Thursday, April 6, 2017

How the Horse Got Its Shoe?


Some words have their own life until another word comes to replace them for a variety of reasons. The Armenian Highland was well-known for its horses and horse breeding since antiquity, and cavalry was an important component of the Armenian army. 
It is natural, then, that Classical Armenian would have a name for horseshoes. Believe it or not, that was the word loosin (լուսին), which we know to mean “moon.” Those who wanted to shoe a horse used the verb loosnel (լուսնել). Of course, the word loosin for “horseshoe” was inspired by its moon-shaped aspect. 
However, something changed sometime after the seventh century A.D., when the Arabs conquered the Armenian Highland and their language also had an impact on the Armenian language. Apparently, the latter lacked a word for blacksmith,” which Arabic had: baytar. The word was borrowed sometime during the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia (11th-14th centuries) in Armenian as պայտար (baydar), instead of բայտար, which today Western Armenian would have pronounced paydar. How do we know this? Middle Armenian—a sort of vernacular that came into use during that time—had also borrowed the European word baron and turned it into Armenian պարոն (baron “sir”), instead of the expected paron. 
This did not stop there. The Armenian termination –ar (ար) is linked to the root arar (արար “creator, doer,” as in khoharar/խոհարար “cook”). Generations later, it appears that someone thought in reverse: if the word baydar is used to mean someone who manufactures a horseshoe, and ar means “doer,” then bayd (պայտ) should mean “horseshoe”! The idea of this unknown someone had enough success, and, over time, the old loosin was confined to the sky and replaced by the otherwise inexistent word bayd to designate a horseshoe. It continues to be part of our lexicon until today. 
There is an illustrative and evidence-based anecdote about the use of baydar in Modern Armenian. Ottoman censorship during the reign of Abdul Hamid II (1876-1908) was so asphyxiating that the mention of certain names, including “Hayastan,” was forbidden. Such was also the case of writer Mikayel Nalbandian (1829-1866), the author of several patriotic tracts and poems (including the lyrics of the anthem “Mer Hairenik”). In 1893 researcher Abraham Ayvazian published his three-volume Collection of Armenian Biographies in Constantinople, which included biographies of many cultural figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had to include Nalbandian, and he managed to do it in the second volume (pages 98-143). How did he avoid censorship? Since the word nalband means “blacksmith” in Persian, he simply introduced Nalbandian as… Mikayel Baydarian!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Appetite versus Mood


Բարի ախորժակ (paree akhorjag).  
This is the phrase that may appear on your table, be it on napkins or, perhaps, table covers.
By now, you probably know that it means “Bon appétit.”
The word akhorjag is always linked to eating. For instance, if a nice power walk made you hungry, then you can say «Ախորժակս բացուեցաւ» (Akhorjagus patsvetsav). The literal translation would be “My appetite was opened,” but we do not say that. (The perils of literal translation are always present.) We usually say “it gave me an appetite.”
You can use the word in a figurative way. For instance, if you have a friend with a powerful need to eat at all times, you can say that he or she has a “wolf’s appetite” (գայլի ախորժակ/kayli akhorjag). Or, for instance, if there is a president or an autocrat in any country with a huge appetite for power, then you can always say: «Ան իշխանութեան ախորժակ ունի» (An ishkhanootian akhorjag ooni).
Outside eating, you simply cannot use akhorjag, unlike English. You cannot render the figurative expression “to whet your appetite” as ձեր ախորժակը բանալ (tser akhorjage panal). The word does not fit in there. There is another word we use: տրամադրութիւն (dramatrootioon). For instance, if a romantic comedy whetted your appetite for this genre of movies, you can say: «Սիրային շարժանկար դիտելու տրամադրութիւնս բացուեցաւ» (Sirayeen sharjanugar tideloo dramatrootioonus patsvetsav “My appetite for watching love movies has opened”).
The word dramatrootioon literally means “mood.” Thus, you would say “I’m in the mood to go fishing,” namely, «Ձկնորսութեան երթալու տրամադրութիւն ունիմ» / Tsugnorsootian yertaloo dramatrootioon oonim. If you are not in the mood to study for your lesson, then the best choice is: «Այսօր տրամադրութիւն չունիմ դաս սորվելու» (Aysor dramatrootioon choonim tas sorveloo). “I am not in the mood to study.”
We hope that the latter does not happen very often…

Thursday, March 9, 2017

How Art and Craft Came Together


We have seen many times how certain words have unexpected origins. For instance, the Proto-Indo-European word *ar  (“to fit together, to join”) generated a derivative word *ar-ti, which gave origin to a series of cognate terms in various Indo-European languages, including Latin ars (“work of art; practical skill; a business, craft”).  The latter’s declined form artem entered Old French as art and then reached English as the same word, which meant “skill as a result of learning or practice” in the thirteenth century and started being used with the meaning “skill in creative arts” three centuries later.
However, despite what you might think, the Armenian word արուեստ (arvesd) does not come from the same root *ar. This word was abundantly used in Classical Armenian (pronounced arwest), starting in the fifth century, with different meanings, such as “skill, mental or manual art,” “handicraft, object skillfully made,” “miracle,” and “deceptive trick.” Much later, the parallel form արհեստ (arhesd) appeared. In Modern Armenian, arvesd and arhesd went separate ways: arvesd means “art” and arhesd means “craft.” Today, we know that a sculptor is an արուեստագէտ (arvesdaked  “artist”), and a carpenter is an արհեստաւոր (arhesdavor “craftsman”).
Where does arvesd come from, then? There is not a definite answer, but it is probable that the source was Iran, as it happened for many words borrowed into the Armenian language after millennia of political domination and/or cultural interaction. Old Persian language, at the time of the Achaemenid dynasty, had the word aruastam, whose meaning is debatable, but probably meant “activity, physical prowess,” and Pahlavi (during the Arsacid dynasty, which later had a branch in Armenia) had the word rwst (vowels were not represented), which meant “virtue.” It is possible that rwst actually sounded arwest, and the distance from “virtue” to “skill” was not very big.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Choice Is Not Just One

The conjunction or may become a tricky one in Armenian. Unlike English, where you use or to give alternatives, the Armenian language has two different choices.
When someone gives you indications about where to look for something, the sentence is: 

            You can look either here or there.
            Դուք կրնաք նայիլ հոս կամ հոն:
            Took gurnak nayil hos gam hon.

In this case, the word gam (կամ) marks the alternative.
However, let’s say that you are in doubt about where to look. In such a case, you would say:

            I did not know where to look: here or there?

Many people are inclined to use gam here, which is wrong, because it is only suitable for affirmative sentences like the previous one. If you are in an interrogative mood, the only correct answer is te (թէ):

            Չէի գիտեր ուր նայիլ՝ հո՞ս, թէ հոն։
            Chei kider oor nayil՝ hos, te hon?

All languages, including English and Armenian, have their subtleties. It takes time and effort to get used to them.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Treasury that Became a Museum


We all know what a museum is. The –um ending of the English word museum sounds like Latin, and, indeed, the word comes straightforward from Latin museum. However, museum did not originate in Rome, but, like many other things, in Greece. The nine Muses, the patron divinities of the arts in Greek mythology, had their own place in Alexandria (Egypt), which was built at the beginning of the third century B.C. It was called Mouseion (Μουσεῖον) and was, in modern terms, an institute of scientific research where hundreds of scholars were hired to conduct research, publish, lecture, and gather sources. Unlike the current museums, the Mouseion did not harbor artifacts or artistic objects.
As it happens in more than one case, the Armenian language invented its own term for museum: թանգարան (tankaran). Many readers may think that the root tank (t’ang in Classical Armenian) may be a modified version of the root tang (թանկ/ t’ank in Classical Armenian), which means “valuable; expensive,” especially since a museum gathers valuable items. The suffix –aran (արան) indicates place (դասարան/tasaran “classroom”)
This was the view of linguist Hrachia Adjarian in his multivolume etymological dictionary of the Armenian language. However, a contemporary linguist, Nerses Mkrtchyan, has shown that the word tankaran is not related to tang (“valuable”). The word թանգար (tankar, Classical Armenian tangar) appeared a few times in Armenian literature of the fifth century A.D. with the meaning “merchant,” but this was not an Armenian word. Its ultimate origin was Akkadian tamkaru “merchant”; Akkadian was a Semitic language spoken in Mesopotamia in the third and second millennium B.C. The word seems to have entered Armenian via another Semitic language, Aramaic, where it was spelled taggaru. (We will leave to linguists to explain how tamkaru became taggaru and then tangar(u).)
Merchants trafficked in valuable commodities, sometimes from exotic places. Wherever tangar came, the interesting fact is that the word tankaran was also used in the fifth century A.D. with the meaning “treasury.” It is also useful to remember that there is a suffix –an (ան) in Armenian (հօրան/horan “sheepfold”). The millennia-old word tankar, via its Armenian derivation, tankaran, returned in modern times to become the modern Armenian word for “museum.”  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How Did You Cut the Plate?


“I cut the plate?”

“What did you do?”

“I cut the plate.”

This is how you would understand the action if you literally translated «Ես պնակը կտրեցի» (Yes bunaguh gudretsee) from Armenian. So, what did your interlocutor do? Did he take a saw and cut the plate into halves? Answer:

“No, the plate fell on the floor.”

Now it becomes clear. This person did not cut the plate. He/she broke it!

The fault lies with the speaker, not with the language. The same as in English, there are two different words for “to cut” and “to break” in Armenian. If you get your facts straight, nobody will get confused:

a) “To cut” = կտրել (gudrel): «Ես պանիրը կտրեցի» (Yes baniruh gudretsee / “I cut the cheese”).

b) “To break” = կոտրել  (godrel): «Ես պնակը կոտրեցի (Yes bunaguh godretsee / “I broke the plate”).

Both verbs are, of course, related. Their root is the word կոտոր (godor), later turned into կտոր (gudor), which means “piece.”  

Interestingly, godor is not used as a single word anymore, but it has been kept in the noun կոտորած (godoradz “massacre”) and the verb կոտորել (godorel “to massacre”). The latter originally meant “to cut into pieces,” and its synonym ջարդել (chartel “to massacre”) has kept that meaning too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How the Chestnuts Showed Up from Nowhere?

There are no-words in different languages that become words by a stroke of the pen. We have discussed such a case in the past: շերամ (sheram), the Armenian word for “silk.” Something similar happened with “chestnut.”
The story starts with the word շահդանակ (shahdanak, in Classical Armenian), which appeared in the Atlas of geographer and astronomer Anania Shirakatsi (seventh century A.D.). As all compound words starting with shah (“king”), this one had Iranian origin: it came from Pahlavi—the language spoken during the kingdom of Parthia (250 B.C.-224 A.D.)—shahdanak (Persian shahdana), literally “royal grain,” which actually meant “grain of hemp.” The manuscripts of this work showed nine variants of the Armenian word, due to the work of the scribes, ranging from շաղդանակ (shaghdanak) to շատանայ (shatana) to շագանակ (shaganak).
The Haigazian Dictionary (Հայկազեան Լեզուի Բառարան), spearheaded by Mekhitar of Sebastia (1676-1749), was the first project to compile the entire Armenian vocabulary. Mekhitar wrote and saw to the publication of the first volume (1749) in his death bed. The second volume was compiled by five of his disciples and published in 1769. Its authors selected the word շագանակ (pronounced shakanag in Western Armenian) from the manuscripts of Shirakatsi’s work as the most reasonable variant and attributed it the meaning “chestnut.”
They were wrong. The accurate word was շահդանակ (pronounced shahtanag in Western Armenian) and its meaning was “grain of hemp.” However, the following dictionaries of Classical Armenian in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, including the authoritative New Haigazian Dictionary ( Նոր Հայկազեան Լեզուի Բառարան) , published in 1836-1837, adopted the same word shakanag with the meaning “chestnut.” As a result, the inexistent word and its inexistent meaning entered the literary language. Today, if you need to pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire (i.e. do something difficult for someone else), you will say շագանակները կրակէն դուրս հանել ( shakanagneruh gragen toors hanel “to take the chestnuts out of the fire”). The word shahtanag has lost the train of language history.