Saturday, July 21, 2007

golden yellow

Goofy’s entry on the etymology of mildew (originally it meant honeydew, as in the secretions of aphids) got me to thinking about the three different PIE roots that give us the reflexes of honey in modern IE languages: *melit- ‘honey’, *médhu- ‘honey; mead’, and *kenǝkó ‘honey yellow, golden yellow’ (IEW 723f., 707, & 564f.). For some reason, the word for honey got replaced in the Germanic languages (save for Gothic miliþ) with a color word. The same sort of thing happened for the word for bear: Germanic has replaced the word for bear with one for brown, while Latin keeps ursus, Greek αρκτος (arktos), and Welsh arth from PIE *r̥k̑þos (875) while Slavic is satisfied with medved, literally ‘honey-eater’.

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2 Comments:

Blogger alienvoord said...

The substitution of *r̥k̑þos with another word could be due to taboo avoidance; the bear was a dangerous animal. That doesn't explain the different words for "honey", unless the speakers were afraid of bees.

July 21, 2007 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger zmježd said...

That doesn't explain the different words for "honey", unless the speakers were afraid of bees.

I was thinking along the lines that if bears are tabu, then, perhaps, their archetypal food honey is, too.

July 21, 2007 at 7:06 PM  

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