19 November 2010

Philological Odd & Ends V

philologyMANY WORDS HAVE INTERESTING STORIES associated with them. This is a fifth set of terms which have caught my eye as having some interest, but which did not rate a whole post on their own. There is a list of other terms I've written about at the bottom of this page.

On this page: megha, mañju, saṅgha

Megha is straightforward enough in use: it means "cloud". It's a common element in Buddhist names, and titles of texts. However the etymology is interesting. The Proto-Indo-European root is *√meigh 'to urinate'. The root appears in a number of IE languages: in Greek (with a prefix) omichlē 'vapour'; Latin micturīre, mingere 'to urinate'; Middle Dutch mist 'mist'; Old Saxon mistil 'mistletoe'; English mist, mizzle (like drizzle), mistletoe, (and from Latin) micturate. Note that down the Greek and Germanic lines it is also associated with weather phenomena, whereas in Latin it sticks to urination.

In Sanskrit the root becomes √mih (3rd person singular: mehati) - PIE 'gha' sounds regularly become 'ha' in Sanskrit (see saṅgha below). In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.1 the sacrificial horse (aśva-medhya) is related to the entire world and one aspect of this is: yad mehati tad varṣati '[the horse] urinates, it rains'. There is a present-participle meghamāna 'urinating; sprinkling' which has a vestigial gha, and I suspect that the word for cloud may be a contraction from this that became lexicalised (i.e. became a word in it's own right). Perhaps we should not be surprised at this connection as it is common, and not even very vulgar, to refer to rain as "pissing down".

PED seems confused when it says that megha is not from Sanskrit √mih but from PIE *√meigh, since √mih derives from *√meigh according to every other authority. In an amusing example of Victorian squeamishness Whitney can't bring himself to use the word 'urinate' and glosses √mih with the Latin mingere 'urinate' in his book of Sanskrit roots and forms.

Here is an example of how difficult it can be to sort out the etymology of a word. It's not until we consult a very wide range of sources that we can triangulate something sensible. (I consulted 9 dictionaries in 6 languages).

In Sanskrit and Pāli the word means 'beautiful, lovely, charming, pleasant, sweet.' Apparently related to S. & P. maṅgala 'lucky, auspicious, prosperous.' Explained by traditional lexicons as deriving from √mang (not included in Whitney though). The Indo-European root appears to be *√meng. The various sources explain this different ways. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams) [EIEC] suggests a root *meng meaning 'charm, deceive' but only tentatively groups the listed cognates together. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (Calvert Watkins) [AHD] define *meng 'to furbish'. The Online Indo-European Lexicon (Jonathan Slocum) [OIEL] has 'to make pretty, beautify' but offers no further information.

PED and EIEC link the root to Greek mágganon 'to charms; play tricks' (though OED defines this word as 'engine of war, axis of pulley'. None of the Greek dictionaries I consulted confirm this! In fact the words related to mágganon look suspiciously related to mageuō 'magic' (they mostly have a single 'g')

AHD further links *√meng 'furbish' with Latin mangō 'furbisher, gem polisher, swindler' > English monger (as in fish-monger). In Greek AHD links to manganon 'magic charm, contrivance, engine of war' > mangonel. The Online Etymology Dictionary links monger to Gk. manganon 'contrivance, means of enchantment,' from PIE base *mang- 'to embellish, dress, trim.' I can't find either manganon or *√mang in my Greek Dictionaries (is it a derived form?), though Eric Partridge Origins agrees and adds 'to deceive by means of beauty' to the list of meanings of the root.

Meanwhile mañju is also said to mean 'gentle, soft' in Buddhist names. This is due to the influence of Tibetan. The Tibetans render manñju as 'jam (འཇམ). So S. Mañjughoṣa becomes Tibetan Jamyang ('jam dbyangs/འཇམ་དབྱངས) 'gentle voiced'. [thanks to Maitiu

Here is a word very commonly used in Buddhism, but with a rather confused etymology. Even the spelling is confused. MW and Apte spell it saṃgha, whereas PED spells it saṅgha. All authorities agree that the word is prefixed with sam– and under most circumstances a nasal followed by gha would change to , i.e saṅgha. I think I know why it might not in this case, but we need to look more closely at the etymology before attempting to explain it.

MW seems hardly plausible in deriving saṃgha from sam– + √han. That root means ‘to kill, to strike’ and is clearly inappropriate here. PED derives saṅgha from sam– + √hṛ; where √hṛ means ‘to take, bear, carry’ and the combination means ‘to bring together, unite, collect’. MW also has an entry for saṃ√hṛ with more or less the same meaning. At first glance sam√hṛ works semantically but leaves us with the morphological problem of deriving gha from hṛ.

MW compares √hṛ to Greek kheir (χείρ) ‘the hand’ but, again, he may have this wrong. Gk. kheir gives us the English chiromancy ‘divination by examining the hand’, and surgeon. It stems from a PIE root *√ghesr ‘hand’. It is more likely √hṛ (harati ‘to carry, to take) is from PIE *√gher ‘grab, grip, seize’. This then gives us a Greek cognate khortos 'enclosed space'; from which comes the Latin hortos and E. horticulture (c.f. Welsh garth ‘fold, enclosure’; Irish gort ‘crop, field’); and Gk. khoros > E. choir, chorus. In addition the Germanic cognate *gurdjan > E. girdle, yard, orchard. Interestingly there is a L. parallel from PIE *ko(m)-ghṛ (= S. samhṛ) > L. cohors > E. cohort, court. This suggests √hṛ is the correct root, and that the gha is archaic. This happens in other words, for instance √han, mentioned above. The 3rd person singular 'he kills' is hanati, but the plural 'thy kill' is ghnanti, the perfect form is jaghāna; and aorist aghāni. This may explain why Sanskrit dictionaries insist on the spelling saṃgha, because the root is hṛ and sam–hṛ > saṃharati; though my understanding is that the sandhi should apply and saṅgha is the more correct spelling.

So we might speculate an archaic (and unattested) Sanskrit form *ghṛ, or perhaps *ghar. There is a Sanskrit root √ghṛ with a causative in √ghar, but with a different meaning. Then just as √gaṃ can form a suffix -ga with the meaning 'going' (a kvi suffix, often adjectival in sense); ghṛ/ghar must at one time have formed a suffix -gha.

We know that √han forms a kvi suffix -gha (with the sense of an action noun 'killing'), and it may have been this that MW was thinking of. Perhaps he saw possible relationship to PIE *√gwhen: 1. to hit, to strike; 2. to swell. As an aside the first sense has an Old Norse derivative gandálfr lit. 'staff-elf', i.e 'a wizard', source for Tolkien's Gandalf. It may be that MW had the second in mind. However the form is poorly attested in practice - only a few words survive from this root. It is thought to be related to the Greek euthenos (εὐθηνέω) 'to flourish'. OIEL also relates it to āhanaḥ, but MW defines this in line with √han 'to strike'. I think two Pāli words may be related to gwhen(2): ghaṭa can have the sense of 'multitude' as well as 'vessel'; similarly ghaṭṭan covers both 'strike' and 'combination'. In Sanskrit MW has ghaṭana 'connection, union with'; Macdonell has ghaṭā 'multitude, host, troop'. These point to the root √ghaṭ which Whitney glosses as 'strive', which MW expands with 'to be in connection with, or united with'. I've already mentioned that √han has a kvi suffix form -gha. This would give saṃgha 'united, striving together'. This is all quite speculative, and since we don't have MW we can't know what his (and his subsequent editors) thinking was.

Just to reiterate I think we can best understand saṅgha as deriving from sam- + √hṛ, with gha being kvi suffix, the 'g' being a legacy from the PIE root *√gher. The correct spelling, taking into account Sanskrit sandhi rules, is saṅgha; though I think we are stuck with saṃgha as well.

See also
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