Via Michael Gilleland:

In the shepherd villages of the Interior, they endeavour to die in their homes near the hearth, where they were born. Lying on a mat near the fire, the sick person awaits death. As soon as this occurs, relatives begin to lament loudly; women wail, beat their breasts and tear their hair. This lamentation over the deceased is called téyu in the Logudorese and téu in the Campidanese dialects = taedium.525

525 taedium occurs already in Petronius 137 (itaque taedio fatigatus: Rogo, inquam, expiare manus pretio licet) with the meaning ‘sorrow, affliction’; Nonius explains it in this way (dividia est taedium) and in the same sense it is used in the Vulgate and the Church Fathers as a translation of Greek λύπη, ἀκηδία. See Rönsch Itala und Vulgata, p. 325 and Semasiologische Beiträge I, p. 69.

That’s Eric Thomson’s translation of a passage from La vita rustica della Sardegna riflessa nella lingua (Nuoro: Illisso, 2011), an Italian translation of Max Leopold Wagner’s Das ländliche Leben Sardiniens im Spiegel der Sprache (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1921); you can see the Italian at the Gilleland link, so I’ll provide the German original (which does not include the Petronius, so I assume the footnote was added for the Italian edition[yes it does; see Eric Thomson’s very helpful comment below]):

In den Hirtendörfern des Inneren trachtet man danach, in der Nähe der heimischen Herdstätte zu sterben, so wie man neben ihr geboren wird. Auf eine Strohmatte neben dem Feuer hingestreckt, erwartet der Kranke den Tod.

Kaum ist der Tod eingetreten, so beginnen die Anwesenden laut zu klagen; die Weiber kreischen, zerschlagen sich die Brüste und raufen sich das Haar aus. Dieses Wehklagen um den Toten heisst log. teyu, cp. téu = taedium2 (SUBAK, ZRPh XXXIII (1909), S 669).


  1. SUBAK, ZRPh XXXIII (1909), S 669

    I looked this up, and it turns out to be Julius Subak, “Zur sardischen Verbalflexion und Wortgeschichte” (Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie [1909] 659 – 669), available here to people (subscribers) who do not include me.

  2. Ah, but you can see the whole thing here! God bless Archive.org.

  3. David Marjanović says


    “screech”, not “wail”, part of the misogyny given off by Weiber.

    zerschlagen sich die Brüste

    “beat their breasts apart“, somehow.

    (…I think they got better.)

  4. Well, Thompson is translating the Italian (“le donne strillano, si attuano il petto e si strappano i capelli”), so your beef is with Giulio Paulis.

  5. And now that I look at that, I realize that “attuano” is a typo for “battono” (attuarsi means ‘to take place, happen or occur’).

  6. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    David’s beef is definitely with Thompson, because “strillano” is closer to “screech” than “wail” and also very much lends itself to misogynistic usage.

    Says the Treccani dictionary, with an opening and a closing quotation about stereotypical women:

    strillare v. […]
    1. intr. (aus. avere) a. Urlare, gridare con voce alta e acuta: vedendosi minacciata, la donna cominciò a s.; chi è che strilla in questo modo? Anche, alzare la voce, parlare a voce molto alta: non strillare tanto quando parli; ho capito, ho capito, è inutile che strilli!; perché strilli, non sono mica sordo! b. Per estens., protestare: se i fornai strillassero, non lo domandate (Manzoni); se parcheggio la macchina qui, strillano.
    Part. pres. strillante, anche come agg.: il sonno … non fu rotto che dalla voce strillante della vecchia (Manzoni).

  7. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    By the way, it’s definitely “battono” and the whole Italian book is here , perhaps not entirely in accordance with copyright law.

  8. Thanks!

  9. Stu Clayton says

    kreischen … “screech”, not “wail”, part of the misogyny given off by Weiber.

    There is nothing misogynistic about kreischen, whatever your take on the word Weiber in the 19C. Try “shriek” instead of “screech”. Women do that much oftener than men, especially when they’re in great pain or suddenly frightened. See Kreißsaal. This is gellend schreien.

    Have y’all noticed the mutual virtue-signalling practiced by some gents nowadays, whose ingenuity finds misogyny in a grain of sand ? It’s very protective towards women …

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    I believe the sound women make in these dead rituals is a special one. In Ireland it was a profession and they were sent for and paid by the family. Compare the whoop the bride’s friends do at some Muslim weddings.

  11. Stu Clayton says

    What were the members of that profession in Ireland called ?

  12. @Stu Clayton: I don’t know the name for that profession, but the Irish word for their wailing (the verb coinim in Old Irish) gives us the English verb keen (and its association with banshees).

  13. David Marjanović says

    Not sure about “shriek”.

    whose ingenuity finds

    Thanks, but it’s not my ingenuity. I find die Weiber kreischen really striking. It just leaps from the screen.

    Weib was definitely not as unambiguously hostile in 1921 as it is today, but it did have unpleasant connotations at least sometimes; without more context I can’t tell how exactly Wagner meant it.

  14. Eric Thomson says

    Sardinian keeners can be seen in action here:

    More ululation than plain shrieking.

  15. PlasticPaddy says

    gives some discussion of the custom in Ireland. My understanding from this and other sources is that the keener was called bean-chaointe, that she was paid and that there was usually, but not always, just one professional keener at a wake. This is not to say that family members or other mourners were prevented from joining in.

  16. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    That profession is called prefica in Italian, though if it still exists (which I very much doubt) it must be localized to a few rural areas in the South.

    Italian Wikipedia has an entry for it and also discusses the Sardinian case. Allegedly, the Sardinian word is atitadora, but nothing in that article is sourced, so caveat emptor.

    By the way, I cannot say if my subjective perception is firmly grounded in anything more trustworthy, and I’m also being successfully shamed by Stu Clayton into meta-virtue signalling, but I’d have said that what the prefiche provide are grida or ululati rather than strilli, and that choosing the latter word would make them sound rather hysterical than grieving.

  17. Stu Clayton says

    The Sardinian keeners in the clip don’t sound like women in childbirth to be sure, with or without anaesthetic. If such keeners are what Wagner heard, then kreischen is definitely the wrong word for it.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    and I’m also being successfully shamed by Stu Clayton into meta-virtue signalling, but I’d have said that what the prefiche provide are grida or ululati rather than strilli

    But that’s exactly what is needed here, the right words for the given phenomena – not gallant censoriousness.

    I say let the wimmins decide for themselves whether to be offended.

  19. Eric Thomson says

    The footnote is indeed by Wagner and is quoted in full by Leo Spitzer in “Patterns of Thought and of Etymology I. Nausea > OF (Eng.) Noise” Word 1 (1945), 260-76, at 263:

    “Taedium tritt schon bei Petron 137 (“itaque taedio fatigatus …”) in der Bedeutung ‘Gram, Betrübnis’ auf; so erklärt es Nonius 96 (dividia est taedium), und in diesem Sinn gebrauchen es dann häufig die Vulgata und die Kirchenväter als Übersetsetzung von griech. Λύπη, ἀκηδία. Sie H. Rönsch, Itala und Vulgata [2d ed., Marburg, 1875], pp. 325-6, und Semasiolische Beiträge zum lateinischen Wörterbuch [Leipsig. 1889], 1. 69.”

    Spitzer goes on: “I may add that a passage such as the one quoted by Rönsch from a Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis “intrat ad me pater meus consumptus taedio et coepit barbam suam euellere,” presents a scene of violent lament which anticipates the loud ceremonial mourning current in Sardinia, which is called teyu (cf. also Old Roman tiegio, REW s.v. taedium).”

    In a footnote: “Professional mourners (plañideras) existed also formerly in Spain. Cf. also the Corsican vóceru “lament” as described by Mérimée. That it was the prerogative of women in the Middle Ages to manifest grief is proved by the lines of the Girard de Rousillon : “plorer doivent les femmes, li homme havoir dolour ne doivent qu’en lor cuers,” quoted by S. Singer, Sprichwörter des Mittelalters (Bern, 1945) , 1. 33.”

    The burden of Spitzer’s argument is that taedium (1) “boredom, disgust” (2) “grief” or “illness” (3) “loud lament” (“loud lament for the dead”) parallels the semantic development he posits for nausea “(physical) disgust” > “illness” or “grief” > “ loud outcry”.

  20. Thanks very much for that!

  21. Eric Thomson says

    Wagner, op. cit. p. 346 (footnotes omitted):

    In alcuni villaggi dell’Interno s’intonano ancora attorno al morto i lamenti funebri in rima, detti attíttiđos (vb. attittai = attitiare, propriam. attizzare, incitare (alla vendetta)). In alcuni. luoghi si trovano ancora le prefiche prezzolate (attittađoras).

    Questi lamenti funebri diventano particolarmente selvaggi, quando il morto è caduto vittima d’una vendetta, come avviene ancora nell’Interno. In tal caso si appende alla parete un indumento, macchiato di sangue, del morto, denominato píndzu(s).

  22. Eric Thomson says

    Entry for “prèfica” in Antoninu Rubattu’s Dizionario universale della lingua di Sardegna: Italiano-sardo-italiano antico e moderno, M-Z (2nd ed. 2006)
    [Logudorese, (L), Nuorese (N), Campidanese (C), Sassarese (S), Gallurese (G)]

    prèfica sf. [hired female mourner, pleureuse, plañidera, Klageweib] attittadora, ammuttadora, dolidora, dolimadora (L), attittadora, cantadora a mortu (N), attittadrixi, attittadora (C), attittadora, accunurthadora (S), attittadora, tittadora, dulidora, pignidora, piagnona (Lm) (G) // fàghere mammuttinu (L) “accompagnare con lamenti e sospiri il canto della p.”; attittà (S)“piangere lamentoso delle p.”

  23. grida

    In English the verb gride meant originally ‘stab’ (now obsolete) and now ‘make a grinding or scraping noise’, but alas, it is unrelated.

    Professional mourning at WP, with emphasis on ancient Egypt and ancient and modern China. Classical Greece and Rome also had the institution, and it survives among Maniot Greeks to this day. Indeed, it survived in Egypt until the late 19C at least, and for all I know still, despite Islamic prohibitions on the sound of wailing women. In Cote d’Ivoire it is a respected profession,

    An Essex-based company called “Rent-A-Mourner” (recently out of business) would provide bereaved family anywhere in the UK with additional funeral guests for about £55 for two hours, though they were only expected to masquerade as friends or remote family members (in customary suits of solemn black, no doubt) and make polite conversation, not to howl. (“Nay, I come not from heaven, but from Essex.”)

  24. Eric Thomson says

    Spitzer (p. 266) on “kreischen” (footnote omitted):

    Strident mourning, which would jar on our modern sensitivity, was not objected to on aesthetic grounds in ancient and medieval times; it was just the incisiveness and intensity of the demonstration of grief which was all-important.

    Wagner, in his vivid description of the Sardinian rituals of wailing, found it necessary to use the realistic verb kreischen, which is at the bottom of the word-family of Romance crier, gridare, gritar (according to M. Grammont, who rejects the traditional etymology from quiritare [RLR 44 (1901). 138]; cf. REW s. v. quiritare) … .

  25. David Marjanović says


    That seemed familiar! It’s an oilbird from the early Eocene of Wyoming.

  26. Trond Engen says

    I note that the German Wikipedia entry linked from WP(en): Professional Mourning is named Klageweib, which I presume is the established term in Bible translation — as is Norwegian gråtekone.

  27. Presumably klageweib is the context for understanding the use of weiber, no?

    Is klaxon cognate?

  28. Stu Clayton says

    Presumably klageweib is the context for understanding the use of weiber, no?

    No, if what you’re getting at is that the professional designation Klageweib somehow defangs any disparaging sense of Weib in the context.

    Weib for a long time meant simply “(a) woman”. Klageweib was merely a Weib with a particular function or profession. Eheweib meant “wife”.

    The disparaging connotations seeped in later. Think of the history of the English word “wench”.

  29. What I meant was that if his use of weib was at a time when the connotation was changing, the term klageweib may have guided his word choice and conditioned the reader’s understanding. Especially given that klagen is just an unstressed syllable away. Wouldn’t “… klagen; die weiber” call to mind the term klageweib? Perhaps not if it’s archaic.

  30. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It woiuldn’t have occurred to me to be offended by ‘wail’, which is – archetypically if not actually in practice – What People Do when they’re miserable, with or without gnashing of teeth. Shrieking and screeching sound more like fright, or drunken rows.

    But I don’t know anything about the German words, and I’m not very good at remembering to be offended.

  31. David Marjanović says

    “Wail” seems like a good translation for klagen (in this context; other meanings include “complain” and “sue”).

  32. PlasticPaddy says

    @ryan re Klaxon
    Wiktionary klaxon:
    From the trademark Klaxon, based on Ancient Greek κλάζω (klázō, “make a sharp sound; scream”) (from Proto-Indo-European *glag- (“to make a noise, clap, twitter”), from *gal- (“to roop, scream, shout”))
    DWDS klagen:
    läßt sich …auf ie. *galgh-, *glagh- ‘klagen, schelten’ zurückführen
    So yes

  33. To roop? Curiouser and curiouser.

  34. Stu Clayton says

    roop, v. rare.

    [Cf. roop n.1]

    intr. To utter a hoarse note or sound.

       1894 Crockett Love Idylls (1901) 182 A sleepy hen rooped lazily in a hole under the hedge.    1894 ― Raiders (ed. 3) 234, I only rooped like a rough-legged fowl.

  35. κλάζω (klázō, “make a sharp sound; scream”) (from Proto-Indo-European *glag-
    Greek /k/ from PIE /g/? How is that supposed to work?

  36. PlasticPaddy says

    PIE gh > Greek Kh but this would require (a) *ghlag and (b) later development of aspirated k to kappa instead of chi. So a better etymology is needed. On the other hand this could explain golub/kolumbos????.

  37. John Cowan says

    Exxpressive ggemination, perhaps?

  38. On the other hand this could explain golub/kolumbos
    I’m not sure about that – IIRC, Grassman doesn’t work across two syllables.

  39. David Marjanović says

    Exxpressive ggemination, perhaps?

    I’d rather look into whether the extinct Crotonian branch of IE can be pressed into service.

    (I don’t have time myself.)

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