more to do with the infrequency of investigations.

  107. David Marjanović says

    They’re called lodges or dens.

    In German they’re called castles, medieval-type defensive castles consisting mostly of thick walls… And it’s not just the lodges, it’s also the dams!

    Eurasian cranes nests would be found in the same wetlands. Many large wetland birds heap mud and grasses.

    Cranes are rather found in open areas. Gray herons nest in trees, storks (black/forest and white/open) nest in trees or on rocks, swans don’t make much of a heap, and that’s pretty much it.

    And how did you drift to “heap”? The claim is “carry repeatedly/all the time”.

    Gah! At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive, that’s exactly where my googling of beaver pile led me.

    *minute of silence*

    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    We would expect that polar bears were there at SOME point since the last glacial maximum, no?

    Sure, but not after the Gulf Stream was restored at the end of the Younger Dryas 11784 years BP.

  108. Trond Engen says

    On beaver: I do think your observation of the life of beavers is relevant. But the linguistic deduction is also solid. So how do we reconcile the differences? The frequentive/iterative things beavers are known for are 1) piling and building, 2) gnawing and felling trees, and 3) (by extension) being restless or industrious. I imagined the latter. The name wouldn’t have to be derived from the unreduplicated root but could rather have been formed from the reduplicated verb, which had its own range of extended meanings. I’ve pointed out before that it could be the origin of Latin febris “fever” and ON bifra “shake”.

    On polar bears: Well, actually, I did check the temperatures of the public beaches in the municipalities of Kalix and Haparanda, and several of them were measured to 20°C, or nearly so, last July. Granted, that’s the shallow waters on the sandy beaches, but that’s where a hot polar bear would go to catch seals too. It’s all shallow up there.

  109. Piotr, what do you think of the idea (due to Kortlandt) that the initial u- of ursus can be explained through analogy with urcāre ‘to roar’?

    But urcāre was used of the lynx, so it probably meant something like ‘yowl’ or ‘scream’. Another verb, uncāre, referred to the roaring of the bear. The Latin reflex of *h₂ŕ̥tḱos would probably be something like *arxus. I find it hard to believe that it was contaminated with uncāre or even urcāre (if one ignores the semantic difficulties) to yield ursus.

  110. Trond Engen says

    j: More on cast(o)ronyms in Uralic, Hungarian and Mansi have a root *kuNt-, borrowed at a very old time from Turkic — or, why not, vice versa.

    ryan: Gah! At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive, that’s exactly where my googling of beaver pile led me.

    Just adding to the awe! And asking if this really has to be coincidental. Could the Proto-Ugric beaver be a wickerworker? There’s a Uralic word for birchbark basket, *konte, that survived almost unchanged into Finnish and Sami — and was borrowed into Scandinavian as kont “pouch made of birchbark or wicker”.

  111. Trond Engen says

    ursus

    Looking it up in a Latin dictionary, my eyes fall on ūrus “auerox”. Surely this is another Germanic word? As is alces “(European) elk”, coming to think of it. Are we starting to see a whole semantic field here? Did the Romans import all these beasts for public display in the arena?

  112. That’s more or less what I’ve been thinking. Of course Italy had its own bears and even aurochs (as opposed to elk, whose earliest Latin description we owe to Julius Caesar), but all these animals could still have been part of Germania’s exotic beast package.

    By the way, importing elk so that they might be butchered in the Colosseum seems a crazy idea, but we know that the Romans did it.

  113. Marja Erwin says

    What about bison?

    When Atta used ursus, Celtic-speakers still dominated central Europe, including Hercynia. So I’d expect Celtic languages to dominate the trade.

    So is there evidence against:

    1. a very early borrowing from PGmc to PIt in central Europe?

    2. a borrowing from Venetic? Or a poorly-known Balkan language? Or Temematic?

  114. When the ancestors of the Italici lived in Central Europe, there was no Germanic as we know it (that is, with Grimm’s and Verner’s laws, and all that jazz). The Romans did encounter Germanic tribes during Atta’s lifetime; they only didn’t quite realise that those marauding, fierce Northerners defeated by Gaius Marius in 101 BC were a separate linguistic group rather than Celts of a sort.

    The only known word for ‘bear’ in an “indigenous” Balkan language (other than Greek) is Albanian ar ~ ari, but it doesn’t look like ursus.

  115. David Marjanović says

    but we know that the Romans did it.

    Delirant isti Romani…

    101 BC

    Oh, speaking of which: should we consider the Teutones as evidence that Verner’s law hadn’t been passed yet? The only reason I can come up with for why they didn’t end up as *Teudones is that perhaps the word was passed through Celtic and etymologically nativized on the way, if it wasn’t Celtic to begin with; but that should have produced -ou-, which in any case wouldn’t have become -eu- in Latin either, would it?

  116. It’s like Lucan’s Teutātēs for Gaulish Toutātis. The change of *eu > *ou was rather late in Proto-Celtic; perhaps it did not spread to all Continental dialects, or the Romans used an archaising substitution pattern inherited from an earlier period. Whatever the reason, the substitution was possible, so Teuton- is probably the Latin rendering of a Celticised version of Germanic *þeuðana- — apparently the same word as OE þeoden, Goth. þiudans, ON þjóðann ‘prince, lord’ — used as a self-congratulatory ethnonym.

  117. At the risk of raising an etymology that’s delicate to the point of offensive (…)

    … *facepalm*

    Could the Proto-Ugric beaver be a wickerworker? There’s a Uralic word for birchbark basket, *konte, that survived almost unchanged into Finnish and Sami

    This particular ‘basket’ word is (contra UEW) not an independent root, but a group of derivatives from *kanta- ‘to carry’. Weaving doesn’t seem to be involved. (Fi. kontti also looks like some kind of an internal loanword. Maybe first Samic *kuontēmē ‘carrying utility’ gets borrowed into Finnish, develops the more specific meaning ‘birch bark basket’, and then gets loaned back into S. with a new meaning and also new innovative /-ntt-/.)

    *kumtə ‘wide’ would be however a phonetically exact match — and the beaver has a wide tail indeed — but also: this might still have a hard time making into a top 5 of the most distinctive traits of beavers.

  118. SPQR = Sono porci, questi Romani.

  119. Thinking about the tail, I am now wondering whether there is an plausible etymology for beaver in which it means “slappy.”

  120. >how did you drift to ‘heap’? The claim is ‘carry repeatedly/all the time’.

    From the blog’s conclusion:
    >we might expect *bʰé-bʰr̥ (of perhaps collective *bʰé-bʰōr) ‘the effect of continual collecting, a growing pile’. Like, say, a beaver’s construction – a dam or a lodge

    But I can see how you’d be misled, since at different points, the blog seemed to attach the claim to a wide range of meanings of *berh. The shotgun approach. You found one meaning semi-convincing. Someone else might settle on a different one. Everyone comes away thinking “wow, what a perfect theory,” without even noticing that they’ve come up with mutually exclusive answers.

    >Cranes are found rather in open areas.

    You may need to explain that to this one.:
    https://www.savingcranes.org/species-field-guide/eurasian-crane/

    This Sandhill has nested directly on a beaver lodge.:
    http://www.mccoy.army.mil/vtriad_online/08092002/Sandhill%20Cranes.htm

    It’s of course possible that the word comes from an IE root with some other meaning than those thus far adduced. But Ockham’s razor doesn’t suggest we assume strange beliefs for ancient people, whether taboos for which we have no evidence (other than that other people have taboos), or that words may have had unattested shades of meaning that could distantly be connected with the actual characteristics of a given animal.

    Ockham’s razor instead suggests that proto-IE simply included a word more or like *bhebhros = beaver that had nothing to do with the *behr verb. This sufficiently explains the origins of words in daughter languages without having to come up with some just so story about why beavers were known to the ancients as continual carriers or Constant Gardeners rather than lodge and dam builders or tree cutters.

    Don’t most languages contain two syllables words unexplained by any of their own mono-syllabic roots, carried over from other languages or handed down from the muddy prehistory of their own development? Why would proto-IE have been such an impoverished language that it had no such?

    The idea of *behr to beaver is an interesting thought experiment. But that’s really all it is.

  121. I find it hard to believe that it was contaminated with uncāre or even urcāre (if one ignores the semantic difficulties) to yield ursus.

    Good to know, I also thought it was a bit too ad hoc.
    So how does one explain the u-?

  122. Marja Erwin says

    If the Romans did borrow ursus, alcis, etc. from Germanic by the Late Republican period, then that complicates the linguistic situation in central Europe. Either Germanic languages predominated farther south than usually accepted, or Germanic languages were associated with living in forests where Celtic ones predominated in the towns, or– something.

  123. Oh, sorry, I missed some of the discussion above on the u-.

  124. Trond Engen says

    Marja Erwin: Either Germanic languages predominated farther south than usually accepted, or Germanic languages were associated with living in forests where Celtic ones predominated in the towns, or– something.

    Or the Germanic intrusion into Celtic areas north of the Alps was pioneered by traders from the Baltic, who also adapted Old Italic script to make the runic alphabet. The earliest runic inscriptions are dated to the 2nd century CE, but the letter forms and the fact that two Runic characters were used in the Greek-derived Gothic alphabet are evidence that the script is older.

  125. Trond Engen says

    Thinking about the tail, I am now wondering whether there is an plausible etymology for beaver in which it means “slappy.”

    I first read that as “sappy”. “Fat-tail” could well be a name somewhere.

  126. David Marjanović says

    It’s like Lucan’s Teutātēs for Gaulish Toutātis.

    *facepalm* There I go quoting Asterix in Latin, when I knew full well that par Toutatis was translated as beim Teutates into German…

    Sono porci, questi Romani.

    Huh, I only knew the version with pazzi.

    The earliest runic inscriptions are dated to the 2nd century CE

    There’s one from about 50 CE where it’s not clear if the letters are Latin or runes.

  127. David Marjanović says

    Morning thought: is the anatomical sacrum a taboo replacement? In German it’s “the cross”, presumably formed by the vertebral column and the sacral ribs meeting at right angles. (That includes dialects and Kreuzweh “lower-back pain”.)

  128. Trond Engen says

    Me: Could the Proto-Ugric beaver be a wickerworker? There’s a Uralic word for birchbark basket, *konte, that survived almost unchanged into Finnish and Sami

    j.: This particular ‘basket’ word is (contra UEW) not an independent root, but a group of derivatives from *kanta- ‘to carry’.

    So the Proto-Ugric beaver is a carrier?

    Oh, and could this in some way be related to Germanic ‘hand’?

    (Fi. kontti also looks like some kind of an internal loanword. Maybe first Samic *kuontēmē ‘carrying utility’ gets borrowed into Finnish, develops the more specific meaning ‘birch bark basket’, and then gets loaned back into S. with a new meaning and also new innovative /-ntt-/.)

    Finnish phonology is remarkably conservative, but Sami is not, and I should have understood that this was too good to be true. Still borrowed into Scandinavian, though, in the meaning “birchbark purse”.

    *kumtə ‘wide’ would be however a phonetically exact match — and the beaver has a wide tail indeed — but also: this might still have a hard time making into a top 5 of the most distinctive traits of beavers.

    Some sort of back-formation from how it’s widening brooks? “Wide brook” -> “Beaver dam” -> “Beaver”. Or “fat”?

  129. January First-of-May says

    at the end of the Younger Dryas 11784 years BP

    …um, where does that figure come from? The date I’ve seen for the end of the Younger Dryas is 11590 years BP.

    I suppose it could be a calibration thing, and/or refer to different sub-events (the restoration of the Gulf Stream might have happened partway through the end of the Younger Dryas).

    In the former case, however, I’m not sure where might the precision in the 11784 BP date come from (11590 BP is also a precise date, from dendrochronology, though it doesn’t look that precise due to the inconvenient zero).

  130. David Marjanović says

    Here, except that it doesn’t actually say BP and might actually mean 11734 BP. Earlier versions featured a slightly different date and added “counting uncertainty 69 years”; the cited paper (open access) says 11650 BP “with a maximum counting error of 99 yr”, the counted objects being ice layers; I don’t know where the steady improvement comes from.

  131. January First-of-May says

    Oh, so it’s one of the uncertain dates given with more precision than warranted by the uncertainty.

    IIRC, the source I had for the 11590 BP date promised an uncertainty of under a year; sadly I wasn’t quite able to find that paper again. (It was a dendrochronological one.)
    At this point, it becomes a bit tricky as to whether it even makes sense in the first place to date a climate shift to a specific year (since, after all, most climate shifts take place over multiple years).

  132. David Marjanović says

    That one was really fast, with the Gulf Stream evidently changing course from one year to the next. Ice ages begin very slowly and end abruptly.

  133. Marja Erwin says

    > Or the Germanic intrusion into Celtic areas north of the Alps was pioneered by traders from the Baltic, who also adapted Old Italic script to make the runic alphabet. The earliest runic inscriptions are dated to the 2nd century CE, but the letter forms and the fact that two Runic characters were used in the Greek-derived Gothic alphabet are evidence that the script is older.

    How would that explain ursus, alcis, and other Germanic loanwords into Middle or Late Republican Latin? Are bears and elk more strongly associated with the Baltic than with central Europe? Are these reaching Latin via sea instead of river trade?

  134. It’s worth mentioning that there are a couple polar bear skeletal remains from the Goteberg area dated more than 1,000 years after the end of the Younger Dryas. That’s still millennia away from the arrival of any IE groups. But an extant population that long after the climate change suggests that something other than the southern limit of pack ice may constrict the current territory of polar bears.
    This would be in keeping with Farley Mowat’s description of the species in North America. I’ll leave aside his discussion of polar bears in antiquity because it glibly covers things that people who give better citations seem to dismiss.
    There’s also the fact that the northern Baltic seems to have been much deeper 5,000 years ago, in an early stage of ongoing post-glacial rebound. That would have kept summer surface water temperatures colder.
    All of which leaves the possibility that the final extirpation at least from the northern Baltic happened when groups with bronze weapons began entering the region, likely speaking a form of or early descendant of proto-IE.
    Though certainly it’s also possible they were locally extinct throughout the Baltic much earlier.

  135. So the Proto-Ugric beaver is a carrier?

    No, I’m saying that there’s no visible relationship. *kanta- (also definitely with *n) cannot be equated with *kuNt- (also possibly with *m, per Turkic).

    I second ryan’s complaint that IE-ists and overly well IE-read linguistics often seem obsessed with finding “roots”, even though full stem etymologies are strictly superior to root etymologies (they explain more phonetic material and require fewer ad hoc assumptions of semantic changes). Made all the worse whenever combined with preconceived notions of what roots “should” look like, which can lead to ad hoc segmentation or even outright denial of otherwise flawless etymologies. I’ll save the full rant for another day, though…

  136. Trond Engen says

    How would that explain ursus, alcis, and other Germanic loanwords into Middle or Late Republican Latin? Are bears and elk more strongly associated with the Baltic than with central Europe? Are these reaching Latin via sea instead of river trade?

    I don’t know. I said “the Baltic” since it’s the other end of the conventionally named Amber Road and since we know that there were Germanic tribes living around its southwestern shores at the time. It wouldn’t have to be Germanic traders going all the way to Rome. By the early 2nd century BCE the Romans controlled the entire peninsula, the Po Valley, and the Adriatic. Roman traders would be venturing into the Alpine valleys and beyond, and Germanic traders could be eliminating the middle man from their end, meeting up in Alpine trading posts like Curia or the Danubian fords of Radobona or Vindobona. Would they cater for Roman demand by bringing cubs and calves of exotic animals as well as amber, iron and hides?

  137. >the end of the Younger Dryas 11784 years BP

    >I’m not sure where might the precision in the 11784 BP

    >Oh, so it’s one of the uncertain dates given with more precision than warranted by the uncertainty.

    My understanding is that researchers have narrowed the window even further, with some believing the Younger Dryas ended in January of that year, while others date it to the First of May.

  138. The First of May! The First of May!
    Outdoor @*#$ing, impossible for the last twelve centuries, starts today!

  139. The Amber Road reached the Gulf of Venice in the general vicinity of (originally) Venetic Tergeste (Trieste) and Roman Aquileia. Business at its southern end was dominated by the Veneti, but trade goods imported from Northen Europe were known by their Germanic names — glēsum ~ glaesum = OE glǣr ‘amber’ (n.) is the most obvious example.

  140. Trond Engen says

    ryan: All of which leaves the possibility that the final extirpation at least from the northern Baltic happened when groups with bronze weapons began entering the region, likely speaking a form of or early descendant of proto-IE.

    I’ll grant you that, but I really think absence of evidence is evidence of absence here. There are quite large corpora of rock art from northern Fennoscandia, from both the Atlantic and the Baltic side, dating back some 7000 years. They show bears. Bear paws, long-legged bears, bears in dens. They show whales, seals and fish. But no bears that can reasonably be interpreted as polar bears, either from body shape or from being hunted by boat.

    But it would be really cool if I were wrong about this. We can hope for the budding archaeology of the Baltic itself. Being brackish and cold and low on oxygene at the bottom, it has preserved sunken artifacts almost like the Black Sea. Fearing the effect of heating waters, there are now increased efforts to map and explore the seabed. Or at least talk of increased efforts.

    j.: I second ryan’s complaint that IE-ists and overly well IE-read linguistics often seem obsessed with finding “roots”, even though full stem etymologies are strictly superior to root etymologies (they explain more phonetic material and require fewer ad hoc assumptions of semantic changes).

    Point taken. I know I’m an amateur playing with roots, and especially when playing with Uralic, where I know too little about the the inner workings to venture into more detailed speculation. I’m just happy someone will play with me.

    But I don’t think it applies to professional IE-ists — at least not in general. I’ve seen the dismissal “worthless root etymology” more than once in the literature. And in the case at hand, the etymology of beaver, Piotr’s derivation from a reduplicated root is just an accidental find on the way to the understanding of a whole derivational pattern, while the “brown” etymology is a bare root deduced from shared sounds in three Germanic words.

  141. Trond, your point about rock art seems to be quite a blow to my theory. More musing than theory, I guess.

    I wonder how continued post-glacial rebound will meet up with the rising seas of climate change. Wiki still suggests that Bothnia might be split in two again. In 2,000 years.

  142. Yes, there’s surely another extreme as well, of dismissing all non-trivial morphology (or all non-trivial semantics, etc.). No particular critique at Piotr intended here either.

    Professional IE-ists don’t seem to actively posit bare roots all over the place these days, I mean more that I haven’t really seen much critical engagement with the established traditional theory of strictly monosyllabic roots either.

  143. Trond Engen says

    One level of basic IE that could deserve more attention is the system of root extensions. Scholars named in monosyllables have surely tried their best for 200 years, and the answer may be that they are faint signals from an earlier stage, that the meaning has been irretrievably lost, but it’s still something deeply unsatisfactory about not knowing what’s going on at the most basic level of morphology.

  144. marie-lucie says

    Saint Valpurga

    I just realized that this saint must be the one known in French as Sainte Gauburge, the patron of the village of the same name in Southern Normandy. The Germanic name sounds a lot better than the French adaptation, which sounds terrible.

    — p.s. Wikipedia.fr says that the saint (an 8th century abbess) is also known as Sainte Valburge and the region is known (by some) as le Valburgeois. These alternate names sound modern, perhaps introduced because they sound better than the name of the town.

    I suppose that the Scandinavian Saint Valpurga is associated with the German Walpurgisnacht, but how?

  145. Trond Engen says

    marie-lucie: I suppose that the Scandinavian Saint Valpurga is associated with the German Walpurgisnacht, but how?

    Valborg in Scandinavian. I’m not sure I get your question, but she is simply the saint whose feast is celebrated on May 1. The night before her day was Valborgsnatt in the same way as the night before Day of All Saints, November 1, was All Halloweens Night. Both nights may have become associated with witchcraft and ghosts because they were the days when civil contracts of work and rent were fulfilled and were to be renewed the next morning. Inbetween was a night of no contractual obligations.

    But is this the right thread?

  146. David Marjanović says

    Are bears and elk more strongly associated with the Baltic than with central Europe?

    Elks, as of the 20th century, occasionally show up in northern Austria and no further south. Bears are native to Italy and even to the Atlas mountains…

    It’s worth mentioning that there are a couple polar bear skeletal remains from the Goteberg area dated more than 1,000 years after the end of the Younger Dryas. That’s still millennia away from the arrival of any IE groups. But an extant population that long after the climate change suggests that something other than the southern limit of pack ice may constrict the current territory of polar bears.

    Oh, the Fennoscandian ice shield took several thousand years to melt completely. I should have remembered that. Still, by Corded Ware times, it was long gone.

    when groups with bronze weapons began entering the region, likely speaking a form of or early descendant of proto-IE.

    Bronze weapons actually reached the northern Baltic from the east, likely together with West Uralic, explaining why the people with the highest percentage of Yamnaya ancestry today are the Estonians.

    One level of basic IE that could deserve more attention is the system of root extensions.

    Oh yes. Somewhere on academia.edu there’s a draft that convincingly suggests meanings as derivational suffixes for several of them, but I forgot where.

    However, all root extensions fit within the monosyllabic template. The unanalyzable di- or trisyllables that can be reconstructed are so few in number that they’ve long been suspected of being loanwords.

  147. David Marjanović says

    I suppose that the Scandinavian Saint Valpurga is associated with the German Walpurgisnacht, but how?

    Easy: it’s the night after her feast day (not the day she died, but the day her relics were transferred, oddly enough). -a and -is are different Latinizations of an already endingless feminine, and the p indicates a High German voiceless /b/, which fits the fact that her monastic life, death and ever-so-slightly disgusting miracles all happened in Bavaria.

  148. St. Walpurga was born about 710 AD in Devon (then already part of Wessex) as Wealdburg. Her brothers Willibald and Winibald (Wynnbald) also became saints. Their mother Winna (Wynne) was the sister of St. Boniface, whose real name was Winfred (Wynnfriþ). Their father is known as St. Richard the Pilgrim. His real name is unknown, but we can be pretty sure that it began with W (the runic-derived letter wynn).

    By the way, the town of St. Boniface, Manitoba, was merged into the city of Winnipeg in 1971. The curse of the rune wynn is still upon the family.

  149. marie-lucie says

    St Walpurga (etc)

    Thanks Trond, David, Piotr. I had no idea that Sainte Gauburge was so well-known! Wikipedia (English only) has her history and also a number of local names.

    I asked about her relationship to Walpurgisnacht because I remember learning the name of this event many years ago in German class, where I got the impression that it referred to a kind of witches’ sabbat, or perhaps Carnival. At that time I did not identify the -s as the genitive, or Walpurgis as the name of a person.

  150. David: Not so strange: see this google for “feast of the translation”.

  151. In English, Walpurgisnacht is indeed used to mean a witches’ sabbath, or (more generally) a night of horrors. I remember it being used in Rama Revealed (text by Gentry Lee, with plot input by Arthur C. Clarke) to refer to a night when a lot of coordinated assassinations took place.

  152. David, John,

    I wonder what happens is the relics of a saint are lost in translation.

  153. Trond Engen says

    I see that Sainte Gaubourge was an English noblewoman related to the royal house of Kent, a niece of Saint Boniface, and a missonary nun in Franconia during the reign of Charlemagne. My impression from geography is that her veneration as a saint soon became widespread in the missionary fields in Northern Europe but less in the already christianized regions in the west. Maybe her celebration in a village in Normandy has as much to do with strengthening bonds across the channel after the Norman conquest of England. Or maybe Mayday was a good date for the village feast.

  154. David Marjanović says

    Walpurgisnacht is indeed used to mean a witches’ sabbath

    In German, too, in that such events were thought to occur during that particular night. Compare Halloween.

    Or maybe Mayday was a good date for the village feast.

    Likely.

  155. I asked about her relationship to Walpurgisnacht because I remember learning the name of this event many years ago in German class

    Ha. I remember first encountering the word Walpurgisnacht many years ago while reading Mann’s The Magic Mountain as an undergraduate, where it’s the chapter heading given to a pivotal scene in which the hero is seduced.

    Wikipedia reminds me that it’s also the title given to Act II in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, aptly enough.

  156. My first encounter with the Walpurgisnacht was in Goethe’s Faust.

  157. Trond Engen says

    I learned about Valborgsnatt from Otfried Preusler’s Die kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) in its Norwegian 1973 edition by Bokklubbens Barn.

  158. marie-lucie says

    Trond: Maybe her celebration in a village in Normandy has as much to do with strengthening bonds across the channel after the Norman conquest of England

    Her lifetime coincides approximately with the period of Norman raids into France, which ended after the king (a very weak one at the time) granted the raiders the territory which became the duchy of “Normandy”. Officially the Duke of Normandy was a vassal of the king of France, but he was de facto independent, and the Norman nobles maintained contact with their relatives on the other side of the Channel. The English royals at the time intermarried with “Danes” and Normans: William the Conqueror’s grandmother was the sister of the English king of his time, which is why he considered himself a legal pretender to the throne of England. So it is not surprising that a saintly “English” princess of probably mixed ancestry, remembered from the time of the foundation of Normandy, should have been venerated in a small Norman town even if she never set foot in it.

  159. Trond Engen says

    Piotr: I wonder what happens is the relics of a saint are lost in translation.

    Saint Benedict of Nursia was the author of the Regula Benedicti, but it’s his translation that is celebrated.

  160. Trond Engen says

    David M.: The unanalyzable di- or trisyllables that can be reconstructed are so few in number that they’ve long been suspected of being loanwords.

    E. incidentally g. the “bear” word. But a language with no words except for a handful of borrowings that can’t be derived from monosyllabic roots, and which on top of that may have lacked phonemic vowels — what kind of process made it become like that? More than a natural language it looks like a conlang, or maybe a highly artificial register. Even if we allow for the inevitable incompleteness of reconstruction, what made only those features be recoverable?

  161. Of course, monosyllabic-root languages vary from Thai with 23,638 monosyllables to Hawaiian with 162. (I’d guess that English is somewhere about halfway between.) PIE certainly has plenty of consonants.

  162. David Marjanović says

    Die kleine Hexe

    *high-five*

    may have lacked phonemic vowels

    That claim comes from people who either don’t know what “phonemic” means or believe ablaut was spontaneously generated out of nothing and can be internally-reconstructed away. In anything accessible to the comparative method, *nokʷts “night” and *nekʷts “night’s” are a minimal pair for /o/ vs. /e/, which lands us at two phonemic vowels as found today in Abaza or Arrernte even if [i u] never contrasted with /j w/ and even if every single *a was /e/ next to *h₂.

    With that out of the way…

    But a language with no words except for a handful of borrowings that can’t be derived from monosyllabic roots […] — what kind of process made it become like that?

    Good old reduction of unstressed syllables, I’d guess, not unlike the zero grade. Compare, if only as examples:
    – Moscow School Proto-Altaic, where most roots were (C)VC(C)V and the second syllable distinguished all 5 vowel qualities (but not the 3 diphthongs if those weren’t just *j + vowel sequences), both tones, and possibly the somewhat dubious (i.e. more dubious than most of the rest) length, while stress wasn’t phonemic and can’t be reconstructed;
    – Proto-Uralic, where most roots were again (C)VC(C)V, but the first syllable distinguished 8 vowels, while the second had a surface inventory of 3 or possibly 4, which amounts to 2 phonemes because of vowel harmony, and stress wasn’t phonemic but was very obviously initial;
    – PIE, where almost all roots were (CC)CVC(C) outside of zero-grade and stress was phonemic.

    Also, contact with West Caucasian (with its even shorter roots and just *2 vowels) could have played a role.

  163. Trond Engen says

    I didn’t mean the typology per se, but that the typical system could be all there is. That all native IE words can be traced back to the same derivational patterns from the same roots, without any misfits and oddities. Why aren’t there borrowed verbs with their own paradigms, whether those be wholesale imports or patchwork solutions for fitting into the IE system? I don’t mean to imply that this invalidates PIE reconstruction in any way, just that there may be an important story not yet told. And I don’t know if that story will be reconstructible from linguistic evidence.

    As for the vowels, I agree that there’s evidence for IE vowels, but their distribution seems very restricted. I’ve touted the development of the Scanian (Swedish with a Danish substrate?) vowel system as a possible partial parallel. In essence stressed vowels became whatever-is-the-opposite-of-centering diphtongs. But this is weird too — and may have developed under very special socio-linguistic conditions. Another idea was the worldwide phenomenon of “royal mumbling”, as was up here a few months ago. Maybe it started as an elite pronunciation of stressed vowels as schwa + semivowel(/laryngeal) pairs.

  164. David Marjanović says

    Why aren’t there borrowed verbs with their own paradigms, whether those be wholesale imports or patchwork solutions for fitting into the IE system?

    Verbs are generally harder to borrow than nouns. Navajo had to innovate a construction with an auxiliary verb to do that (within the last few decades).

    But who knows? Maybe some PIE verb roots really have to be reconstructed with *a or (shudder) *b; those would be prime candidates for identifiable borrowings. Maybe some CVC roots are borrowed from West Caucasian C roots plus a prefix or two. Maybe some others are borrowed from Pre-Uralic (or whatever) CVCV roots, with the final vowel reanalyzed as part of a suffix or as epenthetic. Perhaps this goes even further, and the “thematic verbs” are inspired by a bunch of borrowed CVCV roots. It’s not hard to speculate.

  165. I think there’s a bit of a begging the question going on there. I often see that when a word doesn’t fit the mould, it’s hypothesized to be a Wanderwort or substratal — so while no one comes out and says that there was a stage of purity when PIE had only nicely conformant words, and that’s the only words we accept as native, there seems to be some filtering going on that gives almost the same result.

    Let me invoke the uniformity principle here. Of course any language ancestral to the IE languages, viewed synchronically, had loanwords that didn’t fit the declensions and gnarly old words with strange case forms and suppletions and onomatopoeia and all the stuff that makes a language fun. Because we’ve never found a contemporary language that didn’t.

    But that’s not the PIE we reconstruct. Because we can’t. Even if it was possible to be sure that all the features we deduce existed at one and the same time, there must be lots of details that just happened to be regularized away on the way to the daughter languages. And if a word can plausibly be reconstructed in a way that fits neatly with most of the other words, that’s the reconstruction we pick. But plausibillity is not proof. We haven’t proven that all the words were made on the same boring cookie cutter. Actually, by the argument above, we can be sure that some of them weren’t, we just can’t tell which, or how they were different.

    (But of course there is progress, it seems to me that as the basic patterns get worked out more reliably there are little quirks that start to stand out, hinting at old irregularities. But often that’s used to try to push back the horizon and find an old regularity that became a quirk in a few words).

  166. But that’s not the PIE we reconstruct. Because we can’t.

    Well, exactly. I’m not sure what you’re pushing back against; presumably just about every IE-ist would agree with you that actual spoken PIE was more gnarly and complicated than the artificial form we reconstruct, but since there’s nothing to be done about it, what do you want them to do?

  167. I have actually seen people claiming that the reconstructed language corresponds to a single unitary stage in the development of the IE language family, and that what we can see was all there was. Forget who, though. But I guess my screed was in part a pent-up response to that.

    The other part is, in reply to Trond, that I’m not sure it’s true that only words that fit the very regular and schematic system could be reconstructed, if people were looking, but the natural human instinct to see patterns in everything creates a bias towards accepting the conlang-like reconstructions. I’m not pushing back as such — I have nowhere to stand — but I think it would be refreshing to see more gnarly PIE forms being suggested.

    (I do realize that it will need much more work to argue convincingly that some cognate set probably descended from a PIE form that didn’t fit the pattern, since the pattern is so pervasive and well-accepted, but maybe it would be more useful than the regular ones).

  168. David Marjanović says

    I have actually seen people claiming that the reconstructed language corresponds to a single unitary stage in the development of the IE language family,

    It does – if it’s done right. Because it took so long to figure out where exactly Anatolian and Tocharian go in the tree, and because the relationships of the other branches to each other mostly still aren’t understood, plenty of things that are commonly reconstructed for PIE are not PIE at all (from slide 22 on).

    and that what we can see was all there was.

    That, on the other hand, is right next to impossible.

  169. Trond Engen says

    Lars,
    You say it better than me..

    David,
    Thanks! Piotr’s slideshow says it even better. I don’t think we disagree much about these matters around here.

  170. and that what we can see was all there was.

    That, on the other hand, is right next to impossible.

    And all that he could see, and all that he could see, was the other side of the mountain …

  171. I mean I’ve seen claims that the handbook version which Piotr calls “a patchwork combining areas of grammar and lexicon referring to different chronological layers and different intermediate ancestors” is a close approximation to something that some actual group of people spoke at a some actual point in time. Which is at best disingenuous.

    Also see his page 21 which states my point about selective bias better than I could.

  172. Since we have come around to “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” I have a question that has bugged me from childhood. I first learned the song with the bear lyrics and then some horrible alternate ones about Cub Scouts. However, I also stumbled across another version among my mother’s old piano sheet music. Among the songs she learned when she was a kid in 1950s Connecticut, was “The Cat Went Over the Catskills,” with the same tune as the bear song.

    The cat went over the Catskills.
    The cat went over the Catskills.
    The cat went over the Catskills,
    With all the skill of a cat.

    At the time, I figured this was just an alternative set of lyrics, such as folk songs often have. It would make more sense for it to have been common in the Northeast than out in Michigan or Oregon where I had lived up to that time. I have sung it on occasion though, and nobody has ever recognized it (except my mother).

    In fact, I just Googled it, and the only online references to the song name that Google finds are directly to the Schaum duet sheet music or to old recital announcements in newspapers, stating what pairs of children played the song as their performance piece.

    So has anybody else heard of these lyrics, or were they just invented for a known tune by the Schaum music publishers?

  173. A distant cognate of the Catskills Cat, but retaining more features of the ancestral form (Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre). Note especially what the fourth officer is carrying.

    Another intermediate form is also well known in Denmark with the title For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.

    Here is a claim that the original melody is an Arabic one called malbruk, implying that the Duke of Marlborough was just a happy coincidence. (Or unhappy, if you ask his wife).

  174. marie-lucie says

    Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre ‘Marlborough is going to war’

    This song about the death and funeral of the Duke of Marlborough is a humorous one, since the Duke was not killed in the famous battle between French and English troops, although he was defeated.

    In French the name is pronounced as if written Malbrou (my tradition) or Malbrouk.

    Several versions of the song lyrics are on the internet, starting identically but becoming more and more absurd as performers often added ludicrous verses of their own composition, some of which have survived.

    The wording is meant to suggest a medieval song. The phrase s’en va-t-en guerre is both archaic and substandard: the modern standard would be s’en va à la guerreor more commonly part à la guerre. The inserted -t- also suggests an uneducated pronunciation (adding a “false liaison”, as does also the z of Il reviendra z’ à Pâques). The second line Ne sait quand reviendra ‘Doesn’t know when (he) will come back’, with its omission of the subject pronouns, is a deliberate medievalism, perhaps copying a typical line in old songs with the similar theme of the lady in her tower watching anxiously for news of her husband.

    As for the “Arabic tune brought back from the Crusades”, it is laughable in this particular case, but the general theme of the lonely lady pining for her absent husband may have become especially popular during that time. The tune, however, is neither Arabic nor sad.

  175. I tried to edit my comment to acknowledge that John Churchill was not in fact killed in 1709, but it was in moderation then and the edits did not take. According to WIkipedia the text is attested since 1780 or so, I don’t know how archaic it was then or whether liaison was possible in more cases, like before en. (But I’m sure there was never an -s in reviendra, so the z’á cannot be a preservation).

    And the tune is a march or something close to it — it was certainly used when playing soldiers during my childhood — very far from any Arabic music I’ve heard, and not a form with medieval roots I think. (It is, however, easy to google up an Arabic language wedding song called Mabrouk).

    According to The Eighteenth-Century Vogue of “Malbrough” and Marlborough (C. D. Brenner, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 1950), pp. 177-180) the tune was probably popularized by Pierre Beaumarchais in the play Mariage de Figaro which was first staged in 1784 but may have had private readings as early as 1778. The words in the play have nothing to do with the popular text however, it’s a romance sung by a page to the object of his affections — instead of Mironton, mironton, mirontaine it has Que mon cœur, mon cœur a de peine!

    The spread to the rest of Europe may have been helped by a nice illustrated children’s edition from 1878 — it has fewer verses than most other versions, but it retains the four officers that are also found in the Danish version and the date would explain why it was translated to the Dano-Prussian war of 1864.

  176. David Marjanović says

    a close approximation to something that some actual group of people spoke at a some actual point in time

    Again, if a reconstruction is done right, that’s what it is, except that some things are inevitably missing because they happen to be lost in all attested descendants.

  177. But can we do it right? How do we avoid creating a chimera of roots from one stage, stem formations from another, conjugations and declensions from all over? Not to speak of vocalism, accent patterns and phonation of stops…

    Reasonable men can still argue about the order of sounds changes from PIE to Germanic, and it seems to me that ordering the stages of development of so many different aspects of the language relative to each other must be a much harder problem.

  178. The words in the play have nothing to do with the popular text however — but I forgot to say that the play gives Marlbroug s’en va-t-en guerre as the name of the melody.

  179. Rodger C says

    Attested from Appalachia:

    Moll Brooks, get out of the water, [3]
    Until you learn to swim!

    The first line is obviously based on hearing the French. It’d be interesting to know the route of transmission.

  180. Perhaps this goes even further, and the “thematic verbs” are inspired by a bunch of borrowed CVCV roots. It’s not hard to speculate.

    This comes actually close to the kind of thing I was hinting at. If it was the kind of work I’m getting paid for, I would probably be investigating hypotheses such as that maybe the lack of thematic inflection in Anatolian is actually a phonological isogloss (plain old syncope under some particular conditions) and not a primarily morphological one. To quote something I wrote on an Academia.edu session just a few days ago: the widely-attested historical trajectory in root structure is vowel stemsthematic stemsconsonant stemsshorter vowel stems → etc.; and not anything involving massive parallel vowel epentheses all over the place.

  181. David Marjanović says

    Oh, the thematic vowel isn’t supposed to be epenthetic, but to have originally form imperfective ( > present) subjunctives from perfective verbs (root aorists). This fits the recent interpretation that PIE only had an eventive and a stative aspect, with the eventive splitting into perfective & imperfective only after Anatolian had split off*, and the observation that thematic verbs are present but very rare in Tocharian.

    * Briefly mentioned in this report from a conference in 2015, along with an interpretation of two IE *b words (one of which also contains *a) as Semitic borrowings. The eventive/stative idea has made it into print, but I can’t remember where.

  182. There is a thematic inflection in Hittite – e. g. both the type with zero grade in the root and the type -ske/o- are attested. What isn’t attested is the type with full (e) grade in the root, type bhere/o- , that becomes the most frequent type in the other IE languages, but is IIRC still rare in Tocharian.
    The idea that the thematic inflection derives from the perfect/medium system is around since at least the 60s; there is a huge discussion about the exact pathways and the structural reasons for the development.

  183. Revenir-ing à nos animaux tabou, in a moment of Diegocarcity, after reading this thread I came across a reference in an 18th century brewing manual to the word ‘fox’ being taboo in the brewhouse: if raw wort (the sugary unfermented run-off from mashed malt) was left hanging around unfermented, it could become infected, giving rise to a condition known as ‘foxed’, either because of the infected wort’s reddish tinge or its smell. The fear, evidently, was that naming the animal could bring on the condition: according to William Ellis, in The New Art of Brewing and Improving Malt Liquors to the Greatest Advantage (London, 1761) ‘it is a general Law among [brewers] to make all Servants that name the word Fox or Foxing in the Brewhouse to pay Six-pence, which obliges them to call it Reynard.’

  184. I hardly know why you would want to talk about foxes in a brewhouse at all, but so it goes. The game of able-whackets, which is both a card game (the rules of which have not been preserved) and a language game in a more formal sense than usual.

  185. David Marjanović says

    Royal mumbling, complete with subtitles, here at 0:20 and 1:20.

  186. Current xkcd pokes that bear.

  187. David Marjanović says

    I linked to the wrong video and have no idea what the right one was. 🙁

  188. PlasticPaddy says
  189. Trond Engen says

    I once proposed English urrow, if I remember correctly. That’s probably why I’m alive.

    Edit: Well, of course.

  190. David Eddyshaw says

    Arth struck me as a rather odd reconstruction too; surely syllabic r wouldn’t result in ar in Germanic?

    Surprising given Randall Monroe’s general carefulness. Did he actually get the form from Gretchen McCulloch?

    On the other hand, the bear’s reaction seems to validate the form. Perhaps it’s really a Welsh bear.

  191. John Cowan says

    Is the bear awakened because called by its true name, or is it just annoyed by being misnamed? You can’t really tell.

  192. @David Eddyshaw: Randall’s not actually that careful. However, I would assume in this case, the he got “arth” straight from Gretchen McCulloch; he tends not to misstate the conclusions of the sources he utilizes—merely to overestimate their expertise. In McCulloch’s case, there does not seem to be any particular evidence from her online writing that she has any particular knowledge of historical phonology (or historical linguistics more generally; her M.A. thesis appears to be purely about verb grammar in Mi’gmaq Algonquian). She was probably just carelessly repeating something else she had heard on the Internet.

  193. David Eddyshaw says

    @JC:

    Good point. (Misnaming bears is, of course, quite hurtful, especially if the bear has made its objection clear.)

  194. John Cowan says

    Anyway, if Avestan rašah and Sanskrit rákṣas ‘harm, injury, damage’ are indeed cognates, then *h₂ŕ̥tḱos isn’t primitive either: it means something like ‘destroyer’. In which case the true and real IE name of the bear is lost forever.

    Except to the bear.

  195. Aren’t all animal names ultimately descriptive?

  196. @John Cowan: It could go the other way. The Indo-Iranian words might mean “bear stuff,” as a kenning or perhaps even as a taboo replacement for the original word for “harm.” (I think that would be interesting, particularly since traditional depictions if the demoic rakshasa are rarely bear like.)

  197. David Marjanović says

    Aren’t all animal names ultimately descriptive?

    Who knows? 🙂

    It could go the other way.

    The shape of the word argues against it. It looks like a thematic adjective that was turned into a noun by stressing the first syllable, which seems to be the only way to get a stressed zero-grade.

    (And yes, *wĺ̩kʷos “wolf” shows the same phenomenon, and there’s a Hittite noun walkwa- meaning “danger” if I’m remembering its form correctly.)

    (…Obviously *septḿ̩ “7” can’t be explained that way, but it’s long been suspected of being a Wanderwort… or maybe the end-stress is copied from “8”.)

    Finally, the bear can hardly be the brown one because the very concept of “brown” is just a few hundred years old. More likely, we’re looking at the wild/savage/monstrous one.

  198. David Eddyshaw says

    Aren’t all animal names ultimately descriptive?

    A great many people names are. I discovered a while back that Kusaal human-reference nouns have the property that they can be used as adjectives modifying other nouns describing people (e.g man/male; deaf-person/deaf); no other Kusaal nouns can be used as adjectives, and Kusaal adjectives cannot otherwise head NPs (except in very restricted circumstances.) Eventually it dawned on me that for semantic reasons there aren’t that many different sorts of noun describing people anyway: proper names (including ethnonyms etc); kinship words; agent nouns and the like; and pretty much everything else is a description. Are we not all adjectives, at the end of the day?

  199. January First-of-May says

    A great many people names are.

    A lot of cultures, very possibly independently, had personal names that were entire sentences, and many more had noun-phrase names; both of those are traditionally associated with “primitive” cultures – but (I suspect) probably mostly only because it’s not a SAE thing.
    I’m not sure how to tell if it’s a retention from Proto-World or a very common innovation (or even neither, somehow).
    The usual Indo-European system, for what it’s worth, is a bipartite name of the “Vladi-slav” variety, where both individual roots are (usually) meaningful, but the combination is very often meaningless. I’m not sure if it’s attested outside IE.

    However, over the last twenty centuries or so, the European cultural area had been subject to an ongoing fad of borrowing names from other cultures, and between that and sound changes, most modern-ish Western names (such as “David”, “John”, or “Steve”) no longer have a synchronic meaning at all.
    The obvious extension from that is making names up wholesale – and indeed this had happened among, for example, African-Americans, where, IIRC, it is estimated that up to 30% have names that are outright made up (and consequently never had a meaning, not even an etymological one).

  200. David Eddyshaw says

    I should have been clearer: by “people names” I meant “nouns referring to people”; proper names are obviously a highly important subgroup of them, but I was thinking particularly of those person-referring nouns that aren’t proper nouns or kinship terms.

    Kusaal does the whole-sentence personal name thing a bit; for example Amoryam “Has intelligence” (borne by a girl, naturally.) Yoruba does it all the time.

  201. Some really weird names were in fashion during early Soviet period which were abbreviations of whole sentences.

    Like Oyushminald (Otto Yulievich Schmidt on the ice) or Dazdraperma (Long Live First of May).

    No relation to our colleague besides strange fascination with the spring Communist festival.

    Dazdraperma was a girl’s name, by the way. I can’t imagine how cruel (and clueless) parents had to be to subject their daughter to such humiliation in school.

  202. January First-of-May says

    No relation to our colleague besides strange fascination with the spring Communist festival.

    This particular part of my online nick derives from the metro station, though the station is indeed named for the Communist festival.

  203. for example Amoryam “Has intelligence” (borne by a girl, naturally.)

    Per contra, most WP-notable people named Bright are men, though not without exceptions. I suspect that many of them have names that are calques, especially those who bear it (or use it) as a first name.

    However, the Welsh cognate berth ‘fair, fine, beautiful’ is also suggestive. Words for ‘intelligent’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘shining’ are often interchanged. Consider the attested OE female name Ælfsciene ‘shining/beautiful as an Elf’, which was surely an adjective of praise before or at the same time it was a name. What is more, it was plainly calqued from Sindarin eledhwen, edhelwen ‘id.’ (varyingly reported in the primary sources), which was a by-name of Morwen, Turin’s mother, who was quite human but still stunningly beautiful.

  204. Per contra, most WP-notable people named Bright are men

    You’re surely not suggesting that the word in that context implies intelligence.

  205. David Marjanović says

    which was surely an adjective of praise before or at the same time it was a name.

    Not a compound noun? **Elbenschein?

    (Masculine. Would give me the same cognitive dissonance as Rosario.)

  206. @David Marjanović: You are right that what I suggested is not very likely. However, at the time depth involved (early PIE or earlier), I don’t think it’s impossible.

  207. You’re surely not suggesting that the word in that context implies intelligence

    Well, there’s Daniel ‘Bright‘ Dennett, for example.

  208. The usual Indo-European system, for what it’s worth, is a bipartite name of the “Vladi-slav” variety, where both individual roots are (usually) meaningful, but the combination is very often meaningless
    My understanding is that the meaninglessness increased over time in the individual languages, by processes like giving children names where one compound element of the father’s name was combined with a second element independent on whether the combination made sense. When Germanic names become attested, the only requirement that seems to be there is that male names have to have as second element a (grammatically) male noun, while for female names a female noun is required.

  209. Trond Engen says

    Bright

    The element brecht has been mentioned upthread, And so has the form -bert. But then, what hasn’t?

    In West Norse naming tradition the cognate bjart “shining, bright” was used both as the final element of male names and as a first element of names of (I think) both sexes. The original short form Bjarte is quite popular in the Western regions. That may be a survival through the dark ages, while compounds with bjart are national-romantic era revivals. Though the only compound with some modest dispersion, Bjartmar, was rendered useless forever after by Bjartmar Gjerde, a remarkably boring politician and later director of the national broadcasting service in the seventies and eighties.

  210. John Cowan says

    You’re surely not suggesting that the word in that context implies intelligence.

    No, indeed.

    **Elbenschein?

    Elbenschön. Chasing the etymology chain in Wikt from schön gives “From Pre-Germanic *skowh₁nis, a verbal adjective originally meaning ‘watchable’, derived from a lost strong verb *skawaną, from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kewh₁- ‘perceive, pay attention’.

    I note that one Juliane Angelina Biallas uses the name @elbenschein on Instagram, which accounts for the first few ghits. Most of the others (there are 2,640 of them) that I examined are direct references to the L.R., where it is apparently the standard translation of the epithet Elfsheen. Evidently the German translator(s) did not realize that Tolkien was modernizing an archaic name (as he did with Shadowfax and Wormtongue) rather than actually translating it. There is another Morwen, Théoden’s wife, whose by-name is Steelsheen, probably given to her by the Rohirrim, who distrusted elves but had a thing for swords.

    I note with amusement that elbisch can be either ‘Elvish’ or ‘Elbian, pertaining to the Elbe River’.

  211. The explainxkcd page links to Gretchen McCulloch’s original tweet, which links to Chuck Bigelow’s comments on the bear. While the above OP by Dan Nosowitz has “h₂ŕ̥tḱos”, Bigelow has “*rktho-, *rkto-, *rkso-, or *rtko-“, but that dates back to ~1998.

    McCulloch has a link to a Twitter thread by Thomas Wier about another possible case of taboo deformation:

    Weekly Georgian Etymology: ვეფხვი vepxvi ‘tiger’, from Old Georgian ვეფხი vepxi, origin obscure, but poss folk-etymology or taboo deformation of OGeo ვიგრი vigri, < Sanskrit व्याघ्र vyāghra tiger. Eponymous beast of Rustaveli's poem, the root is probably an ancient Wanderwort.

    [ . . many tweets with details elided . . .]

    (BTW, yes, if case you're wondering, the Sanskrit word was borrowed into modern English to market a certain pharmaceutical drug for Pfizer.)

    I did not know that.

    Random sound-alike connecting: “h₂ŕ̥tḱos” as “destroyer” with Pixar’s Wreck-it Ralph. Who does have a certain physical resemblance to a bear.

  212. (Last time I checked, “sildenafil citrate” did not trigger any spam trapping, probably because no-one ever marketed it with that name)

  213. The bit about the drug name is pure guesswork. Pfizer has never confirmed that claim.

  214. Old Georgian vepxi > Georgian vepxvi? Why would it do that?

  215. I wondered why Pfizer wouldn’t have played up the Skt tiger connection. This page points out that: The FDA prohibits names that imply efficacy or are associated with the intended indication.

    Acknowledging that they were named “tiger” pills might well have been taken as trying to imply efficacy.

    (As a meta-note, I am doing taboo deformation to avoid angering Akismet, the spirit that eats comments that look like spam, and drug companies are doing taboo deformation to avoid angering FDA, the spirit that enforces marketing rules.)

  216. David Eddyshaw says

    Viagra is perfectly cromulent girl’s name. Sildenafil is a character from LOTR.

  217. Of course Bagheera is a girl’s name.

  218. Another link from McCulloch’s Twitter was this thread collection of animal taboos by Rory Turnbull. There are different replies to the main thread, but that one has, at the end, the following claim:

    In modern Russia even the (sur)name ‘medved’ (honey-wise one) is never pronounced in the places where you can meet them. Locals call him ‘him’: ‘his footprints’ etc

    I have never heard of a modern Russian bear taboo. ¹ Is it possible that such a taboo still exists among modern Russian-speakers?

    I did find this work — [The Bear Taboo in Even Language and Folklore, by Alexandr A. Petrov. 1989. ] — but that does not seem to be widely held, and of course, is not actually Russian.

    Besides the general name for bear, nakat, there are many names which are taboo in different dialects.
        The names can be divided into the following groups:
        1. Names based on kinship: a) male (father): Abaga; abanap; arnica ; amican; dedusla, amana grandfather; eticen old man; etce , atea father-in-law; b) female (mother): Ata, grandmother, aunt; atican, old woman; upe, grandmother, aunt.
        2. Names based on fear of the bear: nelene, neluce, dreadful, nugde ; nugdece ; nugdene, dark object; henun, terrible; ellanja, dark; hutfana, devil; memeke, dreadful; agdi, agdiri, thunder, thunderstorm storm.
        3. Names based on the physical features and typical actions of bears: kabalan, crackle, crash; higemme, skinner; debere, shaggy, fluffy; dericen, evasive, running away.

        It is interesting to note that the taboo is also applied to bear cubs – e.g., ‘kunakari‘ is the word for ‘one-year-old bear cub’. It also means ‘baby’, ‘boy’, or ‘doll’.

    =______________________________________________________
    1: I remember the “black hare/black cat” superstition being discussed here, though.

  219. Yes, there was (maybe still exists) such superstition among rural Russians who live in forest areas. This is mentioned in numerous nature, hunting and travel books.

    LH recently mentioned Tendriakov’s “The Trial” written in 1960, ethnic Russian hunters in that novella still use euphemisms for a bear calling him khozyain (“master”) instead.

  220. Wikipedia’s “page” for “Taboo deformation” is actually a link to “Euphemism”, and doesn’t even mention bears. There are also pages for “Taboo on the dead” (words that even sound like the names of the dead are avoided) , and “Naming taboo” (exalted personages in historical China and neighboring countries Korea, Vietnam, and Japan could not be referred to by their name, and characters used in writing their names had to be changed, eliminated, or written with missing strokes). No animal naming taboo information.

  221. https://www.academia.edu/37403501/Mongolian_euphemisms_and_taboos_Animals_and_hunting

    Lots of animal taboos and euphemisms. I particularly like one Buryat euphemism for a wolf – “countryside grandfather”.

  222. Yes, there was (maybe still exists) such superstition among rural Russians who live in forest areas. This is mentioned in numerous nature, hunting and travel books.

    Interesting.

    I wonder if it would be reasonable to conclude that this has persisted for tens of thousands of years, since the diversification of PIE into its multiple child languages. Or do superstitions fade out and spontaneously revive?

  223. Sildenafil is a character from LOTR.

    O, Sildenafil is a merry figure;
    Bright blue his diamond is, and his nickname’s “Tigger”.

    [. . .]

    O! Sildenafil, Sildenafillo!
    There’s a sweet young thing, waiting on my pillow,
    Stir up the fire now, Tiger, up and hear us!
    Come, Sildenafil, for our need is near us!

    . . . I could probably go on, but I shall be merciful.

    For now.

    *meaningful look*

  224. The fate of *tḱ medially in Germanic is unfortunately highly obscure. Certainly of all the possible outcomes, probably the one least worth considering (because of a total lack of any evidence or suggestive hints) is simplification to *t (> *þ).

    More commonly seen in discussions, but still probably unlikely, is simplification to *ḱ > Germanic *h (= /x/). This is what a modern reconstruction like *urrow assumes (PGmc *urhaz). This is based, essentially, on an inappropriate overgeneralization from initial position to medial. Initially, we have words in Germanic that seem to show simplification of things like *dʰǵʰ- to *ǵʰ- (guma, gumi ‘human, person’ is probably the most famous of these, though in some case forms the cluster was probably even heavier, *dʰǵʰm-). But this is not very useful for understanding medial clusters. A syllable onset with two stops is very heavy, against sonority sequencing, and would have to be simplified under later, Proto-Germanic phonotactics. On the other hand, a medial cluster was probably split between two syllables: *h₂ŕ̥t.kos would be really pretty vanilla in terms of syllable structure. Sequences of two medial stops are common in Germanic, and usually turn into a fricative-stop sequence — most examples have the second element *t. (There are some quirks — dental-dental sequences become *ss.) So there’s no actually relevant positive evidence for assuming medial deletion, and everything we see about early Germanic phonotactics and sound changes otherwise speaks against there being any motivation for cluster simplification.

    So what did happen to it? That’s basically unknown. The ‘best’ evidence is from Norse þexla, Old High German dehsala, which has been derived from *tetḱ-tlo-. But even if this is right (and the details of the morphological formation aren’t certain), this is extra complicated, with the sequence *tḱt involved. It doesn’t help much. Worse evidence still comes from a new personal names like Norse Yrsa, which features in a family full of people with ursine names. If this goes back to Proto-Germanic, it could be reconstructed as either *ursijōn- (which doesn’t seem very likely as an outcome of *tḱ) or *urhsijōn-. If the latter is correct, it could suggest a Greek-like metathesis, combined with earlier assibilation of *t before another stop: *tḱ > *tsḱ > *ḱts > *ḱs, which then develops by well established changes to *hs. But this name might come from Latin ursus instead, and even if it doesn’t, its exact origin and formation are uncertain (is the -s- really part of the original base, or a later suffix?).

    So this leaves speculation on general grounds, which is always iffy, and decidedly undecided here. One big question is whether we should expect metathesis or not (with or without some kind of assibilation, i.e. to *ḱts or to *ḱt). Metathesis of velar-dental stop sequences is well attested only in Greek, with one probably early Celtic example. Ringe overapplies cladistic reasoning to conclude that this change must go back to their common ancestor, some kind of ‘late’ or ‘inner’ IE which would take in most branches aside from Anatolian and Tocharian. The problem is that this could just as well be taken as evidence that metathesis here is repeatable and independently recurring (velar-dental is a vastly more frequent stop combination in early IE than dental-velar). So this really doesn’t help us much with Germanic. The inference that it _must_ have occurred in Inner IE is clearly going way beyond the evidence, but if the change is moderately natural and repeatable, then it could have taken place in Germanic too (but didn’t have to).

    So the options are either 1) that original *tḱ was preserved, and the segments underwent sound changes but stuck around and in that order; 2) that *tḱ metathesized, and developed from there; or 3) that one (or in theory both, though that’s unlikely) of the segments was deleted. Cross-cutting this is the possibility of some kind of assibilation or palatalization of the *t. I think that gives the following seven possible outcomes (as well *∅):

    A) *tḱ > ??
    B) *tsḱ > *sk
    C) *ḱt > *ht
    D) *ḱts > *hs
    [E) *t > *þ]
    [F) *ts > *s]
    [G) *ḱ > *h]

    There is, again, no evidence for the kinds of deletion found in E-G, I just included them for the sake of showing all the logical possibilities. Whether AB or CD is more plausible depends on your views on metathesis, and whether AC or BD is better depends on your views of potential assibiliation of *t (which is only really secure for *TT clusters).

    I’m personally skeptical about metathesis, and agnostic about assibiliation. So I’d favour A or B. But what would A have become later on? Mechanically applying sound changes might point to *þk, but this would be unique cluster in Proto-Germanic, and I’m not entirely sure it wouldn’t have merged with the much more common *sk. This *sk is also what we’d definitely get from B. Either way would result in PGmc *urskaz, probably modern English *orsh (though something like *orx would be a dialectal possibility). I don’t know what an early *urþkaz would do — that’s just too unparalleled (would it really end up as *orthc?).

    At any rate, different assumptions will lead to different reconstructions, and uncertainties abound — but _arth_, at least, can be easily ruled out.

  225. Another blogger on the topic, The Philological Crocodile, in *h₂ŕ̥tḱos gon give it to ya: Indo-European Bear Taboos, proclaims that:

    Before I go on to wildly hypothesise how bears were conceived in PIE culture, let us reiterate why we cannot speak of an Indo-European taboo. First, there is a perfectly reconstructable root present in the majority of the languages right from the earliest stages of the language. We know this to be the case because Anatolian is behaving. Secondly, the languages with the taboos all have wildly different noa words.[12] This does not make sense in the case of an inherited taboo. But the strongest piece of evidence is that Slavic and Baltic both, somehow, have different words. Balto-Slavic clearly form an isogloss, and therefore if the taboo had present at any early stage these two at least should share it.

    NB: The post starts off describing the origin and context of the word “taboo”, and uses the Maori word noa, something like “prescribed euphemism”.

    However, given that there is the anthropological evidence I posted above, November 6, 2020 at 11:56 pm , about how an existing culture with a bear taboo has different euphemisms used in dialects of the same language, I don’t think the argument entirely holds water. While I have to admit that the first point makes sense, such that not all PIE-speakers had the bear taboo, the second point is pretty obviously baseless: there’s no reason for a single euphemism to be prescribed in all cases, so there’s no reason why closely related PIE-speakers with the same general taboo couldn’t have had different euphemisms that they used at different times or places that then went on to their descendants.

    And come to think of it, I’m not sure that the first point holds either: the bear taboo in both Russian and Even is in effect while actually hunting the bear, but not necessarily all the time. So perhaps it’s the case that those cultures that held on to the same term as their languages developed and differentiated one from the other, were those that simply stopped hunting bears — or stopped venerating them, perhaps. While those cultures that continued to hunt and venerate bears were those that used and passed on euphemisms. If that’s the scenario, I guess the question is, did the languages differentiate before or after the veneration and/or hunting, and therefore the taboo, was dropped?

  226. On another forum, i came across *rast as a reconstruction of what the bear would have been known as in Croatian, had the PIE word survived.

  227. David Marjanović says

    The question of where the original Germanic “bear” word went, and why the Latin one isn’t *arxus or something, was previously tackled in this thread starting here and here

    schön

    Oh. Yes. Perfectly regular. I hadn’t seen it as a noun, though… oh, wait, there’s a flower called Tausendschön.

    We know this to be the case because Anatolian is behaving.

    Is it? In the LL thread someone brought up there’s uncertainty over whether the Hittite word means “bear” or “wolf”. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a deliberately vague euphemism for both.

    Secondly, the languages with the taboos all have wildly different noa words.

    Euphemism treadmill.

  228. John Cowan says

    Old Georgian vepxi > Georgian vepxvi? Why would it do that?

    Georgians love their complex onsets so much that if they inherit one that seems too simple, they add random extra consonants to big it up. What else can account for monosyllables like ɡvbrdɣvnis ‘he is plucking us’?

    I hadn’t seen it as a noun, though

    Well, perhaps the proper name Alfsciene < a zero-nominalization of the adjective ad hoc without alfsciene ever being used as a common noun. I tried to find such adjectival names in German without success. However, TIL that the name Bartholdy, as in the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, has a Latin genitive ending. In this case it refers to Barthold, a property in Luisenstadt, Berlin which his mother’s brother owned, the idea being to give the Christian son of a Jewish converso a decidedly non-Jewish name.

    That led me to think of Beethoven, and I looked around a bit. Apparently his surname means ‘from Bettenhoven’, a (former) municipality in the province of Liege now usually called Bettincourt. Beets again, perhaps, but it may simply have to do with a farm owned by some family named Betto.

    But what is strange is that though Beethoven’s grandfather was definitely named Lodewijk/Ludwig van Beethoven[*] and moved from the province of Antwerp to Bonn in 1733, it is quite unclear which Lodewijk he actually was. Two of that name, distant relatives, were born in 1712, one in Mechelen and one in Antwerp city. Mechelen claims him today and most historians agree, but actual genealogical evidence is lacking.

    [*] nl.WP says: “In het doopregister is Van Beethoven ingeschreven als Ludovicus. Gedurende zijn leven werd zijn voornaam geschreven als Lodewyk, Lodewyck, Lodewijck, Lodewijk, Louis en Ludwig”. This also shows that the grandfather, though not the far more famous grandson, is called “Van Beethoven” in Dutch in a surname-only context.

  229. Indeed. I hadn’t read through all the many previous posts here. I’m still not sure that *þehslōn- is all that helpful, both because of the uncertainties of its derivation, and the complexity of the cluster *tḱt implied by the standard etymology. If we take things like Old English ðiox* as reflecting *tetḱ-eh₂, that would be better evidence — assuming that we’re sure this is not from *teḱ-s- or *tetḱ-s- or the like.

  230. Either way would result in PGmc *urskaz, probably modern English *orsh (though something like *orx would be a dialectal possibility).

    Hm, orc? Orcus?

  231. I had actually very briefly wondered if there was any kind of contortion we could do to make the orc-nêas of Beowulf come out as ‘bear-corpses’ (or ‘bear-zombies’, in context). Sadly, I couldn’t make this really work…

  232. David Marjanović, 2018: the bear can hardly be the brown one because the very concept of “brown” is just a few hundred years old

    Shouldn’t that be phrased more precisely as: the lexeme “brown” didn’t arrive at its current range as a color term until a few hundred years ago? It’s not like Old English didn’t have words for brownish colors, e.g. fallow, eorp, dun. At least the first two, and possibly the third, go back to Proto-Germanic. At that time, PGmc *brūnaz may have meant today’s “brown”, or “shiny, polished” as in burnish (via French from Frankish), or both, depending on which reference you look at.

    brūn occurs three times in Beowulf, and early translators translated it as “brown”; I’m not sure whether they just didn’t know that it could mean “shiny” in Old English, or they did know and thought that the old sense was still viable. In 1909, Francis B. Gummere had Grendel’s mother wield a “brown-edged” sword, but he also thought it needed a footnote: “This brown of swords, evidently meaning burnished, bright, continues to be a favorite adjective in the popular ballads.” Well, it’s true that archaic ballads were all the rage in Victorian times, and some of them included “brown swords”, but by 1903 the ballad editors were also footnoting it. (Gummere’s translation is archaizing, but it still sounds good enough: the first time I got all the way through Beowulf was listening to his version on a podcast. But that brown sword threw me out of the story—I was wondering if it was covered in dried blood, or mud.)

    Who came up with this bear=brown=*bʰer- equation, and when? 19th century?

  233. The starting sword in The Legend of Zelda is brown.

  234. David Marjanović says

    Shouldn’t that be phrased more precisely as: the lexeme “brown” didn’t arrive at its current range as a color term until a few hundred years ago?

    It’s not just that, but there wasn’t a word for that range. The ones you mention (and tan and buff) don’t cover the whole range, and some or all extend beyond it.

    19th century?

    Sure.

  235. Might a brown sword not be a bronze sword?

    WikiP:Bronze_Age_sword says:

    The Bronze Age style sword and construction methods died out at the end of the early Iron Age (Hallstatt D)), around 600-500 BC, when swords are once again replaced by daggers in most of Europe

    So probably not.

    Or maybe ancient bronze swords occasionally turned up later, and were added to stories for their rarity and unusualness?

  236. John Emerson says

    The Chinese just call brown dark yellow, and call blue green (or maybe they call green blue). That’s because Chinese is an uninflected SVO isolating language, see?

  237. Trond Engen says

    Ancient bronze swords turning up are green, but I suppose that they turn bronze again when sharpened. Except that I believe bronze was red until recently.

  238. Ancient bronze swords turning up are green

    Even if tossed into an anoxic environment like a peat bog?

    While there were bronze items in this bog, I don’t see a bronze sword specifically. I also don’t know if cleaning/preparing might have removed any green oxide layer, although it seems at least plausible that the items were found without such because bog.

    [Bog preserve us]

    A translation question: The English on the page says:

    The offerings in Vimose intensified nearly 2000 years ago. In the period immediately before the birth of Christ the local farmers sacrificed pots, food and animals. Often the animal was dismembered and only selected parts thrown to a pole.

    However, the Danish version says:

    Ofringerne i Vimose tog til i mængde for lidt over 2000 år siden. I tiden umiddelbart før Kristi fødsel ofrede de lokale bønder lerkar, fødevarer og dyr. Tit blev dyret parteret og kun udvalgte dele tøjret til en pæl.

    Which Google translates as:

    The sacrifices in Vimose increased in quantity a little over 2000 years ago. In the time immediately before the birth of Christ, the local farmers sacrificed pottery, food, and animals. Often the animal was parted and only selected parts were tethered to a pole.

    (And presumably, the pole and parts were tossed together into the bog)

    Does anyone have an idea how “tethered to a pole” could have become “thrown to a pole”? I would figure that someone fluent enough in English to use “dismembered” rather than “parted” would have seen that “thrown” was wrong, but there it is. Maybe it’s just a brain fart, but maybe there’s something else going on?

  239. John Emerson says

    It has always pleased me that the authority on the bog people was one Mr. Glob, but it’s even better than that. He was also a founder of the Society for Comparative Vandalism, affiliated with th Situationist International, and if anyone ever deserved to be an honorary Hattist, it would be Glob.

  240. There are stories of bear-cubs being kept as pets by Norsemen. Brown bears often domesticated and were even imported into Iceland as pets where they were known as “house bears.” Apparently the importation of brown bears into Iceland was later stopped because they became such a nuisance. Owners of bears were liable to large financial penalties their pets injured people or damaged property.

  241. David Marjanović says

    and call blue green (or maybe they call green blue)

    No; there are words for “green”, “blue”, “black”, and “saturated green~blue~black~brown”.

    Even if tossed into an anoxic environment like a peat bog?

    Yes, because bogs are acidic; for example, copper acetate is blue-teal, dries to green, and has been used in green pigments.

    But you’ve got me wondering about strange women lying in ponds distributing swords now.

  242. David Eddyshaw says
  243. A good tale and a good analysis, David Edda-skógr. Had I an arm-ring, it would be yours. As I have not, you have my blessing.

  244. From DE’s link:

    Even the suggestion of a bear on a leash finds its way into the laws. A fierce dog must be kept narrowly tethered on a yard-long leash, so one wonders if that applies to polar bears too: “If a man has a tame white bear, then he is to handle it in the same way as a dog and similarly pay for any damage it does . . . A bear has no immunity in respect of injuries done to it if it harms people.” Given a polar bear’s strength it is hard to imagine a tether strong enough to restrain it, but however tame and amenable it might be, it was to be treated as a dog for purposes of liability. A tame white bear was thus allowed, but no such grace was granted to darker bears. Lesser outlawry was the liability incurred by the ship’s owner for bringing a brown bear, or wolf or fox, to Iceland; even the members of the crew were to be fined three marks each.

  245. John Emerson says

    And saturated green~blue~black~brown is a very fine color indeed!

  246. Also from the link:

    A Norwegian merchant might be well advised to trust his selling decisions to a local, who knew, in the similar words of another source, “where the best debt placements (skuldarstaðir) were” and who could save the merchant the sometimes lethal error of extending credit to the wrong sort of people. In the source just quoted, the broker, a certain Forni, was also providing the merchant with lodging: “the Norwegian returned [to Forni’s] and told him that he had sold some goods to Solmund. But Forni registered disapproval and said Solmund would pay a poor return for them.” Solmund killed the Norwegian when he came to collect payment for his goods.

    This is the kind of thing Graeber writes about in Debt.

  247. “Brown sword”=“bronze sword” was the editor’s footnote to the ballads that I linked above. But from here that looks like just a guess, back-projecting the modern usage and not well informed by archaeology or historical linguistics. (Hey, it was 1903, they did their best but they didn’t have Wikipedia.) The general opinion of Beowulf scholarship (as of Fulk’s edition in 2008) is that the brūn swords were shiny, not bronzed or rusted. Also, the Middle English Dictionary has quotes for “broun” steel and glass, which wouldn’t be bronze-hued.

    On the other hand, the Toronto Dictionary of Old English (2018) is pushing back a bit on the swords, suggesting they may just be dark, as in oxidized iron. This is worth taking seriously since they use a much bigger corpus than any previous study: not just the famous poetry but homilies, lapidaries, books of medicine, anything. And the “dark” and “brown” senses are well attested, with quotations using brūn for clothing, animals and plants, as well as night, waves (at night), and Ethiopians who are burned by the sun.

    So after seeing how much Old English brūn has gone back and forth in the past 150 years, I’m not trusting any conclusions about its Proto-Germanic source until there’s a Toronto-level comparative study for all its cognates.

    there wasn’t a word for that range — If a word doesn’t match the boundaries of modern “brown” exactly, why should that disqualify it from describing a bear?

  248. Some Tofalar taboo deformations (in Russian):

    Например, до нас дошли некоторые тофаларские эвфемизмы для упоминания медведя: ирезаң (ире — «дедушка» + аң — «зверь»), чер өғлүғ аң (букв. «зверь с земляным домом»), ире (букв. «предок, прадед») и энэ (букв. «прабабка»), қузуқтаар (букв. «шишкующий», от глагола қузуқта — «добывать кедровые шишки, шишковать»). Части тела медведя тоже принято называть иносказательно: его шкура — это чоорhан (букв. «теплое одеяло»), сердце — дiсiлəəш (от глагола дiсiлə — «биться») и так далее. Действия, связанные с медвежьей охотой, также табуированы и носят эвфемистические названия: например, булут тыърт (букв. «тянуть облака») означает «собирать народ, чтобы идти совместно добывать медведя»; сөлтөңне (букв. «выжить из ума от старости») значит «найти медвежью берлогу».

    Челер аң (букв. «рысящий зверь»), қудуруқтуғ (букв. «хвостатый») и дағ ҷыдыы (букв. «горная собака») — все это эвфемизмы для запрещенного наименования волка — бөрү. Соболя называли чараҷаң (букв. «маленький зверь») или алды (букв. «добыча»). Кабарга — один из основных промысловых зверей для коренного населения Тофаларии — получила прозвища азығлығ (букв. «клыкастый») и шубараш (букв. «пестрая пища»). Змею называли дағ балыы (букв. «горная рыба»), изюбря — сарығ-аң (букв. «желтый зверь»), а лося — улуғ-аң (букв. «большой зверь»).

    https://postnauka.ru/longreads/156073

  249. January First-of-May says

    If a word doesn’t match the boundaries of modern “brown” exactly, why should that disqualify it from describing a bear?

    Sure enough, the Russian for brown bear (the species) is бурый медведь, yet the ranges of бурый and brown as color terms (…to the extent that the former still has one outside of set phrases) don’t otherwise seem to intersect much. (I wonder if the words are related though.)

    This had led to some later problems with the name grizzly bear, since it turned out that grizzly as a color term is a lot closer to бурый than either is to brown. Apparently after some false starts involving translating it with the equivalent of “gray bear” the Russians just shrugged and went with the direct loan: медведь гризли.

  250. Даже к финским скалам бурым …

    https://1mim.livejournal.com/574988.html

  251. бурый is a valuable color. It is the central part of Russian tricolor — серо-буро-малиновый (grey-brown-crimson).

  252. David Marjanović says

    there wasn’t a word for that range — If a word doesn’t match the boundaries of modern “brown” exactly, why should that disqualify it from describing a bear?

    No, the claim is that brown wasn’t a color term at all, meaning instead “dark and shiny”.

    On the cognates, here’s something from the source I cited in this thread long ago: “As late as the seventeenth century, German braun could still refer to hues in the violet/purple range (e.g. the colour of the amethyst).”

  253. бурый is interesting, thanks. Russian Wiktionary provides etymology snarfed from Vasmer, who says it’s borrowed from Turkic. Turkish boz covers both brown and gray: “has a connotation of being the color of bare soil and is usually thought of as a somewhat indetermined, possibly uneven, in-between color.” This must be the word mentioned here by SFReader, who describes its use in Mongolian and Turkish, possibly as a name for the wolf.

    Vasmer says further that the Turkic word was borrowed from Persian; that would be Middle Persian bōr, Persian bur, ‘fair, blonde; reddish brown, bay; (dialectal) brown’. And somebody links this to the supposed PIE *bʰerH- ‘brown’, though I don’t find that connection in the PIE references. Even if it’s not PIE, all this borrowing goes to show how uncertain the boundaries between brown and gray, brown and yellow, and brown and red have been over time, with words often wandering across them.

    How old is бурый медведь in Russian? Any idea when бурый might have been borrowed? And what’s the most usual and common word for “brown” in Russian now, and how old is it?

  254. бурый is interesting, thanks. Russian Wiktionary provides etymology from Vasmer, who says it’s borrowed from Turkic. Turkish boz covers both brown and gray: “has a connotation of being the color of bare soil and is usually thought of as a somewhat indetermined, possibly uneven, in-between color.” This must be the word mentioned here by SFReader, who describes its use in Mongolian and Turkish, and possibly as a name for the wolf.

    Vasmer says further that the Turkic word was borrowed from Persian; that would be Middle Persian bōr, Persian bur, ‘fair, blonde; reddish brown, bay; (dialectal) brown’. And somebody links this to the supposed PIE *bʰerH- ‘brown’, though I don’t find that connection in the PIE references. Even if it’s not PIE, all this borrowing goes to show how uncertain the boundaries have been over time between brown and gray, brown and yellow, and brown and red, with words often wandering across them.

    How old is бурый медведь in Russian? Any idea when бурый might have been borrowed? And what’s the most usual and common word for “brown” in Russian now, and how old is it?

  255. the most usual and common word for “brown” in Russian now

    коричневый

  256. Trond Engen says

    brown etc.

    There are several homonymous roots *bher-, and which of them, if any, are related is anyone’s guess. It makes for fun speculation, but I don’t know if it takes us any further — worthless root etymologies and all that.

    Anyway, there are at least two distinct words here, which I believe must be parallel derivations from homonymous stems derived from two of those roots, and they may have been conflated and have influenced eachother from early on or even from the beginning. One is the colour adjective, which is old enough as such to have been borrowed into Finnish (ruuni) and Old French (brun). The other is the base of ON brún f. “brow” and its relatives. Both words have an inherited long u that I think must be from zero-grade + laryngeal, i.e. *bhr-ew-H-.

    One *bhr-ew- is the base of a whole complex of words used for frothing water and heat processing: ‘burn’. ‘brew’, ‘bread’, ‘broth’.

    Another apparent *bhr-ew- is found in the “brow” words, which Bjorvand & Lindeman derive from *bhr-uh2-. This was extended with an *-n- in NGmc, maybe by change of paradigm from ō-stem to ōn-stem (but this doesn’t really explain anything). It was also extended in meaning to “edge, rim” as in ON brún f., pl. brýnn “eyebrow(s)”, pl. brýnir “rim of cloth, decorative band” and Norw. øyebryn “eyebrow”, skogbryn “edge of forest”.

    The latter noun has a derived verb ON brýna “set ashore (of boat); Norw. dial. bryna v. “trim the edge of a cloth”, which may or may not be identical with ON brýna v. “whet, hone”. To this verb belongs ON brýni n. Norw. bryne n. “whetstone, hone”.

    ON also has a couple of adjectives hinting of a meaning “clear, open”: brýnn “obvious, clear to see, simple” and brýnligr “with good expectations”.

    A third *bhr-ew- is found in eg. bryte “break”, braut “clearance, road (arch.)” and brøyte “make a clearing; clear a road (of snow)”.

    A fourth *bhr-ew-, apparently *bhr-u-h2-, homonymous with the “brow” word, is the base of the “bridge” word. These may or may not be the same.

    What can we say about this mess? Not enough to solve it, but here’s a suggestion for a few of the knots (some of them have a long pedigree, some are all mine):

    – The colour word is an n-adjective to the “brew” word, formed in Germanic in much the same way as ‘green’ to the “grow” word, so essentially “heated” or “caramellized”. (I thought I’d touted this before, but apparently not here.)

    – The meaning “clearing; edge” is derived from a stem meaning “clear of vegetation”, seen in derivations like brøyte, maybe ultimately from the root “bher-” of ‘bright’ — or that of the ever-bearing beaver.

    – The meanings “whet, hone” and “sharp” follow from “edge”. “Shiny” is the natural result of “whet, hone”, but it could also owe something to influence from “clear, open” or the homonymous colour word. But note English ‘burnish’.

    – The “brow” word has cognates with the same meaning in distant branches, so it’s no recent semantic extension from “edge”. I think it got its -n- in NGmc by conflation with brún “clearing; edge of forest; edge”. (If “brow” is in turn a “bridge” metaphor, and since the meaning “bridge” could have come from “beam, cut-down tree”, then they could all eventually stem from the meaning “clear”, but this is just root etymology.)

  257. John Cowan says

    the Society for Comparative Vandalism

    For a moment I thought the purpose of this society was to study the East Germanic–speakers of North Africa and Spain.

    Had I an arm-ring, it would be yours. As I have not, you have my blessing.

    “Christmas is a-coming / The goose is getting fat / Please to put a penny in / An old man’s hat. / If you haven’t got a penny / A haypny will do / If you haven’t got a haypny, then / God bless you.” Of course this is from the opposite perspective. (I have heard beggars on the streets of New York say similar things, apparently quite sincerely.)

    It occurs to me that Audun’s Tale might do quite well in the hands of Flann O’Brien:

    King Harold: And have you a great treasure?

    The Plain Man from Iceland: I have — a bear.

    KH: And will you sell it to me for the price you bought it for?

    TPMfI: I will not.

    KH: Then will you sell it to me for twice the price? There’s fine profit for you!

    TPMfI: I will not.

    KH: Will you give to it me, then?

    TPMfI: I am after going to Denmark to give it to King Swain.

    KH: Are you so silly a man you don’t know there’s a war between myself and King Swain? Or do you think you’re so lucky you can pass with such a treasure where others cannot and them empty-handed?

    TPMfI: I have heard of it, but maybe I am indeed so lucky.

    (All errors and infelicities are mine, all mine, and not Flann’s or Miller’s at all.)

  258. (Sorry for the double post above, feel free to delete one.)

    коричневый : thanks! Is it transparently “cinnamon” (or “tree bark”) to Russian speakers, or is that more something you only notice if it’s pointed out?

  259. Is it transparently “cinnamon” (or “tree bark”) to Russian speakers

    I guess it is, but it takes a moment’s reflection, unlike сиреневый ‘lilac’ or розовый ‘rose/pink’.

  260. Is it transparently “cinnamon” (or “tree bark”) to Russian speakers, or is that more something you only notice if it’s pointed out?

    Not that I’m a native Russian speaker, but I didn’t notice it for years — I learned the word for ‘brown’ long before I learned ‘cinnamon,’ and the latter never made it into active vocabulary, so I never thought about the two with the same brain cells, so to speak.

  261. January First-of-May says

    I don’t consciously associate the word for “brown” with cinnamon any more than I associate the word for “cinnamon” with tree bark; but then I don’t think I consciously associate the word for “pink” with roses either despite the connection being a lot more blatant.

    I think it’s the kind of connection where if you start wondering where X came from you would probably guess correctly but have to think about it a little, whereas with purple/lilac and pink/rose the answer is so obvious there’s no real reason to actually think about it. I don’t think it qualifies as “transparent”, but it might not require actively being pointed out either.

  262. John Emerson says

    In English “cinnamon bear” is the accepted name for one of the many color morphs of the black bear, which is very often not black.

  263. “Cinnamon bear” sounds like something a German bakery might have on offer…

  264. John Emerson says

    There is. In fact, an American cinnamon bear candy.

  265. It’s striking how so many languages take their most common name for brown from a novel imported food or drink. Cinnamon in Russian and some neighboring languages, coffee in many languages, and in Indonesian the most common word for brown is now cokelat (I’ve read that this displaced a native color word). Then there’s marrone, chestnut, which radiated from Italian into French and other Romance and Romance-influenced languages; this isn’t novel or imported, but it is a food.

    (*Is* cinnamon relatively novel in Russia? It’s been used in the Mediterranean world and western Europe since antiquity, but doesn’t seem to be as much of a thing in Russian cuisine; is that right?)

    Does Russian коричневый covers the same range as English brown, including dark browns? In English when cinnamon is used as a color term it’s almost always a light, often reddish brown, as seen with the cinnamon bear as well as the cinnamon dove and 39 other cinnamon birds—though the cinnamon clownfish is bright orange!

  266. It’s striking how so many languages take their most common name for brown from a novel imported food or drink.

    Also Spanish café, or Colombian Spanish carmelito. But then, the same can be said for orange. I’d say that rarer colors borrow often their names from foreign things, and that blues don’t take their names from foods because there are no blue foods (as everybody knew before there was internet).

  267. Blueberries?

    Blue fish?

  268. Lars Mathiesen says

    Red cabbage is blue if you don’t get the pH down some way (vinegar is traditional). They have a purple cauliflower variant now that turns a bright blue when you boil it, it looks a bit alien on the plate to be honest. (I assume they crossed in the red cabbage colour so it’s really the same thing).

    Also marrón is another word for brown in Spanish, I don’t know if a real Spanish person distinguishes between that and café.

  269. PlasticPaddy says

    @lars
    Here is an example from reddit:
    “I use uniquely Café for the color, castaño for the hair color and moreno for the skin color. Marrón is the same as Café but I’ve never heard it nor used. Same as Marrón, pardo is for the skin color but I think this one is offensive.”

  270. Does Russian коричневый cover the same range as English brown, including dark browns?
    In my experience, it does. It’s the general term for “brown”, with the exception of (as I think has been mentioned) for eye colour (karyj), some animal names (where buryj is used, as discussed), and then you normally wouldn’t say that someone has коричневый hair, but say that he (she) is a bryunet(ka). These distinctions are not related to tones of colour, but to the type of objects showing the colour.

  271. you normally wouldn’t say that someone has коричневый hair, but say that he (she) is a bryunet(ka).

    To me, that would mean ‘black-haired’; a person with brown hair is шатен(ка) ‘châtain/châtaine’, and the colour of the hair itself is каштановый ‘chestnut’.

  272. David Marjanović says

    Red cabbage is blue

    Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid.

    (The German-speaking area is a pretty small-scale mosaic of Rotkraut & Blaukraut depending on the traditional method of preparation. Apples are common for acid.)

  273. @Hans: As I have noted before, eye colors are basically quantized, determined by how many alleles for pigmentation one has (anywhere from zero to six). It occurs to me now that no language I know of has separate words for the two shades of brown that exist as human eye colors.* That may or may not be an interesting observation. However, the differences in melanin saturation can be meaningful to people nonetheless. When my daughter was about five, I remember her being quite disappointed when we discussed eye color and she found out that she had light brown eyes (three melanin alleles), unlike I who have dark brown eyes (four alleles).

    * There are also two shades of blue (zero or one allele), which do tend to get more recognition as being distinct (e.g. “sky blue” versus “cornflower blue”).** There are also two shades of black (five or six), but they may be hard to distinguish at all, perhaps explaining why they don’t get separate names.

    ** The brilliant blue cornflower goes by many names, most of them more descriptive than “cornflower” (which comes from their supposedly ubiquitous presence as weeds in European grain fields). Other common names for it include “bachelor’s button” and “bluebottle.” (However, the name bluebottle is of course shared not just with blue glass bottles, but also similarly tinted flies and the Portuguese man o’war, among others.)

  274. German has Kornblume and kornblumenblau.
    @juha: seems I wrongly used брюнет for over 30 years…

  275. January First-of-May says

    Blueberries?

    A closely related species is голубика in Russian – but probably named after the color* rather than the other way around (the actual original referent of the color name appears to be pigeons).

    *) Russian somewhat infamously has separate basic color names corresponding to light blue (голубой) and dark blue (синий); this incidentally means that the Russian rainbow can end up with seven colors without having to mess around wih “indigo”

  276. Andrej Bjelaković says

    “It occurs to me now that no language I know of has separate words for the two shades of brown that exist as human eye colors.”

    I am not sure how idiosyncratic this is, but to me the two Serbian words for brown, smeđ and braon, always had different connotations, with smeđe oči being light brown and braon oči being dark brown.

  277. David Marjanović says

    the actual original referent of the color name appears to be pigeons

    Yes. Holub is a common Czech surname, too.

  278. For reference purposes:

    Template:table:colors
    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Template:table:colors

  279. @Andrej Bjelaković: That’s very interesting! Do you know, is that specifically a Serb thing, or is it common FYLOSC?

  280. Andrej Bjelaković says

    Like I said, I am not even sure if it’s just me!

  281. I thought sininen ‘blue’ in Finnish was a Slavic loanword, but it’s not so simple:

    Unknown; possibly from Proto-Finno-Permic *sine (compare Erzya сэнь (senʹ, “blue, gray”), Moksha сенем (senem, “blue”)), or perhaps borrowed from Proto-Scythian *āxšī́ni (“blue”), or Proto-Slavic *siňь (“blue, blue-gray”). Slavic etymology suffers from phonological problems, as does the Iranian etymology. Alternatively related to Proto-Uralic *śine (“charcoal”), whence Hungarian szén, Northern Sami čitna, but this also seems unlikely.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Finnic/sini

    Tangentially related:

    Helmer Rainer Sinisalo: Piano Concerto – Yulia Tishkina

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uveUpMqdoqQ

  282. What a tangle — I would have assumed it was from Russian as well!

  283. Speaking of Finnic loans from Indo-European and the name of the bear, it’s been suggested that Proto-Finnic *karhu ‘bear’ was borrowed from an Indo-Iranian descendant of *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, because of taboo avoidance again. That seems unlikely to me: isn’t the taboo replacement always meaningful in the *same* language, in the cases we know for sure about?

    The other suggestion is that *karhu was a taboo replacement within Proto-Finnic, meaning “rough, coarse”. Is there a Proto-Uralic ‘bear’ word reconstructable from some other Uralic languages? Not Hungarian, which has medve borrowed from Slavic.

  284. January First-of-May says

    That seems unlikely to me: isn’t the taboo replacement always meaningful in the *same* language, in the cases we know for sure about?

    IIRC, borrowing is a common source of euphemisms; I’m not sure whether any is known in taboo replacement specifically.
    Offhand I’m not sure why not, though. It would surely be a convenient way to very obviously talk about whatever it was without really talking about it.

  285. @brett

    Serbian Matica Dictionary defines smeđ as “koji je boje pržene kafe, kafen: ~ kosa, smeđe oči.” In English “that which is the colour of roasted coffee, kafen: eg. hair, eyes.”

    As wecan see from the definition, kafen is another Serbian word for brown. It means coffee coloured.

    Braon is defined as “smeđ, kestenjast, otvoreno mrk”. This definition gives other synonyms for brown in Serbian.

    Grujić’s English-Serbocroatian Dictionary is in reality a Serbian dictionary. It was a very popular dictionary published during communist times in Yugoslavia, with many editions. The 8th edition has this definition for brown: “mrk, smeđ; taman; pocrneo”.

    To recap: Serbian for brown is smeđ and mrk. Other synonyms are braon, kafen, kestenjast.

  286. @ktschwarz

    If you read Russian, there is a thesaurus of flora and fauna in Uralic:

    http://languagehat.com/glottophobie/#comment-4080079

    An excerpt:
    Рефлексы нижеприведенных обозначений названий медведя хорошо соответствуют друг другу фонетически и семантически, но они представлены в отдельных группах уральских языков и не восстанавливаются для прауральского состояния. В современных уральских языках наблюдается большое разнообразие названий медведя (ср., например, около 20 названий медведя в современном хантыйском языке). Учитывая особое значение медведей в верованиях и обрядах уральских народов, можно предположить, что в результате табуизации этих слов их рефлексы не сохранились в большинстве языков-потомков.

  287. Serbian for brown is smeđ and mrk

    Is “mrk” cognate with “murk”?

    The etymology given in Wiktionary certainly seems to imply it:

    From Middle English merke, mirke, from Old English mirce, myrce (“dark, gloomy, evil”) and Old Norse myrkr (“dark, murky”), both from Proto-Germanic *merkuz (“dark”), from Proto-Indo-European *mergʷ- (“to flicker; to darken; to be dark”). Cognate Danish mørk (“dark”), Norwegian mørk (“dark”), Swedish mörk (“dark”), Icelandic myrkur (“dark”), as also Albanian murg (“dark”), Proto-Slavic *morkъ (“darkness”), Lithuanian márgas (“multicolored”), Ancient Greek ἀμορβός (amorbós, “dark”).

    (Also “mirk” (archaic) and “mark” (dialect))

  288. Probably not. Vasmer s.v. морок:

    мо́рок “мрак, туман”, арханг. (Подв.), колымск. (Богораз), моро́ка “густая мгла, сумерки”, укр., блр. мо́рок, моро́ка, ст.-слав. мракъ γνόφος, ἀμαύρωσις (Супр.), болг. мракъ́т “мрак, темнота”, сербохорв. мра̑к, словен. mrȃk, чеш., слвц. mrak, польск., н.-луж. mrok. Связано чередованием гласных с ме́ркнуть, мерца́ть. ║ Ср. лит. ùž-marka “тот, у кого глаза подмигивают”, markstýti “мигать” – от mérkti, mérkiu “закрывать глаза”; mán ãkys арmаr̃kо “у меня потемнело в глазах”, лтш. mir̃klis “взгляд”, acumir̃klis “мгновение”, далее сюда же гот. maurgins, д.-в.-н. morgan “утро”; см. Бернекер 2, 78; Траутман, ВSW 182 и сл.; Торп 326; Маценауэр, LF 10, 337 и сл.; Лёвенталь, Farbenbez. 9 и сл. Недостоверно родство с др.-инд., вед. markás м. “помрачение” (И. Шмидт, Vok. 2, 132; против см. Мейе, Ét. 220; Бернекер, там же). О дальнейших сближениях с морга́ть и родственными см. Шпехт 119, 187.

    OED s.v. murk:

    Etymology: Either cognate with Old Saxon mirki, Old Icelandic myrkr (inflected myrkv-), Norn (Shetland) myrk, Swedish mörk, Danish mørk, or borrowed from early Scandinavian (see below). In Orkney and Shetland use partly directly < Norn. Further etymology uncertain; perhaps related to morn n.
    It is uncertain whether this word (and the related noun murk n.1) should be taken to be an early Scandinavian loan on formal grounds, as showing absence of palatalization of c, or whether this development may have been blocked in Old English by a following w (lost by the time of the earliest documented forms): compare thick adj. and n. and see further K. Luick Hist. Gram. der englischen Sprache (1940) I. ii. §637 note 4, and §701 note 2. The adjective and the related noun are both found chiefly in verse in Old English.

  289. Dmitry Pruss says

    I’d say коричневый is totally nontransparent as “cinnamon” by today’s speakers, but may be understood as tree-bark color. But lots of Russian color names came with the imported fabrics. One giveaway is that the fabric-and-imported-dye color names hardly ever replaced the names of colors of people and animals.

    Checking коричневый or коричневые in Google books for 1800-1820, one finds references to cinnamon products, to fabrics and upholstery, and to painters’ dyes. Not to any colors of other kinds of objects.

  290. John Emerson says

    Even far back in prehistory dyes, which are not heavy,were one of the prime products in long distance trade, notably ochre. (Ochre is an iron compound and it’s use as a dye is even thought to have been a step on the way to its use as an ore. ) To generalize grossly, the human avidity for color is one of the forces that ensures that there is some foreignness everywhere.

  291. Yes, we discussed village homespun fabric dyeing right on LH a few month ago
    http://languagehat.com/mariona/

    It’s a topic I thought I knew quite well, but I was surprised that imports of Asian indigo reached Russia’s hinterland as early as in the 1600s if not earlier. In the 1700s the government was already pushing for domestic production of low-grade indigo which failed. Back then, though, the foreign names didn’t yet spread with the imports. The imported indigo was just a “brick blue dye” or the same word as a domestic indigo producer, krutik

  292. John Emerson says

    I remember from 8th grade history that indigo for export was one of the first American colonial products. None of us had had any idea what indigo was or even what color it was.

    Saffron does tripple duty as a spice, a dye, and a poison. Mostly from Iran, and $5000/kg.

  293. David Marjanović says

    As a poison? What kind of overdose… I tried looking it up on Wikipedia, but there’s no mention of that there.

    Saffron tea is absolutely awesome, though.

  294. Trond Engen says

    A dangerous poison. A few pinches of it in hot water, and you’ll be dying before you know it.

  295. PlaaticPaddy says

    @dm, trond
    Maybe the poisonous plant is meadow saffron.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colchicum_autumnale

  296. David Marjanović says

    I was wondering, but I had never seen it classified as saffron.

    Herbstzeitlose, “autumn timeless one” (f.).

  297. It seems like poisoning someone with saffron would be absurdly expensive. And saffron poisoning might be very easy to identify with even a very primitive autopsy, if it turned turned the deceased’s mucosa yellow.

    Actually, many monocot flowers that grow annually from bulbs or rhizomes are poisonous to greater or lesser degrees. (The bulbs and rhizomes might be too easy winter fodder for animals otherwise.) This includes crocuses (saffron coming from the stamens of certain crocuses), irises (which I was once mildly poisoned by), and the aforementioned Colchicaceae family of false crocuses.* The most notable toxin in the Colchicaceae is colchicine, the best medicine for the immediate treatment of severe gout flareups. The name for the taxon obviously comes from Greek Κολχίς, but I’m not sure why, since the plants are found all over the western Old World, not especially in Georgian Colchis.**

    * I suppose the Allium genus is among these as well—apparently managing to hit the sweet spot of being spicy enough to deter nonhuman foragers but not actually toxic enough to keep us from using them for seasoning.

    ** While doing a little online research about the origins of these various noxious plants, I discovered that there is a yellow iris species Iris reichenbachii—although it is apparently not native to Switzerland.

  298. John Emerson says

    The Saffron Cartel had probably cleaned up the saffron page.

    Saffron seems to be a medicine too, quadruple-duty!

    “All parts of the cherry tree are poisonous except the fruit”. You have to crack the cherry pits to make them effective, though. A word to the wise.

    http://www.dpic.org/faq/cherry-pit

  299. John Emerson says

    “Taking large amounts of saffron by mouth is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. High doses of 5 grams or more can cause poisoning. Doses of 12-20 grams can cause death. ”

    At $5000 / kg that would be $100, but I’ve seen $1000 / kg listed, which would be affordable.

    https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-844/saffron

  300. The Touch of Saffron Makes It.

  301. You laugh, but someone, somewhere is concocting $30 saffron cocktails. With caviar on the rim.

  302. Lars Mathiesen says

    In Sweden, where they consume a lot of the stuff, it’s listed at 4400SEK/kg, that’s about 530$/kg at the current rate. And that’s in half gram satchels (22SEK each) suitable for a single batch of dough. You can probably get 10 of those at a time without raising eyebrows.

    (In normal use you’d have to eat 10 kg of baked goods in one sitting to reach the poisonous dose, I think you’ll have other problems before that).

  303. Geoffrey Sea says

    The idea that the taboo came from a fear of calling bears is only a modern guess and a bad guess. That argument relies on h₂ŕ̥tḱos being the “real” name of the bear. But it wasn’t. Why should the PIE form, which is a modern reconstruction, be the “real name”? Were people throughout history aware of PIE forms? Were there no words for bear that predated the PIE word?

    All the evidence suggests that h₂ŕ̥tḱos was itself a pseudonym, and the major evidence is that the sacred name of the bear predating PIE is retained in many languages. (I won’t mention here what it is.) Thus, the use of pseudonyms for bear long predated PIE and had nothing to do with latitude or fear of bear attacks. The taboo did not even apply to bears as such, since the majority of languages in all climates retained the sacred name and used it.

    What the taboo referred to was the name of the Great Bear constellation, and the reason that name was often taboo is that it was the place inhabited by the souls of the dead. (See Freud for the relationship between taboo and death.) All cultures that had taboo replacement of the bear name saw the Big Dipper as the Great Bear. Earthly bears had their names become taboo as a side-effect. That is also why other fearsome animals did not see their names become taboo. There were no taboos on the words for lion, for example.

  304. Stu Clayton says

    Sachets ? I would never use this word since I don’t know how to pronounce it.

  305. John Emerson says

    I think that it would be smarter to buy 2-3 sachets at a time, in widely separated places and paying cash. Wearing a fake mustache is a good idea too, but it can’t be obviously fake. Do not sneer or let a sinister smile flicker across your lips; be jolly, hearty and if possible, churchy. Your final words to your victim should be especially warm-hearted.

  306. David Marjanović says

    Also, keep your mustache non-twirlable.

    The idea that the taboo came from a fear of calling bears is only a modern guess and a bad guess.

    Mishka would disagree if you called him, and higher up in this thread is a citation about bear taboos in western Siberia, with large numbers of taboo-replacement names, and lower down there’s an actual list from eastern Siberia.

    I do agree, though, that the reconstructible PIE “bear” and “wolf” words were likely themselves euphemisms; indeed, as I mentioned but failed to cite, it’s not clear if the Anatolian cognate of the “bear” word actually meant “bear”, or rather “wolf”, or was perhaps a deliberately vague euphemism for both.

    Even before this comment, this was probably the Languagehat thread with the most links to itself.

  307. Language taboos were common in areas where hunting was conducted in large groups—where hunting was done in small groups or as an individual effort, such as in the Kitakami mountains in Iwate Prefecture, language taboos were largely not observed (Tōno Shiritsu Hakubutsukan 1998, 40). This may be explained by the fact that language taboos or substitute language appears to be prevalent in communities where communal cooperation is essential for tasks. For the same reason, substitute language, or oki-kotoba (open-sea argot), was also traditionally used by fishermen, and some of the substitute terms are common to both yama-kotoba and oki-kotoba (Ōtō 1963, 116–17).35
    One theory is that the purpose of using a special mountain argot was to avoid disclosing to the animals the hunters were pursuing what they planned to do (Kaneko 1993, 101; Azumane 1994, 9). Another is that it was to avoid the vulgarity of ordinary village language (Ōta 1998, 6). In respect to the bear, hunters used various aliases such as taishō 大将 (or “boss”), oyaji (“old man” or “boss”), nushi 主 (“master” or “god”), and ossama (a respectful but colloquial term for a middle-aged man, uncle, or Buddhist priest) (Kaneko 1993, 101). The use of such aliases for the bear is consistent with the practices among other Boreal hunting cultures in which bear ceremonialism is evident. Usually these aliases take one of three forms: kinship terms, such as “father,” “uncle,” “granddad;” names that show reverence and respect, such as “king of the forest,” “sacred animal,” “great one,” “beautiful one;” or names that refer to physical or behavioral characteristics of the bear, such as “the barefoot one,” “the honey-eater,” or “old man with a blanket” (Lot-Falk 1953, cited in Miyao 1989, 61; Rockwell 1991, 189).

    From The Moon Bear as a Symbol of Yama: Its Significance in the Folklore of Upland Hunting in Japan by Catherine Knight

    https://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/783

  308. Lars Mathiesen says

    @JE, right now ICA (major grocery chain) has 10 sachets for SEK 100, post-Xmas clearance I guess. So it’s clearly not suspicious to buy that amount. (They just call the packaging förpackningar, I think we’d go with brev in Danish).

    The English pronunciation should obviously be [sæˈʃeɪ] innit.

  309. John Emerson says

    Lars: It’s a cunning trap. You’ll be sitting peacefully at home, basking in pleasant memories of your sworn enemy’s agonized final moments, when you’ll hear the knock on the door of the dread Swedish Secret Police.

  310. Lars Mathiesen says

    As long as it isn’t the Secret Calvinist Inquisition. They demand answers in Welsh!

  311. David Eddyshaw says

    The very word “saffron” is, as is well known, Welsh. It used to be spelt “safron” until We pointed out that that wouldn’t do at all. By planned incremental changes, we will eventually get the English using the True Form, saffrwm, which (of course) underlies the Arabic زَعْفَرَان‎.

    The Ancient Britons were poisoning their enemies with saffron long before the Arabs got involved. Also with woad.

  312. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    None of us had had any idea what indigo was or even what color it was.

    Indigo is what makes blue jeans blue (it was once, anyway). Isaac Newton’s laboratory assistant is said to be the only person in recorded history who could see any difference between blue and indigo.

    Besides, ROYGBIV is easier to say than ROYGBV, and “Richard of York gave battle in vain” is more grammatical than “Richard of York gave battle vain”, though I suppose one could have “Richard of York gave battle vigorously”.

  313. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The most notable toxin in the Colchicaceae is colchicine, the best medicine for the immediate treatment of severe gout flareups.

    I used to get gout attacks many years ago, when I was about 20. Colchicine is very effective, but very bad for the stomach.

  314. thesaurus of flora and fauna in Uralic

    Thanks! No, I don’t know Russian; going by machine translation, it’s saying that bear words in different Uralic families are too diverse to reconstruct a Proto-Uralic ancestor, and that given the importance of bears in these cultures, it’s probably because they all developed different taboo replacements.

    long-distance trade

    Lapis lazuli was traded from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, including Mycenae, which should’ve immediately quashed the idea that ancient Greeks couldn’t see blue—but unfortunately Mycenae hadn’t been excavated yet when that got started.

  315. John Cowan says

    All the evidence suggests that h₂ŕ̥tḱos was itself a pseudonym

    Rather weak and negative evidence from Anatolian only.

    the major evidence is that the sacred name of the bear predating PIE is retained in many languages. (I won’t mention here what it is.)

    Secret evidence is no evidence at all: science, like justice, is a public pursuit or it is nothing.

  316. There’s a strong underlying point that the previous poster may or may not have been hinting at with his “secret evidence” — if there was really a serious, lasting issue of unwillingness to say the proper name of the bear, the new bear word would have quickly been nominalized, then dropped for yet another synonym, and so on. Leaving the actual evidence hidden. I think the idea that there even could be meaningful evidence today of a 5-6,000 year old taboo is a sort of wishful linguistic anthropology that combines the worst speculative and untestable impulses of both fields.

    Is it possible that’s why hrtkos didn’t last and evolve everywhere? Sure. It’s also possible there was a secret butterfly taboo, and that’s why languages across Europe have different words for butterfly. We neither have, nor can have, meaningful evidence of either.

  317. John Emerson says

    The recession of euphemisms is common to this day. I remember janitor —> custodian —> housekeeping in my own personal history. (When this group became politicized, their chosen name was “Janitors for Justice”). In the case of black Americans and Latino Americans, the recession is even more complicated.

  318. David Marjanović says

    ROYGBIV

    Newton thought the number 7 was of great metaphysical importance.

    Rather weak and negative evidence from Anatolian only.

    And the fact that the word looks like a nominalized adjective derived from a verb root, as previously brought up by you, actually.

  319. The recession of euphemisms:
    I still can think of none better than cretin and idiot.

  320. John Emerson says

    Y: I have actually lost track of what we are supposed to call very low IQ people. Not “retarded”, I know. It may be “developmentally disabled”, which seems especially poor because it could mean almost anything, and means about the same as “retarded”.

  321. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The real secret ‘name’ which summons the bear isn’t even a word, it’s an action.

    (And I say to them, “BEARS!
    Just look at me walking in all of the squares.”)

  322. John: I heard a term recently from someone in the know. I don’t remember it, but by now it’s probably been replaced again (“delayed”? maybe not.) If only someone could come up with a term that couldn’t be made offensive… Even “special” was co-opted by the mean.

  323. John Emerson says

    “Arrested Development” may have had its day, but it quickly became the name of a band.

  324. January First-of-May says

    I have actually lost track of what we are supposed to call very low IQ people.

    I’m reminded of an old comment I made somewhere (can look for it if you’re interested) to the effect that I don’t really want references to the Asperger’s syndrome part of my self-identification to contain the word “disorder”, but that any other option I could think of offhand is apparently a slur.

    Isaac Newton’s laboratory assistant is said to be the only person in recorded history who could see any difference between blue and indigo.

    I’ve seen a version claiming that Newton was working in a color system where “blue” was restricted to the lighter shades, and consequently the far darker “indigo” was clearly distinct from it. (And TIL that he originally spelled it “blew”; I guess standartized spelling wasn’t quite there yet.)

    Meanwhile, the Green Lantern comic authors had instead moved things in the other direction: their “indigo” is almost violet. (On this page‘s picture the “indigo” and “violet” are barely distinguishable.)

  325. J.-f.-o.M., I’ve read some people referring to themselves as “Aspies”.

  326. January First-of-May says

    I’ve read some people referring to themselves as “Aspies”.

    That’s one of the otherwise nice options that are apparently slurs now. I heard that “Aspergian” is available, though.

  327. Asperger’s syndrome

    But isn’t Asperger himself being canceled because he literally cooperated with the Nazis?

    I thought that “high-functioning autism” was the new preferred term.

  328. Incidentally, I hardly ever encounter “cancel” with this meaning any more, except in derision by those who would keep the bad things intact (I am sure that’s not you, Owlmirror.)

  329. John Emerson says

    Som of my friends relevant to this discussion refer to themselves as being “on the spectrum”. This is insider terminology and self-reference and allows for variatiant forms. It sidesteps a lot of the tedious questions.

  330. Insider terminology is not a guarantee of safety, as in Aspie and cancel, and I do not forgive the right-wingers for stealing “politically correct” from us.

  331. I find “on the spectrum” to be too cutesy. I would not feel comfortable using that to describe my son, who has mild autism spectrum disorder. Fortunately, his symptoms are mild enough that we seldom have to refer to the condition at all. (Actually this makes me think that I should ask him what his own preferred terminology is now—although, knowing him, he will probably say he doesn’t care.)

    On the other hand, I used to joke that his mother had “attention deficit spectrum disorder”—clearly not diagnosable with AD[H]D but displaying milder versions of most of the traits that characterize attention deficit. (She did not disagree with that assessment.)

  332. John Emerson says

    The people I know do not represent themselves to the world as “on the spectrum” , but use it to name their in-group when talking among themselves. One advantage of this term is that it indicates a range rather than a defined state.

  333. Yeah, it seems to me the best of the currently available alternatives.

  334. Somewhere over the roygbiv, blue blurs fly.

  335. David Eddyshaw says

    There were no taboos on the words for lion, for example.

    This is just not the case, and “bear” is by no means unique among dangerous-animal names in being replaced by circumlocutions among the various languages of the world.

    Moba fùàdāāǹ “lion” is a transparent compound, “master of the forest”, for example (contrast the unanalysable Kusaal synonym gbigim.)

    “Wolf” is an example within Salish:

    https://lingpapers.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2018/03/1976_Suttles_2.pdf

  336. I thought “politically correct” was a Stalinist expression that was already a term of ridicule on the left before the right took it over to mean “socially decent.”

  337. “Wolf”

    The name ōkami (wolf) is derived from the Old Japanese öpö-kamï, meaning “great-spirit”.[4] In the Shinto religion, wild animals were associated with the mountain spirit Yama-no-kami.[3]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_wolf#Etymology

  338. I thought “politically correct” was a Stalinist expression that was already a term of ridicule on the left before the right took it over to mean “socially decent.”

    No, not Stalinist. Anthony had a good brief summary back in 2011:

    The term “politically correct” was originally used in earnest by the sorts of leftists whom later leftists would mock by their use of the term. Even in Berkeley in the mid-80s, I ran across a few uses of earnest leftist use of the term “politically correct”. The right used that term, mockingly, far more than did the left, either earnestly or mockingly.

  339. Here’s the OED entry, s.v. politically (Third Edition, September 2006):

    politically correct adj. (a) appropriate to the prevailing political or social circumstances (in early use not as a fixed collocation); (b) spec. (originally U.S., sometimes depreciative) conforming to a body of liberal or radical opinion, esp. on social matters, usually characterized by the advocacy of approved causes or views, and often by the rejection of language, behaviour, etc., considered discriminatory or offensive (cf. correct adj. Additions); abbreviated PC.

    1798 A. J. Dallas Rep. Cases U.S. & Pennsylvania 2 462 Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our..language… ‘The United States’, instead of the ‘People of the United States’, is the toast given. This is not politically correct.
    1875 N.Y. Times 19 Dec. 2 The other ninety odd thousand charges are all true, and politically correct.
    1934 J. Strachey Lit. & Dialectical Materialism 47 We are sometimes a little apt to pretend, to wish, to suggest that such writers [sc. Marxists] are necessarily better writers, because they are more politically correct, than are our fellow travelers.
    1936 H. V. Morton In Steps of St. Paul vi. 211 ‘Galatians’, a term that was politically correct, embraced everyone under Roman rule.
    1970 T. Cade Black Woman 73 A man cannot be politically correct and a chauvinist too.
    1979 Economist 6 Jan. 17/2 His judgement that the time and place called for an attack on the quality and efficiency of the municipal government proved to be politically correct.
    1987 Nation 6 June 769/3 Some readers are going to be disappointed by Poirier’s insistent effort to keep literature from becoming a weapon—he would say casualty—of the politically correct or incorrect.
    2001 Guardian 25 Aug. i. 13/1 Teenage boys are at the least politically correct stage of their lives.

  340. But isn’t Asperger himself being canceled because he literally cooperated with the Nazis?

    I thought that “high-functioning autism” was the new preferred term.

    I can only speak for myself, but I feel very uncomfortable about the use of Asperger’s name, and prefer to be described as “in the autistic spectrum” (or, more broadly, as “neurodivergent”).

    Functioning labels are generally disliked by autistic people, because they focus on how society perceives the autistic person rather than on any objective diagnostic criteria (notice that neither ICD-10 or DSM5 use them). Autistic people can have significant difficulties that are not reflected in their social interactions simply because they are good at masking their symptoms — and the pressures that lead people to adopt masking behaviours are quite unequally experienced, leading for example to much lower diagnostic rates among girls and women.

    There is a recent publication outlining the advantages and disadvantages of various terminologies, as well as research on how terms are used and perceived within the autistic community itself: Bottema-Beutel, K., Kapp, S. K., Lester, J. N., Sasson, N. J., & Hand, B. N. (2020). Avoiding ableist language: Suggestions for autism researchers. Autism in Adulthood, published online ahead of print. doi:10.1089/aut.2020.0014.

  341. Thanks for that useful comment.

  342. @languagehat: Without any further context, that 1979 Economist citation does not look like an example of that sense of politically correct. It actually looks like a simple compositional expression, and you could reverse the order to “correct politically” without changing the meaning.

  343. Sure, but they’re combining all senses in a single entry.

  344. From Dave Wilton’s essay on the phrase:

    This older sense has been overwhelmed by the newer one, but it still appears as late as the 1970s. From the Economist of 6 January 1979:

    His judgement that the time and place called for an attack on the quality and efficiency of the municipal government proved to be politically correct.

  345. David Marjanović says

    But isn’t Asperger himself being canceled because he literally cooperated with the Nazis?

    The way I read it some 20 years ago, he actually saved people’s lives by convincing the Nazis his patients weren’t Life Not Worth Living™ but were actually good at certain things that could, sometimes, be useful.

    But, as far as I understand, the term has been abandoned since then because “Asperger’s syndrome” can’t be clearly delimited from other things, so it’s been merged with “autism” to “the autism spectrum”. The lists of diagnostic features I’ve encountered contain many items like “a certain unusual feature or its equally unusual opposite”. I’m convinced it’s several different things with completely different causes.

    “Spectrum” terminology has the further advantage that it sounds like it reaches all the way to “normal”. Lots of people have been expected to behave “normally” because they’re “not full-blown autists”, and have suffered when they didn’t.

  346. @DM:

    The way I read it some 20 years ago, he actually saved people’s lives by convincing the Nazis his patients weren’t Life Not Worth Living™ but were actually good at certain things that could, sometimes, be useful.

    I had never come across that interpretation, but on reading about it I notice that even the people who proposed it are quite clear he was a eugenicist in belief and practice. I think that’s enough for anyone to not want to be associated with his name.

  347. >Moba fùàdāāǹ “lion” is a transparent compound, “master of the forest”,

    I’m curious in what language, and what the semantic range of forest is. As presented, this is an ecological misnomer, after all. It would seem to suggest not close experience of danger leading to taboo, but rather the rarity of the experience leading to inaccurate terminology.

    Edit – I took this to be a phrase “moba fuadaan” and later realized it’s “fuadaan” in the Moba language. Northern Ghana would seem to have been within range of lions. Anyway, my larger point is that the existence of taboo creature names in some cultures is so far from proof that bear is an avoidance of the “real” name of the bear that it doesn’t even constitute evidence.

  348. David Marjanović says

    I’m curious in what language

    Moba, spoken in a place fairly described as hic sunt leones.

  349. David Eddyshaw says

    “Forest” was my lazy rendering; the Moba word has a broader reference, and can describe any sort of terrain not suitable for agriculture, including savannah with only scattered trees (which is the default landscape in those parts.) “Wasteland”, perhaps. Kusaal sian’ar has pretty much the same semantic range: in the Bible translation it’s used both for where Jesus was tempted for forty days, and for where you would go to gather firewood.

    There are few to no lions now, but they used to be common and are a solid part of traditional culture.

  350. Of course, in English too a forest need not have trees.

  351. David Eddyshaw says

    Anyway, my larger point is that the existence of taboo creature names in some cultures is so far from proof that bear is an avoidance of the “real” name of the bear that it doesn’t even constitute evidence.

    I was just responding to a previous erroneous claim that this sort of replacement (however motivated) was unique to words for “bear.”

    The existence of tabu creature names in other cultures is relevant, however, at least in the negative sense that if there were no parallels elsewhere, it would make the hypothesis of tabu replacement for Indoeuropean “bear” words much more unlikely.

    I don’t have any evidence in the particular Moba case that the substitution was driven by tabu, although it’s not a priori impossible; clans have their own individual specific tabus, at any rate (the royal clan of the Dagomba may not eat lions …)

    No two branches of Oti-Volta seem to share the same etymon for “lion”, except that Buli gbengli looks cognate-ish to the Western Oti-Volta form seen in Kusaal gbigim. Yom has siɣ-sawa, which means “master of the bush”, like the Moba, though the individual components are unrelated*; otherwise the various branches have different unanalysable words.

    Much the same is true of words for “horse”, as I mentioned elsewhere, but there you can make an argument that the animal itself was relatively unfamiliar in the area at one time.

    *Though the siɣ- component is probably cognate to Kusaal sian’ar, which derives from a Proto-Kusaal *sɛ̃grɪ, with the stem *sɛ̃g-.

  352. David Marjanović says

    Is -an’a- a single long nasal glottalised vowel?

  353. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes. But the whole vowel sequence ian’a actually patterns as a two-mora monophthong, despite being realised [jã̰:]. The word sian’ar “forest, wasteland, bush” has the form CV:C phonemically.

    The 2016 standard Kusaal orthography unfortunately uses the symbol n ambiguously, but it’s always a nasalisation marker rather than /n/ when it precedes the ‘ vowel glottalisation symbol. In practice, the considerable limitations on possible word-internal consonant clusters reduce the potential for ambiguity a lot, except when the symbol n is word-final; in that position, the older orthography used nn for nasalisation and single n for /n/.

    The written sequences ia and ua are also ambiguous, and can represent either [ja] [wa] or [ia] [ua]. I add diacritics to disambiguate these things in my grammar.

  354. I’m reading a book that several times mentions the ancient Nigerian site of Igbo Olokun, as well as Igbo Ukwe. Initially, I believed the two were towns or sites related to the Igbo people.

    I’ve come to realize Igbo Olokun is in the ancient Yoruba town of Ile-Ife, and that the word Igbo here is a word for grove – the Olokun Grove. Igbo Ukwe is in fact in an Igbo area, and wiki translates it as Great Igbo. Is Igbo Ukwe the Great Grove? Or is it the Great Town of the Igbo? Or …? I’d be interested if anyone can tell me more.

  355. David Eddyshaw says

    “Olokun” is likely to be the Orisha Olóòkun. Gods have groves.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olokun

    The Igbo language is not particularly closely related to Yoruba, and AFAIK “Igbo” in Igbo itself just means “Igbo.”

    http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/igbo/IGBO%20Dictionary.pdf

    Igbo-Ukwu (which is what I imagine you meant) apparently does indeed mean “Great Igbo”:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igbo-Ukwu

  356. H₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is pronounced with a lot of guttural noises, became the basis for a bunch of other words. “Arctic,” for example, which probably means something like “land of the bear.”

    He forgot to mention which one bear, though (Ursa constellation). He can be right though, because the next question is why this(these) constellation is named this way.

  357. Following up on my earlier remark about underground plant parts frequently being poisonous, there is this wonderful quote from Erewhon, in the midst of chapter XXVII and a discussion of the “intelligence” of plants:

    Some are so clever as even to overreach themselves, like the horse-radish, which gets pulled up and eaten for the sake of that pungency with which it protects itself against underground enemies.

    Erewhon (1872), by Samuel Butler, is itself is a rather unusual novel. It begins with an outdoors adventure story, modeled on the author’s experiences working at a sheep station in Mesopotamia, New Zealand. The bulk of the story is a satire, very much in the vein of Gulliver’s Travels, although I don’t think Butler’s writing ever reaches the same level as Jonathan Swift at his best. However, what is probably most notable about the novel, especially today, is that near the conclusions of his social satire, Butler works into it a serious discussion of the potential meaning and significance of artificial life and intelligence, something that he had been considering for many years and had previously written about more briefly in the 1863 essay “Darwin Among the Machines.”

  358. @hat:

    i find the gap between 1936 & 1970 in the OED citations fascinating.

    from what i know (via conversations at the height of the anti-“PC” moral panic with radicals active from the 1930s onward, and reading a lot of movement memoirs), the self-satirizing leftist use of “politically correct” that the right-wing usage is parasitic on emerged exactly in that gap. if i remember right, it’s discussed as a part of the CPUSA’s internal culture of the 1930s/40s in jessica mitford’s A Fine Old Conflict.

    in the 1970 citation, toni cade bambara would’ve been actively playing with the existence of the self-satirizing usage alongside the earnest one (the women’s liberation movement having inherited both, likely via both old left and red diaper participants).

    so i’d say the self-satirizing usage certainly isn’t exclusively from the stalinist zone, but likely originates in that camp. and certainly isn’t well-served by the OED’s choice of citations (strachey, to my ear, being critical of the tendency he describes, but not having any sense of humor in his use of the phrase).

  359. from what i know (via conversations at the height of the anti-“PC” moral panic with radicals active from the 1930s onward, and reading a lot of movement memoirs), the self-satirizing leftist use of “politically correct” that the right-wing usage is parasitic on emerged exactly in that gap.

    Sounds right to me.

  360. John Emerson says

    So much right wing rhetoric is parasitical on left critiques. “Anti-elitism” and opposition to the Deep State are two other blatant examples. Partly this is just cynically picking up free votes when centrist Democrats refuse to respond to left criticisms.

  361. John Cowan says

    Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (advice to the New Left from an old lefty) has since become the bible of the reactionaries.

  362. When I was (briefly) on a mailing list for people with face blindness, I used to refer to those of you who can actually tell one person from another by their faces alone as neurotypicals. Someone told me off for this, but I’m not certain whether they were actually on the spectrum or just virtue signaling.

    (I have a moderate congenital case: if you wonder if you might have it too, take the Cambridge Face Memory Test. There is no treatment or cure, but at least it gives you a handle on the condition and something to say to people who are offended when you cut them dead on the street.)

  363. I’ve been reading a work a fiction which has, as an aside, some odd animal naming taboos among some Scottish fishermen. On the off chance that this was a real thing that was inserted, I searched and found:

    Fishing Superstitions

    Because of the dangerous nature of their work, they were unusually superstitious. Thus there were words considered as very unlucky e.g. to mention the word minister was never done – he was called the man in the black coat, the words rabbit, salmon (red fish), rat (lang tail), pig (curly tail), and salt were amongst the most forbidden words. Should the men encounter a hare, a dog, or a person with red hair they were likely to refuse to put to sea and, if a rabbit, hare, dove, or pigeon were found on board they would most certainly not set out. The antidote to bad-luck words was to touch cauld iron.

    Fishermen’s Superstitions – Cockenzie and Port Seton

    some still feel it is bad luck to mention certain birds, fish and animals either on their boats,at home, or at all. In the fishing villages of Cockenzie Port Seton near Edinburgh these include swans, salmon, pigs and rats. Instead, fishermen will refer to a ‘red fish’ (salmon), a ‘curly tail’ (pig) and a ‘long tail’ (rat).

  364. The game of Ablewhackets, wherein nothing is known by its own name.

  365. Christ, two comments about able[-]whackets, submitted to the same post a mere two years apart. “[‘My] only worry is jungle rot.” (from a song about a full-rigged ocean-going sailing ship that has somehow wound up in the middle of the Amazon: it need fear no pirates, storms, barnacles, etc., because …)

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