Thursday, May 4, 2017

Of Pants and Panties

Many readers most probably are regular users of trousers or pants. As it happens with other words in the English language, the word “pants” is one of those shortened terms whose origin has been forgotten over time. First used in 1840, it was associated with a silly old man in Italian comedy, Pantaloun, whose name was derived from Italian Pantalone. (The Spanish word for “trousers” is, coincidentally, pantalón or pantalones.).
You may assume that panties is also related to “pants.” Indeed, it is its diminutive. It was a derogatory term used for men’s underpants in the nineteenth century, and took its current meaning of underwear for women or children in the early twentieth century.
Despite their distance, languages sometimes have curious analogies. The case for pants and panties in Armenian is not very far from English. The word վարտիք (vardik), meaning “pants,” was borrowed in Classical Armenian from Pahlavi (the language used by the Parthian dynasty of the Arsacids in Persia, from the third century B.C. to the third century A.D.), where varti meant “pants” and composed the form andarvarti (“outside pants”), which became անդրավարտիք (andravartik, pronounced antravardik in Western Armenian). The ք (k) was, of course, the Classical Armenian plural form (like pant-s). The word was used in both forms antravardik and vardik, and there was also the form անվարտի (anvardi), meaning “pant-less.”
What happened in Modern Armenian? The word antravardik has kept its meaning “pants” in Eastern Armenian until today. However, Western Armenian left it aside and adopted a term of unknown origin, տաբատ (dapad), scantily used in Classical Armenian, meaning “pants.” On the other hand, vardik (without the prefix antr) became “underwear” in both Western and Eastern Armenian, which means that, like in English, pants became the origin for panties. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

You Can Return, but not Again

You probably have heard (or even used) tautologies a million times, but perhaps did not know their actual name. Here is a very common one:

“Let’s all work together, everyone, as a team.”
You will notice here a whole chain of repetitions; the Greek word tautós (ταὐτός) means “identical.” Do you need to put “all” and “everyone” in the same sentence? If you are a group of people, aren’t you a team?

This is why the same idea is accurately conveyed by simply saying “let’s work together.”

Tautologies are also galore in Armenian. One such case is furnished by the use of the prefix վերա (vera “re-”), as in վերադառնալ (veratarnal “to return”). The case is similar to English return “to come or go to a place again.” The prefix re suffices to ensure the repetition embodied by the word “again.” If you have traveled and come back home, you just return, but do not “return again,” which would be a tautology (even though a cursory Internet search revealed five books published between 1940 and 2012 and using “return again” in their titles). 

In Armenian, then, if you have traveled and come back home, the sentence «Ես նորէն Միացեալ Նահանգներ վերադարձայ» (Yes noren Miatsial Nahankner veratartza “I returned again to the United States”) is a tautology, since the word noren is superfluous. You just say Yes Miatsial Nahankner veratartza.

Of course, there are other verbs starting with vera- (“re-”), where the use of “again” (whether noren/նորէն, gurgeen/կրկին, or tartsyal/դարձեալ) is stylistically wrong. If you are a lawyer and you are going through a document you had already read, you cannot say «Ես փաստաթուղթը դարձեալ վերանայեցայ» (Yes pasdatooghtuh tartsyal veranayetsa “I revised again the document”). Նայիլ (nayeel) means “to look” and վերանայիլ (veranayeel) “to revise,” which etymologically is… “to look again.”

The examples can be multiplied. We will leave others for the future.

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.”