Turkish Cats.

Victor Mair at the Log posts about Turkish (and other) words for ‘cat’; he shares a long and interesting communication from Mehmet Olmez, who says:

There was not a Turkic word for ‘cat’, there were some words for ‘wild cat’. Detailed description about the cat we can find in Divanu Lugati’t-Turk (from 11th century, 1072-1074). Turkish kedi ‘cat’ must be related to European CAT and KATZE. But it cannot be a direct borrowing as mentioned from Europe. According to A. Tietze and R. Dankoff, it can be related with Armenian kadu or Ar. qiṭṭ. In Siberian languages there is just ‘wild cat’ (similar Mongolian malur and other forms): manu. […] I can share here Clauson’s explanation:

?F çetük ‘(female) cat’. The various Turkish words for ‘cat’ are collected in Shcherbak, p. 129. Some of them, e.g. maçı:, VU mö:ş, and mışkıç, are demonstrably l.-w.s, and it is likely that the rest, including this one, which has no obvious etymology, are also l.-w.s. The Turks prob. did not meet cats early enough to have their own word for them. (Xak.?) xıv Muh. al-sinnūr ‘cat’ çetük Mel. 72, 6; çe:tük Rif. 174: Oğuzçetük al-hirra ‘female cat’; (VU) küwük (unvocalized) çetük al-ḍaywan ‘tom cat’ Kaş. I 388; a.o. III 127 (mö:ş): Xwar. xıv çetük ‘(female) cat’ Qutb 42: Kıp. xııı al-qiṭṭ ‘tom cat’ (ma:çı:, also called) çe:tük Hou. ıı, ıı: xıv çetük (c-c) al-qiṭṭ İd. 42; Bul. 10, 10: xv al-qitt setük (sic) Kav. 62, 3; sinnūr (maçı and) çetük Tuh. 19a. 11: Osm. xıv ff. çetük, occasionally çetik, ‘cat’; common till xvı, occasionally later TTS I 155; II 222; III 147; IV 165: xvııı çetik (spelt) in Rūmī, gurba ‘cat’, in Ar. hirra and sinnūr San. 205r. 14. [Clauson 402b:]

Juha Janhunen talks about Mongolian and Finnic languages and says “Words for ‘cat’ are often recent, descriptive / onomatopoetic, or borrowed”; Mair says:

All of this leaves me with two burning questions:

1. Why are words for the domestic cat, an animal now so widespread and much adored (think of Hello Kitty, the zillions of cat videos, etc.), relatively late in many languages?
2. Why is the evidence for cats so relatively scant in the archeological record? — except for ancient Egypt, where there were millions of mummified cats, so many that in the 1800s they were sold for fertilizer in Europe.

Good questions, and I will add: what the hell is Clauson’s “l.-w.s”? I hate opaque abbreviations, especially when the book is unavailable by online preview. (Also, Olmez’s “Turkish kedi ‘cat’ must be related to European CAT and KATZE” is of course overstated; why do people always ignore the prevalence of coincidence?)


  1. maçı:, VU mö:ş, and mışkıç, are demonstrably l.-w.s,

    No clue, but the Tatar word is very similar, and wiktionary doesn’t give etymology

  2. Ah, I’ll bet it’s “loan words.” What a stupid abbreviation; why not just say “loans”?

  3. Except it’s hard to reconcile “loanwords” with the wiki statement that the word is pan-Turkic? Indeed, all the way to Uyghur. And Hungarian macska. Some Mari and Udmirt dialects too, while others have a word similar too (and used pretty much like) Russian брысь – so I wonder if the Russian cat-chasing word is a Finnic borrowing of sorts? (Of course it’s easy to understand as onomatopoeic )

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Kusaal for “cat” is amus, which is pretty clearly from Hausa mussa, but I’ve no idea where that comes from.

    There’s no single word reconstructable for Proto-Western-Oti-Volta. However, another way of saying “cat” in Kusaal is dɔɔg biig “hut child”, which has equivalents in Farefare deebia and Mampruli dubiiya. Quite why a cat would be called a “hut child” I’ve no idea. Mampruli has also an even more mysterious naamaama, which looks like it should mean “chief’s girlfriend.”

    Despite there being no widespread word for it, the wild Felis lybica seems to be indigenous to the area, but I don’t know how far back keeping cats as pets goes.

  5. Ah, maybe a Slavic borrowing? Onomatopoeic too, “the meow’er”? Supposedly Greek Greek μάτσιου is there too, and maybe German Matz, so whoever reinvented and whoever borrowed from whom?

    The reference is to Trubachev’s Etymological dictionary of Slavic languages, 1990

    I find it hard to believe in widespread borrowing by the Turkic, and some Finno-Ugric, peoples of the “Russian sphere” of a word which may have existed in Proto-Slavic is so completely unknown in Russian

  6. About the recency of the feline, note that the Bible is inhabited by lots of dogs but no cats at all (or at least no animals whose names were translated by King James’s servants as “cat”).

    About opaque abbreviations, consider the psycholinguistics of thinking of words visually or, on the other hand, orally. Visual would be those military types who in the interest of speed and concision say “Doubleyou Doubleyou Two.” And in the days of typewriters without “1” keys I had an ordinal-minded colleague who would write “lst” with the s and t underlined — that is, if you count the two backspaces, just as many keystrokes as “first.”

    But it did economize on the palimpsest.

  7. Huehnergaard’s Qiṭṭa: Arabic cats (here) is full of etymological goodness.

  8. I found a scan of Clauson’s An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Turkish online and checked the list of abbreviations:

    l.-w.  loan-word.

  9. David Eddyshaw says


    Thanks. It answers my question about the origin of Hausa mussa too (Berber, natch. Everything I don’t recognise turns out to be Berber in the end.)

    I notice that in passing, Huehnergard talks about “taboo deformation” of animal names, but he doesn’t expound further. It caught my eye because “hut child” looks rather like some sort of avoidance formula, although I’m not aware that West African pet cats actually are in any way not-to-be-spoken-of.

    Anybody know anything to the point? How uncanny are cats?

  10. Huehnergaard’s Qiṭṭa: Arabic cats (here) is full of etymological goodness.

    Thanks, that’s great stuff.

  11. AJP Crown says

    Kusaal for “cat” is amus
    I looked to see if Kusaal for “mouse” is acat, but it’s kuu.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    Kuug. Unless you speak Toende Kusaal. Which you can, if you like. It’s all good.

    Incidentally, the equivalent to “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” is

    Baas kae ka nwaamis di’e pɔɔg. “There are no dogs and the monkeys have got the farm.”

  13. Correction: “l s backspace underline t backspace underline” = seven keystrokes (plus I suppose something extra for the shift key) as opposed to five for mere “first.” An oral equivalent might be something like “londjeray” for “underwear.”

    And I’ve never seen Cummings’s “l(a” printed in a typewriter font, not even in its first book appearance in 95 Poems, and now that typescript is a thing of the past I wonder how much longer it’ll be before the poem requires an explanatory footnote to spell out the visual wit.

  14. @Jonathan Morse

    I wonder if the biblical aversion to cats is part of a more general anti-Egyptian leaning.

    Cats are mentioned once in Baruch 6:21 (not included in Jewish or most Protestant bibles) where they, along with bats and birds, sit on the (false) gods of Babylon.

  15. I wonder if the biblical aversion to cats is part of a more general anti-Egyptian leaning.

    Huh, I never thought of that. It would make sense.

  16. The anti-snake attitude of the Bible has also been attributed to anti-Egyptian attitudes, although I am not sure how seriously to take that idea. Snakes were definitely prominent in Egyptian iconography, and the Nile Valley was the home of the deadly crocodile. Crocodiles were often conflated with snakes by chroniclers who where not familar with them first hand; and even the Egyptians themselves did not always distinguish that strongly between snakes and crocodiles. (Apep could be represented as either one.) During the rule of Hezekiah in Judah, the iconoclastic reforms included the destruction of a snake idol,* which has been interpreted as an Egyptian-influenced cult object, making the destruction (along with the elimination of the Asherah poles and wilderness altars) part of an effort to consolidate religious control over the state, including by purging it of foreign sectarian influences.

    * The snake idol is usually known as the “Nehushtan”—but that was likely a derisive (possibly punning) name given to it by Hezekiah’s faction. Its destruction was almost certainly a historical event, but the earlier story, in Numbers, chronicling how Moses constructed it, was presumably also devised relatively late in the object’s history, in an attempt to justify its inclusion as part of the increasingly monotheistic Hebrew religion.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    Anti-snake attitudes don’t seem to me to cry out for explanation at all, really. Pro-snake attitudes are the interesting thing.

  18. AJP Crown says

    Baas kae ka nwaamis di’e pɔɔg. “There are no dogs and the monkeys have got the farm.”

    I expect I can can find the pronunciation, but is there a phrase book for expressions like this?

  19. John Cowan says

    Except it’s hard to reconcile “loanwords” with the wiki statement that the word is pan-Turkic

    Not so much. Almost all the Latin loanwords in English that landed before the revival of learning were actually borrowed into Proto-Germanic and have perfectly normal cognates in other Germanic languages: anchor, butter, camp, cheese, chest, cook, copper, devil, dish < discus, fork, gem, inch, mile, mill, mint (for coins), noon, pillow, pound, sack (ult. < Akkadian), wall, street, wine. In a few cases they were probably reshaped within Old English: thus ancor ‘anchor’ lacks Anglo-Frisian brightening but is cognate (I think) with German Anker.

  20. David Eddyshaw says


    [ba:s kʰa̰j ka w̃ã:mɪs dḭɪ̰ pʰɔ:g], tones respectively M H L MM M M (by syllable)

    There’s no phrase book AFAIK. A desideratum …

    There’s quite a nice selection of proverbs in the back of Kusaal Solima ne Siilima “Kusaal Stories and Proverbs”, Samuel Akon and Joseph Anaba, Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation, 1981. Unfortunately I probably have the only copy in Europe. Tony Naden’s dictionary of Agolle Kusaal has quite a lot, though:


    Sadly, it only gives the literal meanings, which very often doesn’t give you much idea what they actually mean.

  21. Jen in Edinburgh says

    but it’s kuu

    A Scots coo (moo) or a Gaelic cu (woof)?

    Cats would definitely sit on gods, false or not.

    According to Edinburgh zoo, the dogs of the bible are painted hunting dogs – but all I’m actually aware of them doing in the bible is eating all of Jezebel except the palms of her hands, and I only really know that because of Agatha Christie.

  22. David Eddyshaw says


    /ku:/ is clearly Proto-World for “mammal.”

  23. Thanks for the reference to Baruch, David. But David and Brett, it’s one thing to be ritually opposed to serpents and swine and golden calves but another thing never (or almost never) to write the word “cat.” I can think of three possible explanations:

    1. Historical recency. Beside the Egyptians, who else in the ancient world domesticated cats, and when did they start doing so?

    2. Something in the culture. I’m always struck by the way people exclaim phatically out of the blue, as if they were mentioning the weather, “I hate cats.” Cf. the title chapter of Robert Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre. But is Western Civ so seamlessly continuous from Biblical times to the present?

    3. Or most plausibly, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Cat in vain.”


  24. During his last days in power, Moammar Gaddafi called the rebels against him “rats and cats” in one if not more speeches. I found it striking at the time. I can see how some people might disrespect street cats, but lumping them with rats is going too far.

    Huehnergard unfortunately doesn’t answer the question I’d had since I was a kid: is Hebrew חָתוּל ħātūl related to English cat? He resorts (p. 410) to “may have been influenced by medieval Latin cat(t)ulus” which is awfully mush-mouthed. The multiple mutually contradicting potential etymologies for Arabic ḫayṭal and Hebrew ḥātûl / Aramaic ḥtûlā are unsatisfying as well.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Thou shalt not take the name of the Cat in vain

    This would be in accordance with the idea that it is forbidden to speak the True Name of the Hut Child/King’s Paramour.
    Bible references have probably all been altered to “ostrich.”

  26. Almost all the Latin loanwords in English that landed before the revival of learning were actually borrowed into Proto-Germanic and have perfectly normal cognates in other Germanic languages

    Exactly, that’s what I meant, that the cradle of Turkic languages is way East in Mongolia, so a similarly early borrowing from one of Balkan Slavic languages into Proto-Turkic seems impossible owing to a vast geographic separation.

  27. /ku:/ is clearly Proto-World for “mammal.”

    Proto-Universe! Haven’t you seen Kin-dza-dza!?

    Huehnergard unfortunately doesn’t answer the question I’d had since I was a kid: is Hebrew חָתוּל ħātūl related to English cat?

    See this LH comment (quoting Renee’s Glosses blog).

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Haven’t you seen Kin-dza-dza!?

    I have indeed seen it, and I have never been quite the same since.

  29. @Y: I also have wondered about חָתוּל for a long time, and there just does not seem to be a clearcut understanding of where we got that word in its modern form. I personally suspect that there was indeed some influence from the Indo-European, which might make the word a chimera. However, as you suggest, even if that is correct, the whole situation is a mess.

  30. Thanks, Hat. Unfortunately, more procrustean etymologies, in both sound and meaning.

  31. John Cowan says

    who else in the ancient world domesticated cats

    I think it was just a very long time before F. lybica (what was Georg Forster thinking, not to write F. libyca?) escaped from Egypt. In Alexander’s time, cats were still almost unknown in Greece, where the characteristic rodent-eating human symbionts were snakes. Note that the Berber and Maghrebi Arabic form qattus has to come from (African) Latin cattus (nom.) or more likely cattos (acc.), not over the desert from Egypt, per Etienne.

    Pro-snake attitudes are the interesting thing.

    Humans are in favor of anything that stops their grain from being devoured.

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    One of the clues in a Kusaal book of quizzes about animals and birds that I have in front of me goes

    Dine kɛ ka m a saalbiis zua la anɛ mam pu sa’amidi ba la’ad ka mɛ pu diti ba ki la.
    “What makes me the friend of human beings is that I don’t damage their property or eat their millet.”

    evidently indeed a highly salient matter for subsistence farmers. (It’s a swallow.) I doubt whether a book aimed at UK children would simply assume that they would know what swallows (don’t) eat.

  33. For UK children it should be “If I am alone, I can’t make a spring”

  34. “from Hausa mussa’

    Sounds like a Croatian word for calling out to cats.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    A lot of these “cat” words seem to be attributed to sounds used for calling to cats. The conclusion is, of course, that cats are training humanity to refer to them as they, the cats, prefer. The avoidance forms (like “hut child” ) reflect humanity’s attempt to escape from the mind control. They have survived best where cats have only domesticated humans relatively recently and hope has not yet died.

  36. John Cowan says

    Hmm. What is the prevalence of toxoplasmosis in Kusasi country?

  37. AJP Crown says

    DE: I doubt whether a book aimed at UK children would simply assume that they would know what swallows (don’t) eat.
    I’m sure that’s usually true, but swallows eat mosquitos and therefore fly low when it’s going to rain and high when it isn’t, something to do with air pressure – as a former UK child who was told that, I’ve noticed it happening in my own garden.

    Thank you for the refs.

    Sadly, it only gives the literal meanings
    A drawback. I found a great Swiss name there, an agronomist called Urs Niggli.

    JinE: A Scots coo (moo)
    Ku is a Norwegian cow as you know and kue is to be cowed, but kü is also Friesian for viper according to this Wiktionary entry. No wonder the Americans call Friesian cows Holsteins, you don’t want to milk the wrong beast.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Anti-snake attitudes don’t seem to me to cry out for explanation at all, really.

    To me they do; I’ve always found them a weird feature of Western culture – especially given how rare and comparatively harmless Europe’s venomous snakes are.

    the characteristic rodent-eating human symbionts were snakes

    Not ferrets?

    F. lybica (what was Georg Forster thinking, not to write F. libyca?)

    In German, y is treated as a duplicate not of i, but of ü, whenever possible. “Possible” pretty much means “in the stressed syllable”, the only place where native /yː/ and /ʏ/ occur. That makes the spellings Libyen /ˈliːbɪɛn/, with -yen seemingly for -ien, libysch, with -ysch for -isch, and indeed libyca, with -yca seemingly for -ica, so weird that there’s a strong urge to do something about them. I bet more than half of German-speakers pronounce Libyen with /yː/ in the first syllable and spontaneously spell it accordingly; “lybien” brings up a long list of Google suggestions (including some that presuppose some expert knowledge, like lybien haftar) and no less than 5,010,000 hits, rather substantial compared to 30,600,000 for “libyen”.

    (Unrelated is the widespread pronunciation of Mikro- with /ʏ/, caused by the fact that the name of the letter μ is always rendered as my /myː/, never mu [see above for the cows].)

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    Urs Niggli

    It’s a different Urs Niggli, I think. Switzerland is probably full of them.

    What is the prevalence of toxoplasmosis in Kusasi country?

    Low. You see much more of it in the south of the country.

  40. AJP Crown says

    Beside the Egyptians, who else in the ancient world domesticated cats, and when did they start doing so?

    According to this article

    Wild cats are now known to have lived among the people of Mesopotamia over 100,000 years ago and to have been domesticated there approximately 12,000 BCE at about the same time as dogs, sheep, and goats.

    There’s lots of history-of-cat info there. Unfortunately there’s very little available on the writer.

  41. I have a vague recollection that Muhammad was pro-cat and anti-dog. Is there a resulting pro-cat attitude in Islam?

  42. From my limited experience of living in (culturally) Muslim countries I noticed that there is indeed an aversion against keeping dogs in the house, as they are seen as unclean. This doesn’t seem to extend to cats.

  43. the Tatar word is very similar

    Another Tatar word:


  44. Песи is a nice-cat word in Tatar, as well a call to attract a kitty, akin to Russian киса which the wiktionary entry actually uses as a translation

  45. Why is “hut child” necessarily an avoidance form? Cf. “fur baby.”

  46. AJP Crown says

    From that article:
    The prophet Muhammed was also very fond of cats. According to legend, the `M’ design on the forehead of the tabby cat was made when the prophet blessed his favourite cat by placing his hand on its head. This cat, Meuzza, or Muʿizza, Arabic: معزة‎ also features in another famous story in which Muhammad, called to prayer, found the cat asleep on his arm. Rather than disturb the cat, Muhammad cut the sleeve from his robe and left Meuzza to sleep.

  47. Мультфильм “Шаян песи” (“Кошка – озорница”)


  48. nekoma

    *⟨ni1a-ko1ma⟩ → ⟨ne1ko1ma⟩ → /nekoma/

    From Old Japanese. Originally a compound of にゃ (nya, “onomatopoeia for the sound a cat makes (compare English mew, meow)”) +‎ こま (koma, “four-legged animal”).

    Obsolete; replaced by shorter form neko in modern Japanese.

  49. mirri

    1) pussy-cat (affectionate term for a cat)
    2) (colloquial) bowtie
    3) (slang) pussy, vagina

    Darkinjung: dog
    Gamilaraay: wild dog, dingo
    Ngiyambaa: dog
    Yagara: dingo or wild dog


  50. David Eddyshaw says

    Why is “hut child” necessarily an avoidance form?

    Because I thought it was funny. Kusaal doesn’t really seem to do avoidance forms as such, though proverbs are often pretty obscure on the surface, which perhaps represents a kindred phenomenon. Still, “chief’s girlfriend”? What’s up with that?

    There don’t seem to be any similar kennings for other domesticated mammals. Only cats. There’s nothing like “man’s best friend” for dogs AFAIK. Perhaps that’s not surprising in view of their typical associations: dogs are kept principally as guard dogs; cows are familiar locally, but are usually the concern of Fulɓe or Mossi, not Kusaasi; horses are very strongly associated with chieftainship; goats are goats; pigs are pigs; and who would bother with a standing epithet for sheep? It really only leaves donkeys, which have their usual reputation as devious, tough and stubborn.

    (It does occur to me that the word for every single one of these animals except horses can be reconstructed at least as far back as Proto-Oti-Volta; maybe it’s simply that there just wasn’t a word for “domestic cat” when they moved in.)

    (Excogitating yet further, I think it’s true to say that cats are the only domesticated animal the Kusaasi usually allow indoors with them, which might be significant.)

  51. AJP Crown says

    Are donkeys really thought to be devious? I’ve always found them perfectly straightforward, but I googled and found a company with that name in Northern Ireland.

  52. David Eddyshaw says

    Actually, although the word for “warthog” (dɛɛg) goes back to Proto-Oti-Volta, and the etymon is also used for “pig” in many languages, the Kusaal word for “tame pig” (kʋrkʋr or kʋkʋr) is phonologically odd and looks like a loanword; similar forms seem to be confined to Western Oti-Volta alone. I’ve no idea how old pig farming is in West Africa.

    Interestingly, there seems to be some genetic evidence that West African tame pigs (as opposed to East African) are the result of the European invasions:


  53. David Eddyshaw says

    The Twi word for “pig” is prako, which is transparently a loanword from Portuguese. It’s not out of the question that a form *pʋrkʋ(r) might get remodelled to kʋ(r)kʋr; “tomatoes” has ended up as Kusaal kamantɔɔsi (I suspect by contamination from Ghanaian Hausa kaman “like.”)

  54. John Cowan says

    In the ANE there seems to have been a ritual(ized) distinction between clean and unclean dogs, where the first are hunting dogs and sheep-herding dogs, and the second are town dogs. This probably reflects the actual degree of cleanliness to some extent.

    The Persians, however, favored dogs, for they did not lie, one of the great Persian virtues (as Herodotus puts it, to ride, to shoot, and to tell the truth were the marks of Persian nobility).

  55. David Eddyshaw says

    I notice that Tony Naden’s Dagbani dictionary states outright that the corresponding Dagbani “pig” word, kuruchu, is “ultimately” from Portuguese porco. His etymologies are not always very solid; he attributes the Western Oti-Volta “soap” etymon (Kusaal ki’ib) to Portuguese sabão, for example, which is frankly impossible. Still, in this case Portuguese looks plausible.

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    Are donkeys really thought to be devious?

    Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky with the donkeys I’ve met. Or maybe they just take one look at me and see an easy mark.

  57. “Chief’s girlfriend” is strolling in like she owns the place, sitting on chief’s lap, sleeping on chief’s bed, and sitting beside the chief all smug when he’s holding meetings.

  58. David Marjanović says


    Onomatopoeia for grunting?

  59. ə de vivre says

    Wild cats are now known to have lived among the people of Mesopotamia over 100,000 years ago and to have been domesticated there approximately 12,000 BCE at about the same time as dogs, sheep, and goats.

    Interesting. Domestic cats weren’t really a thing in Sumero-Akkadian culture. Domestic dogs show up pretty early with a distinction between “ur-gir” or “native dogs” and “ur-bara” or “foreign/wild dogs.” “Ur” can, when used in its most general sense, refer to any mid-size carnivorous animal (dog/cat/hyena), but AFAIK none of the attestations of “domestic ur” are particularly cat-like. I wonder what the Hurrians thought about cats…

    Foxes, on the other hand, had a very important cultural role, but the proverbs they appear in are so opaque that no one’s quite sure what exactly that role was.

  60. David Eddyshaw says

    Onomatopoeia for grunting?

    That was what I originally wondered myself. The word-internal rk cluster is not possible in Kusaal words constructed according to orthodox principles, but occurs in ideophones (which can do anything) and loans. There’s no problem for Kusaasi in actually pronouncing such clusters, but they normally only occur across word division – but that includes word division within the compound words the language creates so freely.

    The corresponding words in the other Western Oti-Volta languages are instructive:

    Kusaal 1976 New Testament: kʋrkʋr
    Kusaal 2016 Bible: kʋkʋr (brought into conformity with normal noun structure, as if were a reduplication-prefix, a common sort of formant in WOV languages.)
    Toende Kusaal: kukut (t as regularly for original final r; vowel quality differs from Agolle)
    Dagbani: kuruchu (which would reflect an older form *kʋdkiigʋ if it were actually from Proto-WOV)
    Mampruli: kurikuu (which would reflect *kʋdkuugʋ)
    Farefare: kurkuri (like Kusaal, but again with different vowel quality from Agolle Kusaal)
    Mooré: kukuri or kurkuri

    These words are obviously all connected, which seems to make it improbable that the forms are independently created by onomatopoeia. It would work if they could all be traced to an onomatopoeic Proto-WOV form; but they can’t: the vowels don’t correspond properly, and neither does the consonant after the first vowel. The Agolle Kusaal and Mooré forms would require Proto-WOV *r; but that would have given Dagbani *kuluchu, not kuruchu.

    This seems to suggest borrowing from one language to the next as the explanation for the resemblances. The r of the more northerly languages, Kusaal, Farefare and Mooré, is plausibly to be accounted for by resegmentation of a form with the noun class sg suffix (both Mooré and Agolle Kusaal have gone the whole hog (sorry) and now pluralise the word with the regular corresponding pl class suffix: kʋrkʋya “pigs” etc.)
    So the southern forms *kʋrkɩ/kʋrkʋ are probably closer to the source (note that these languages have historically both merged ʋ into u.)

    Velars before rounded vowels are labialised in all these languages, and do not contrast with kp gb in this position.
    So an assimilation *pʋrkʋ -> *kʋrkʋ is not as far-fetched phonetically as one might think.

    On the question of Portuguese loans in general, here’s the late Prof Kropp Dakubu:


    Kusaal has at least daka “box” (ultimately from arca) and saafi “lock” (chave), via Hausa and Twi respectively. Basically, Portuguese is not a far-fetched source for a donor of old loans to Ghanaian languages.

  61. ə de vivre says

    I did, however, forget to mention the edition of Cats, the musical, discovered in the original Sumerian:

    ???????????????????????????? ???? ???????????????????? ????????????
    si-ki-im-bil₂-šeŋ₆-ka-sa kaskal zabar-ra-ka ur-tur-be₂
    ???????? ???????? ????????????
    {ŋeš}gigir izi-ka ur-tur-be₂

  62. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s surely TS Enlilot’s version.

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    to have lived among the people of Mesopotamia over 100,000 years ago

    There were people in Mesopotamia 100,000 years ago?

  64. Is the name of Mohammed’s cat Muezza, who was lying on his sleeve during the call to prayer, related etymologically to the muezzin, the person who sings the call to prayer? Is it a joking re-naming to suit the role of the cat in the story?

    I looked at a couple links, and the similarity isn’t even mentioned. Are the two forms not similar in Arabic? Wiki says the word we know as muezzin transliterates more closely to mu adh dhin. My sense is that would be true of Muezza too, a difference of the etymological relationship of Arabic and Roman letters vs. modern pronunciation, but I don’t really know nor know how to look that up.

    If I understand, mu- is a prefix that workers similarly to the suffix -er/-tor in English. Does mu- have any resonance with the sound cats are thought to make?

  65. Are the two forms not similar in Arabic?

    Right; the cat’s name, معزة‎, has z, not dh.

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    Assuming that the form AJP cites is correct, the forms are definitely quite unrelated. The muezzin word is from the root √ʔðn, as in ʔaða:n, the Muslim call to prayer (and ʔuðn “ear.”) The cat name seems to come from √ʕzz “be mighty/dear” (as in the name [Abdu-l] Aziz.) I didn’t know the story about the cat, though, so I may be wrong about that.

    The m– formant turns up in all sorts of participle forms (e.g. “Muslim.”) It isn’t really parallel to -er, except by coincidence. Arabic works by messing around with internal vowel structure along (sometimes) with prefixes and suffixes: it doesn’t much derive words just by suffixing or prefixing.

  67. David Eddyshaw says

    Desultory Google searching suggests that, disappointingly, the cat story may originally have been about the twelfth-century Sufi sheikh Ahmad Ar-Rifāʽī, and that it only got reattributed to Muhammad in the twentieth century.


    It all looks rather dubious.

  68. Sigh. But I’m not about to try to emend the article; I’m done with the Wikiwars.

  69. January First-of-May says

    Not ferrets?

    Львы и тигры
    Это редко,
    Но случается.
    Но никто ещё
    Приручить не смог
    Слава богу,
    Что хорёк
    Очень маленький

    [For the benefit of non-Russian-speakers in the audience:

    “Lions and tigers
    Can be tamed.
    It’s rare,
    But it happens.
    But nobody yet
    So far
    Had managed to tame
    A ferret.
    Thank god
    That a ferret
    Is a very small

    – Boris Zakhoder, Мохнатая азбука (“Fuzzy Alphabet”).

    (I was sure I’ve shared this ditty on LH before, but Google doesn’t find it here; maybe that was some other chat or forum I participate in. It’s one of my favorites, for its sheer incongruity, and I like to quote it at anyone I know who happens to have a pet ferret.)

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    The sentiment is reminiscent of that reflected in the ancient lyric (in my free translation from the original Middle Welsh):

    Little birdie, flying high
    Birdie flying in the sky:
    “Ah,” says the farmer, wiping his eye.
    “Dang good thing my cows can’t fly.”

  71. I guess this explains Maçka park in the center of Istanbul. Though the wiki article doesn’t mention where the name came from. I think there are cats there but there must be cats in every park in Istanbul. I thought the name came from Hungary somehow. I think I saw this word in Serbia as well. Is it widespread in the Balkans?

  72. David Eddyshaw says

    Apparently not:


    (the Turkish version of the Wikipedia article about the Istanbul district says that it was named for the place in Trebizond.)

  73. The sentiment is reminiscent of that reflected in the ancient lyric (in my free translation from the original Middle Welsh)

    «Hav tak, O Gud, at ikke i det Høje,
    som Svalen, Koen ogsaa flyve kan!»

    (There is further discussion in that thread.)

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    The trope is evidently from the Indo-European epic tradition, like dragon-slaying.

  75. “Is it widespread in the Balkans?”
    It’s not a Balkan feature.
    Macska / mačka for cat is used in Hungarian, Slovak, Ruthenian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Macedonian. Albanian has Macja. Other languages of SE Europe have different words.

  76. January First-of-May says

    The trope is evidently from the Indo-European epic tradition, like dragon-slaying.

    Well, that would imply that there’s no similar Kusaasi joke. Is there?

  77. You don’t joke about cows with Fulɓe around.

  78. David Eddyshaw says

    Quite so. Cows are Serious Business.

  79. David Marjanović says

    Слава богу,
    Что хорёк
    Очень маленький


    That reminds me of all the rat-sized dogs who believe they’re full-grown wolves…

  80. David Marjanović says

    There were people in Mesopotamia 100,000 years ago?

    While I’m not aware of any fossils (the surface of the whole area was after all carried in by the Euphrates and the Tigris quite recently), I’d say “yes”; there were modern humans at the other end of the Fertile Crescent at that time.

  81. AJP Crown says

    “Cows are Serious Business.”
    Big Business is the bull in Cold Comfort Farm.

  82. David Eddyshaw says


    is there a phrase book for expressions like this?

    (Kusaal proverbs, that is.)

    I’ve just discovered that there are actually two Android applications of them (Agolle and Toende Kusaal, but pretty much the same proverbs.) They give not only the literal meanings, but also what they mean in practice, which is often far from obvious. Good stuff (only thing wrong with them is there aren’t more proverbs.)

    Just search on “Kusaal” in the “Play Store” (yuck) if you’ve got an Android thing.

  83. Thank you, DE! That’s very kind of you to remember my question and yes, I do have an Android thing, so I’ll do that now.

  84. David Eddyshaw says

    You’re welcome …

    There are also some proverbs in my Kusaal grammar, both in the “Texts” section at the end, and scattered throughout as examples (findable by searching the PDF for “proverb”, or “KSS”, Kusaal Solima ne Siilima, the text I got many of them from.)


    (It’s worth every penny.)

  85. Thanks for that too; it has as well a very good introduction for the likes of me, not knowing anything. Your Kusaal grammar needs MUCH more publicity, starting with the Wikipedia Kusasi Language article Refs link 7, which is there without any description of what it’s linked to. And there’s for instance no mention of Kusaal or even of Gur languages under African languages on the SOAS website, and that seems a shame when more than half-a-million people speak it and SAOS claims to have unrivalled expertise in the languages of Africa. I suppose half a million may not be many but, like Latin & Greek, we’re talking quality of writing and scholarship as well as quantity of speakers.

  86. Agreed on all points. The world must know about Kusaal!

  87. David Eddyshaw says

    To be fair to the SOAS website, they’re only listing languages which they have major undergraduate teaching commitments to, and the ones that they mention have many millions of speakers. SOAS has supported huge amounts of research into other African languages over the years.

    The Gur language that comes closest to this is Mooré, but even this has “only” about 5 million speakers. And unfortunately, even now, there is nothing like an adequate reference grammar of it (even); the one usually referenced, Gaston Canu’s, is very poorly organised and desperately unreliable. (I’m still annoyed that in a widely cited article about “verb extensions” in Niger-Congo, all the Gur data cited were from Canu’s Mooré grammar; I myself checked all the forms Canu cites as having derivational -d-, and none of them actually exists.) There is a good Mooré-French-English dictionary courtesy of Urs Niggli, though; well above average.

    Overall, Kusaal itself is probably the best-documented of all the Western Oti-Volta languages at present, with two decent reference grammars (Anthony Agoswin Musah’s is very different from mine, but that’s all to the good) and one-and-a-half good dictionaries.

    WRT publicity for Kusaal, I’m all for it (as Hatters may have noticed, from time to time.) But the speakers already know about it, and very few others are much interested, alas.

    (Apropos-ish, I just today managed to get hold of the indefatigable André Prost’s Les langues de l’Atakora, which has a quite lengthy grammatical sketch of Boulba, easily the most aberrant Western Oti-Volta language and evidently the first to branch off. It’s already raised a lot of fascinating questions about the subgrouping within Western Oti-Volta, and incidentally given me a lightbulb moment regarding the origin of some Kusaal forms …)

  88. I just want to tip my hat again to Urs Niggli, bearer of one of the greatest names in linguistics.

  89. Just keep in mind he’s not the agronomist Urs Niggli.

    very few others are much interested, alas
    Only because we don’t know about it. Once we know, there are plenty of reasons to be interested.

    I’m not down on the SOAS, I admire its work, but I am surprised that the range of languages that are taught and or researched is so limited. I assume the motivation is just in wanting to reach the greatest number of people.

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