Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Origins of Things

Well, I've been busy, and in my absence it seems that zero_zero_one has turned into a gibbering idiot. I'm sorry I allowed that to happen, and more sorry that you had to go through reading it.

Anyway, I've been thinking about unusual word origins. Yucatan is a famous example. When the Conquistadores first came ashore in the peninsular, or so the story goes, they asked the local people where they were, and naturally enough recieved the answer "I don't understand" - which the Spanish then assumed was the name of the place. Alas, the story is apocryphal - the name actually derives from the Nahuatl word Yokatlaan, or 'rich place' - but still, it's a good one nonetheless.

My interest in hyraxes is well documented. What I didn't realise was that not only are they cute and furry and related to elephants, they also gave us our name for Spain. When the Phoenicians first arrived in Iberia they saw rabbits for the first time, and so they naturally named the country after the closest thing in their experience to rabbits - the hyraxes of the Levant. That word - i-shapan-im, 'land of the hyraxes' - became the loan word in Latin Hispania, hence Espana, hence Spain. Hyraxes: is there anything they can't do?

Our word for the North Indian versian of Hindi, Urdu, comes from the Persian Zabaan-i-urduu, or 'language of the camp'; the word urduu is a corruption of the Turkish ordu, the name for the camp which constituted the capital of the Golden Horde, the successor state to the Mongolian Empire. That word then, also became the English word horde, meaning that it has the exact same origin as our name for the language of Pakistan.

I'm full of these little titbits, which I can never seem to make into a proper blog entry. Instead, I'll leave you to take from them what you will, and post another picture of a hyrax, just because I can:


Random Magus said...

Hey! I'm glad you stopped by my blog because it gave me a chance to discover yours, which I find very interesting. The origin of words fascinates me no end why did 'mom' mean mother and the similarities of the way they sound phonetically across different languages.
Arabi - Ummi, Umma
French - Mere
German - Mutter
Hindi - Maji
Urdu - Ammee
English - Mom, Mummy, Mother
Italian - Madre
Portuguese - Mãe
...its truly inntriguing

noisms said...

I suppose, since human beings all came from the same place originally, it's possible that all our languages are very distantly related. We'd have to get a list of the word for 'mother' in every language in the entire world to be sure, though!

mattiecore said...

Etymology rules!

zero_zero_one said...

You write a blog entry that you admit is essentially half-baked thoughts, but my interesting and insightful observations about life and my time in Edinburgh rank me as a gibbering idiot, eh?

Jealousy perhaps?