Thursday, December 24, 2015

How to Get Dressed?

What do you do after you wake up? You get up and get dressed. It goes without saying: to get dressed, you put, say, a shirt and pants on.

Of course, there is a difference between “to get dressed” and “to put on.” The former refers to a general rule, without taking into consideration what kind of clothes you refer to, while the latter requires to specify what clothes you are putting on. In other words, “to get dressed” is an intransitive verb, and “to put on” is a transitive verb that needs a direct object). This is why you put a shirt (or a skirt) on.

The same happens in Armenian. The problem, in this case, is that in both cases it is the same verb with a slight variant. We have haknil (հագնիլ) and hakvil (հագուիլ). Which one is what?

To make thing easier, one should remember as a general rule that all verbs ending in –vil (ուիլ), such as lusvil (լսուիլ “to be heard”), khosvil (խօսուիլ “to be talked”), or patsvil (“to be opened”), are intransitive, and do not require a direct object. Therefore, hakvil means “to get dressed,” and Yes hakvetsa (Ես հագուեցայ) means “I got dressed.” If there is a toddler named Haig around, for instance, who needs to be dressed, you use the verb hakvetsnel (հագուեցնել) to indicate that you perform the action on him: Yes Haigu bidi hakvetsnem (Ես Հայկը պիտի հագուեցնեմ “I will get Haig dressed”). When you are finished, you simply say Haigu hakvetsav (Հայկը հագուեցաւ “Haig got dressed”).

We are left with haknil, which means “to put on.” You say Yes verargoos haknetsa (Ես վերարկուս հագնեցայ), meaning “I put my overcoat on.” This is the formal way to conjugate the verb. Besides, there is an informal way to conjugate it, Yes verargoos hakah (Ես վերարկուս հագայ), which means the same. Is the latter correct? It is actually as correct as the use of khagtsah (խաղցայ) instead of the formal form khaghatsi (խաղացի “I played”) or nusdah (նստայ) instead of the formal form nusdetsah (նստեցայ “I sat down”). You will not find it in grammar books, in the same way that you do not find... “don’t” or “won’t.”

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Is the Armenian Word for “Hotel”?

Any speaker of Western Armenian knows that the word for “hotel” is bantog (պանդոկ). However, if you visit Yerevan and you ask directions for the hotel where you are staying, they will look at you inquisitively, until you rectify yourself and say hiooranots (հիւրանոց), even if you know that hiooranots is that place in your home that you know in English as “living room.” (Western Armenian has the word hiooradoon / հիւրատուն “guesthouse”).

If you are curious enough to ask what bantog means there, they will tell you: “Tavern.” You will even find a restaurant called Bantog Yerevan (Պանդոկ Երեւան), translated into English as “Tavern Yerevan,” a few blocks away from the Marriot-Armenia hiooranots!

The standard word for a place of lodging in Armenian has been bantog since the fifth century (pronounced pandok in Classical Armenian, as it is today in Eastern Armenian). However, when you open the best dictionary of Classical Armenian, the monumental Nor Haigazian Lezvi Pararan (Նոր Հայկազեան Լեզուի Բառարան) published by three monks of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice (1836-1837), you find out that bantog means taberna (Latin), a word that translates into English as both “tavern” and “inn.”

Incidentally, there is a word close to bantog in Arabic, funduk (“hotel”), briefly borrowed by Armenian as pntuk (փնտուկ) before the 12th century. Since neither the origin of bantog nor of funduk can be explained through the Armenian or the Arabic languages, the natural conclusion is that there must be a common source for both. That common source is the Greek word pandokeion, which means “all-receiving” (the prefix pan “all” is the one we recognize in the word panamerican), and was borrowed by both languages without the ending –eion. A hotel or an inn is a place that may accommodate all sorts of people.

Back to the twenty-first century, the word bantog is used exclusively in Western Armenian with the meaning “hotel” and in Eastern Armenian with the meaning “tavern.” Where does hiooranots come from? Hioor (հիւր) means “guest” in Armenian (whether Western or Eastern), and hiooranots is a translation of the Russian word gostinitsa (“hotel”), where gost is the same word “guest.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How Should Husbands Introduce Their Wives?

Husband and wives have a problem these days in the Armenian language. Two couples meet each other. The man in one couple and the woman in the other know each other, and introduce their significant others.

Wife 1: -- This is my husband, Bedros.
Husband 1: -- This is my wife, Anna

If you’re listening to this dialogue in Armenian, you will probably get the following version

- Amoosinus՝ Bedros (Ամուսինս՝ Պետրոս “My husband, Bedros”)

- Geenus՝ Anna (Կինս՝ Աննա “My wife, Anna”)

Many husbands use inaccurately deegeen (տիկին) instead of geen and say Deegeens`Anna. You do not say “This is my madam” in English when you introduce your wife. Thus, you do not say Asiga deegens eh (Ասիկա տիկինս է).

Both deegeen and madam are honorific titles and compound words. Madam comes from the French madame (ma + dame = “my lady”), while deegeen is composed by the words dee (տի) and geen (կին); dee means “great” and geen, “woman, lady.”

Remember: You use deegeen as a title in the same way that you use “Madam” or “Mrs.,” namely, to address a lady with or without mention of her name.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

How Do You Say “Parsley” in Armenian?

Some words have odd origins. Such is the case of parsley, which does not look like that, but it has a Greek origin. The word was petersilie in Middle English and came from Greek petroselinon (“rock” + “parsley”) via Latin, and took its actual form due to the influence of French peresil, which had the same origin.

Now, the Armenian for parsley has a different origin. But, first, what’s this Armenian word? Most people who base their knowledge of Armenian only on what they hear and not on what they read will promptly say maghdanos (մաղտանոս).

Unfortunately for them, they are utterly wrong. However, it is instructive to see where this Greek-looking word comes from.

It appears that parsley was introduced to the Near East after the expedition of Alexander of Macedon (Alexander the Great), when the Hellenistic civilization expanded during the next centuries. The Greek word makedonesi (μακεδονήσι “Macedonian, Macedonian herb”) entered Arabic as magdunis, with the meaning “parsley.” Old Arabic medicine treatises mention magdunis rumi (“Greek parsley”). From Arabic, the word probably entered the Armenian language as maghdanos (Eastern Armenian maghadanos մաղադանոս) and Turkish as maydanoz.

However, maghdanos has only remained in Western Armenian at the oral level. In the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries, when Modern Armenian was subjected to a cleanup of foreign words, thus went out maghdanos, probably because of its resemblance to the Turkish word. It was replaced by the actual Armenian word, azadkegh (ազատքեղ), which designates the wild parsley and is the only one used in writing. It is composed by the roots azad (ազատ “free”) and kegh (քեղ “a plant”), with the meaning of plant that grows freely or wildly. Indeed, azad is the Persian old root azat that has existed in the Armenian language since the fifth century A.D. and before.

Words not only have odd origins, but have odd ways to resemble each other. The meaning of azadkegh reminds us of petroselinon, the Greek ancestor of parsley that we mentioned before. Isn’t parsley that grows among the stones a plant that grows freely?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

One Piece of Nonsense . . . Sometimes

When we want to speak about a single item or creature, we say “one” in English (“I only found one”). If we want to stress its singularity, we may say “just one.”

If you go to the market and find only one melon, you may report back in Armenian that Miayn meg had sekh kuda (Միայն մէկ հատ սեխ գտայ), literally “I only found one [piece of] melon.” This is indeed accurate, as it identifies the piece (had) of the item in question.

However, people sometimes tend to turn human beings into . . . melons. How come? For instance, when they say An yergoo had zavag ooni (Ան երկու հատ զաւակ ունի), namely, “He (or she) has one [piece of] child.” If you translate the phrase from Armenian into English, you will never use “piece” of course, but you can hear literally the phrase in conversations, instead of the correct form An yergoo zavag ooni (Ան երկու զաւակ ունի).

As one American president said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” There is the worst case scenario, when meg had is used without thinking twice, and then, it becomes ridiculous. 

Here are some nice examples:
  1. A student asks the teacher Oriort, meg had asiga patsadretsek (Օրիորդ, մէկ հատ ասիկա բացատրեցէք), which should be “Miss, please explain this” in plain English. Instead of meg had, the simple hajik (հաճիք - “please”) would do miracles here: Oriort, hajik asiga patsadretsek.
  2. Someone suggests about a reader Meg had yevs togh garta krootioone (Մէկ հատ եւս թող կարդայ գրութիւնը), namely, “Let him read the write-up once again.” Of course, it should be ankam me (անգամ մը): Ankam me yevs togh garta krootioone.
  3. A visitor is very unhappy with your hospitality and threatens: Meg had al tser doone bidi chkam (Մէկ հատ ալ ձեր տունը պիտի չգամ – “I won’t come to your home again”). If he does not like ankam men al (անգամ մըն ալ), he could say aylevs (այլեւս) instead of meg had al: Ankam men al/aylevs tser doone bidi chkam.
Make a reality check and ask yourself how many times you say any of these in a week. Then, see what you can do about it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Of Masks and Mascara

Women know well the meaning of the English word mascara, which ultimately shares the same origin with mask. Admittedly, the immediate origin of mascara is Italian mascara, while mask comes from French masque. However, the French word has an Italian origin at its turn (maschera, mascara), which was borrowed from Latin masca (“witch, specter”). Somewhere in the middle, we must also count the influence of the Arabic word masxara “buffoon.”

This Arabic word has also been the source for maskhara (մասխարա), a word that some people use in colloquial Armenian, which means exactly “buffoon.” It has even originated an Arabic-Armenian hybrid: maskharayootioon /մասխարայութիւն (“buffoonery”).

Of course, these two words are not “proper” Armenian. The actual Armenian word for “buffoon” is dzaghradzoo (ծաղրածու). This is a compound word formed by dzaghr (ծաղր), the root of the verb “to mock” (dzaghrel / ծաղրել), and adzoo (ած), “the one who brings something.” Therefore, a dzaghradzoo is “the one who brings mockery.”

Here we close the circle: the word dzaghr ultimately comes from a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, where dzaghra meant “to mock.” This is the same with Arabic saxira “to mock,” which combined with the prefix ma, becomes the noun masxara.
In the end, as we see, Armenian and English share a similar, faraway origin for these words.
However, for those who are getting ready to use masks on Halloween, it is interesting to mention that the Armenian word timag (դիմակ “mask”) falls out of that circle. It was pronounced dimak (դիմակ), in Classical Armenian (derived from Iranian demak “effigy, form”) and originally meant “effigy, image, false face.” However, we only use it in Modern Armenian with the meaning of “mask.” Of course, if you go to a “masquerade ball,” that would mean that you are going to a timagahantes (դիմակահանդէս).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

There Is Only One Way to Enjoy Something

The Armenian American colloquial language has a favorite expression: injoy unel (ինճոյ ընել). A sample of it may be found in the sentence Antsial Shapat orvan khnjooyku injoy uri («Շաբաթ օրուան խնճոյքը ինճոյ ըրի»).

Any reader with minimal knowledge of English will immediately recognize that injoy unel is nothing else but a homemade adaptation of the verb “to enjoy”. Thus, the sentence above may be translated as “I enjoyed the party of last Saturday.”

Isn’t there a way to say “enjoy” in Armenian? Indeed, there is: the verb vayelel (վայելել). Thus, you simply say Antsial Shapat orvan khnjooku vayeletsi.

If you need to use derivative words, you have them too: “enjoyable” – վայելուչ/vayeluch, “enjoyment” (վայելում/vayelum).

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that there is another verb very close to vayelel, but with a different meaning: vaylel (վայլել). Of course, many people use vaylel as a synonym to vayelel, but this is wrong. The verb vaylel means “to suit”; for instance, we have Ays hakoosdu kezi chi vayler (Այս հագուստը քեզի չի վայլեր), which means “This clothing doesn’t suit you.”

vayelel – “to enjoy”
vaylel – “to suit”

Thursday, September 3, 2015

“Badly” Does Not Mean Kesh

The word kesh (գէշ), which means “bad, evil,” is a little tricky when you try to use it to express some English ideas. This is something that a native speaker may realize quite easily, if his/her language is not already contaminated by the use of English.

Let’s start with someone who needs to go to the bathroom quite urgently. He or she tells you: Shad kesh lvatsaran bedk eh yertam («Շատ գէշ լուացարան պէտք է երթամ»). This is an almost literal translation of “I need to go to the restroom very badly.” It is literal, which does not mean that it is right.

First of all, “badly” is an adverb, while kesh is an adjective. If you hear shad kesh lvatsaran..., it actually sounds ridiculous: it would mean that you need to go to a “very bad restroom” (= not a good one).

Secondly, the word “badly” has two meanings. One of them is “very much, to a great degree.” You will immediately realize the problem: the word kesh does not have this meaning in any dictionary. Therefore, you need to express “badly” with a word that shows that meaning, according to the context.

In this case, the person should have told you: Shad bedk oonim lvatsaran yertaloo («Շատ պէտք ունիմ լուացարան երթալու»). This amounts to “I am in much need of going to the restroom.” As you will see, it is not word-by-word translation. But who said that you need to translate word-by-word?

The second use of “badly” that is worthy of an exploration is the case of the athlete that bends his or her ankle and says Shad kesh vnasvadz em («Շատ գէշ վնասուած եմ»), meaning “I am very badly hurt.” It almost sounds like there is also a “good” way to be hurt.

This would also be wrong on all counts, indeed: “badly” means “severely, seriously” in this context. In Armenian, you have three adjectives to choose: dzanr (ծանր, “heavy, grave”), khisd (խիստ, “severe”), and loorch (լուրջ, “serious”). Because you translate concepts, you can say dzanr vnasvadz em, khisd vnasvadz em, or loorch vnasvadz em, and be on the safe side. You may also use the adverbial forms dzanroren, khsdoren, or lrchoren, but it is not mandatory, especially in a colloquial environment.

In any case, even if you are in an emergency, think before talking. You may be better understood.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Only Right Guides Admitted

The word arachnort (առաջնորդ) has several meanings in Armenian: “guide,” “leader,” “chief,” “head,” and by extension, “head of an ecclesiastic division.” It is, obviously, a composition of the word arachin (առաջին “first”) and the suffix ord (որդ): arachin + ort = arachnort. Interestingly, one of its English equivalents, primate (“head of an ecclesiastic division”), is a French word that came from Latin primat (“of the first rank”), a derivation from Latin primus (“first”).

It is interesting to compare the roots of both words: primus is related to Latin pre (“before”), which has generated a lot of English words (predict, prescribe, prevention, and so on and so forth), while arachin literally means “towards the right.” It is another compound word: ar (առ) + ach (աջ) + in (ին). The prefix ar is a Classical Armenian term that means “towards” (today we use tebi-դէպի in Modern Armenian) and ach is, of course, the side contrary to the left.

An arachnort, then, was the person who guided, led, or headed correctly (“to the right”), be it a tourist guide, a political leader, an administrative head, or a primate or prelate.
As the reader probably knows, anything related to the left (ձախ-tsakh) had a bad press until recent times: left-handed people were forced to become right-handed, for instance. The verb “to fail” is tsakhoghil (ձախողիլ) in Armenian, whose root is, indeed, tsakh. Left was synonymous with inaccurate and incorrect, anything that was not... right.

This is why the word achaguits (աջակից “assistant, supporter”) is formed by the combination of ach (աջ) and gits (կից “to join, to attach”). The person who assisted or supported someone was supposed to help from the right side. Nobody would have dared to call her tsakhaguits; it would have probably attracted bad luck from the very beginning.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

People and Youth Are Not Plural

“People have the power.” “Youth are the future.” Any English speaker will not think twice before using the words people and youth in plural. This happens because both words are thought as plural, even though they are singular in construction.

However, don’t even think for a second about writing «Ժողովուրդը ուժը ունին» (Zhoghovoorte oozhe oonin) and «Երիտասարդութիւնը ապագան են» (Yeridasartootioone abakan en). As we have said in other opportunities, the rules of Armenian are not the same as the rules of English, and naturally, the result of thinking in English and writing in Armenian is not... Armenian.

What happens in this case? As in Indo-European languages other than English (for instance, Spanish and French), the words zhoghovoort (“people”) and yeridasartootioon (“youth”) are singular in construction and must match a singular verb. (It is true that in certain cases, you can use youth with a singular verb, but there is not a choice in Armenian.) Even more: the word yeridasartootioon, unlike its English counterpart, cannot be used in plural.

Then, the right way to translate the two sentences is:

«Ժողովուրդը ուժը ունի» (Zhoghovoorte oozhe ooni – “People have the power”)

«Երիտասարդութիւնը ապագան է» (Yeridasartootioone abakan eh – “Youth are the future”).

Of course, someone may think that both sentences are not true, and that neither do the people have the power (it is somewhere else) nor the youth are the future (they are the present). But this is a subject for a different discussion.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why “Organ” and “Crocodile” Are Slightly Different?

Languages constantly borrow words from each other. Sometimes, the words remain the same as in the original, or slightly changed, and sometimes there are other factors that make them change. We have a couple of words in English that have remained essentially the same:

- English organ, “musical instrument,” borrowed via French and Latin from Greek organon, "organ, instrument, tool"

- English crocodile, borrowed via Latin from Greek krokodilos.

However, the same Greek sources gave a different result when Armenian borrowed from them. 

The word organon, with the meaning of “organ,” should have been transliterated as որգանոն (organon) in Classical Armenian; as we all know, the letter օ did not exist in the Armenian alphabet in the fifth century A.D.

Instead, it became ergion (երգիոն) or ergehon (երգեհոն), which today we pronounce yerkion or yerkehon in Western Armenian. How the root changed? The reason has to be found in the influence of the well-known word erg (երգ) that meant “song” and “poem” in Classical Armenian, but also “musical instrument.” (Today yerk only means “song”).

Something similar seems to have happened with the Armenian for “crocodile.” The Greek krokodilos became kokordilos (կոկորդիլոս), which today we pronounce gogortilos in Western Armenian. Crocodiles have big mouths and the word kokord/gogort (կոկորդ) means “throat, gorge.” Perhaps whoever used the Greek word for the first time wanted to make sense for the Armenian speaker that the crocodile, actually, had a big throat.

Friday, July 10, 2015

You Always Call Someone

Imagine the following dialogue in Armenian: “The boy is outside.” “Call him now!”  How would you write it down?
- Dghan toorsn eh (Տղան դուրսն է)
- Hima .... gancheh (Հիմա ... կանչէ՛)

The ellipsis is your problem. What word should go there?

Most people would say Hima iren/anor gancheh (Հիմա իրեն/անոր կանչէ՛). Yes, the words iren and anor mean “him” and “her” (we will speak about their difference another time), but in this case, the use of either one is basically wrong. Why?

Because ganchel (the same as “to call”) is a transitive verb that requires a direct object, and both iren and anor are used to indicate indirect objects. In Armenian, as in English, you call someone, you do not call to someone.

Our problem, therefore, would be solved by writing Hima dghan gancheh (Հիմա տղան կանչէ՛), instead of the grammatically incorrect form Hima dghayin gancheh (Հիմա տղային կանչէ՛). We do not want to repeat dghan, since our interlocutor already used it. Then, the correct pronoun would be zink (զինք), and the sentence above should be Hima zink gancheh (Հիմա զինք կանչէ՛).

Someone may argue: “What about zayn (զայն)?” Indeed, zayn is another pronoun that accompanies transitive verbs. For instance, you have been assigned a book report. Pointing out to the book, you would say: Bedk e zayn gartam (Պէտք է զայն կարդամ “I have to read it”).

It is true that in the early twentieth century, when Western Armenian was still in its phase of development, zayn was also applied, like zink, to people. However, in contemporary Western Armenian zayn is used only for objects (“it”), while zink is reserved for people (“him/her”).

In conclusion:
a) You have to learn by heart a few Armenian verbs that require direct objects (which, unfortunately for the learner, are not exactly the same as in English), in the same way that you have learned that you call or love “someone,” and not “to someone.”

b) Most importantly, you have also to learn not to confuse a person with an object.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

From Paradise to Yettem, California

The word for “garden” in Classical Armenian was bardez (պարտէզ). It came from the language of the old Iranian sacred book, the Avesta, which had the word pairidaeza (“park”). This word has kept the same meaning in our current language. However, it is interesting to note that English paradise and Armenian bardez are actually first cousins, but with different meanings. The English word came from Old French, which at its turn had Latin paradisus as its source. The source for Latin was Greek paradeisos, and the latter came again from Avestan pairidaeza.

However, we do not say bardez in the case of the Paradise. The book of Genesis tells us that Eden was actually a region where God planted a garden and placed Adam (Gen. 2:8). The Armenian word corresponding to “garden,” in the translation of the Bible, was trakhd (դրախտ), which was borrowed from the Iranian languages, where it actually meant “tree.” In the same way that the “garden of Eden” became, over time, Eden (Paradise), its Armenian equivalent trakhd yetemagan (դրախտ եդեմական) became simply trakhd (“Paradise”), and gradually lost its meaning “garden.”

Nevertheless, we also have the Armenian word Yetem (Եդեմ), which is the same as the English Eden. You may recall that the Californian town of Lovell, at the beginning of the twentieth century, was renamed Yettem due to the overwhelming presence of Armenians there. Yettem, located 18 kilometers north of Visalia, has a population of 211, according to the U.S. Census of 2010, and few, if any, Armenians nowadays, but St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church, founded in 1911, is still active there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Please, Bear in Mind

We have spoken in the past about the risks of thinking in English and speaking in Armenian. Sometimes this creates impossible situations. For instance, when you try to use a very plain sentence like, “Please, sit down.”

We have to always remember that English has only ONE pronoun for the second person: you, both for singular and for plural. When we read the sentence “You’re right,” we cannot be sure whether the “you” in question is one person or a dozen, a family member or a complete stranger, and, therefore, how that “you” applies. However, in other languages, like French, Spanish, or Armenian, there is no such problem. They have TWO pronouns for the second person, and then it is very easy to understand to whom one is addressing. In the case of Armenian, we have tun (դուն) in singular and tuk (դուք) in plural, and each has a totally different way of conjugation.

To give only one example, if you want to say “please”:
a. When you address your friend, you say hajis (հաճիս);
b. When you address a stranger or a crowd, you say hajetsek (հաճեցէք).

This also means that you cannot mix the singular to address a friend with the plural to tell him what to do. For example, if you intend to say, “Please, sit down,” you HAVE to say Hajis, nsdeh! (Հաճիս, նստէ՛), you can NEVER say Hajis, nsdetsek, which is a very common mistake among American-born Armenian speakers. (Of course, you can also say Khntrem, nsdeh [Խնդրեմ, նստէ՛]).

Otherwise, if you want to address a stranger or a crowd, you HAVE to say Hajetsek nsdil (Հաճեցէք նստիլ), where instead of the imperative nsdeh we use the infinitive nsdil. Why? It is a matter of style. If you were to say Hajetsek nsdetsek (Հաճեցէք նստեցէ՛ք), it would sound utterly ridiculous. (Otherwise, you can say Khntrem, nsedetsek [Խնդրեմ, նստեցէ՛ք], which sounds perfectly normal).

Language is communication, but the better you speak a language, the better it reflects on you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What Happens When You Misread a Word?

Greeks went up to Oriental Asia to get a very valuable fabric from the Seres, and called it Serikos. The Roman borrowed the name from them and turned it into sericum. As many other Latin words, this one also traveled up to the British Islands and entered Old English, where the sound r turned into l. The resulting name, seoloc/sioloc, later became the well-known silk of today.

The same Oriental source for silk also gave an Armenian word that, interestingly, does not mean “silk,” but “silkworm”: sheram (շերամ). However, it is assumed that the function of middleman was not carried by the Greek language, because Greek does not have the sound sh. It was probably Syriac, which has the word šeraya (š=sh) “silky material.”

The Armenian language, it appears, borrowed the word in the fifth century A.D. and applied it to the insect that produced the “silky material.” However, the Armenian word appears in all manuscripts until the eighteenth century as շերաս or շէրաս (sheras). The same word was also used in some Western Armenian dialects, such as Akn and Kharpert, until 1915. How did it become sheram?

Sometimes, new words (or old words with a different look) are created by human mistake. The first attempt at a complete dictionary of the Armenian language was undertaken by Mekhitar of Sebastia (1676-1749), the founder of the Mekhitarist Congregation, and his disciples. The massive, two-volume Dictionary of Classical Armenian Language (Բառգիրք Հայկազեան լեզուի) was published in 1749 and 1769. The first volume was authored by Mekhitar himself (it went off the press a few days before his death). The erudite monk, who collected much of his materials from unpublished manuscripts, appears to have found the word in a sentence where sheras was followed by the punctuation sign put (բութ)—ՇԵՐԱՍ՝—and misread it as ՇԵՐԱՄ (SHERAM).

Almost a century later, the New Dictionary of Classical Armenian Language (1836-1837), prepared by a new generation of Mekhitarist monks, superseded the work of Mekhitar. The second volume printed the word as sheras. However, for some reason, subsequent authors chose to follow Mekhitar’s dictionary and this is how the Modern Armenian word for “silkworm” was artificially created.

Of course, after two centuries, it is a little late to make changes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Be a Candidate, but Don’t Run for Office

Almost two centuries ago, in 1826, the expression “to run for office” appeared for the first time in American English. As one can grasp, it indicated the sense of a competition between various candidates for an elective position.

In the case of elections, we frequently hear the word vazel (վազել “to run”) in colloquial Armenian. For instance, “s/he runs for the parish council” is something like an geh vazeh yegeghetsvo hokapartzootian («կը վազէ եկեղեցւոյ հոգաբարձութեան համար»). Does this sound right?

No, it does not. The problem is that “run” is a figurative expression that cannot be conveyed with a literal translation. Anyone who does not know English would think that the person in question is physically running to enter the parish council. How many days he or she would run before getting exhausted?

This is one of those many cases when you have to think in Armenian to render the English expression. The best solution is the simplest one: An yegeghetsvo hokapartzootian tegnadzoo eh («Եկեղեցւոյ հոգաբարձութեան թեկնածու է», “S/he’s a candidate to the parish council”).

The candidate may enter office walking or running, but this will not change the outcome. However, if you don’t use vazel in this case, your Armenian proficiency will change a bit.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

When an Anniversary is Not a Birthday

2015 is particularly filled with feelings and thoughts inspired by the hundredth anniversary of the Medz Yeghern, the Armenian genocide. On the eve of the symbolic day that commemorates the most catastrophic crime in Armenian history, it is appropriate to revisit the meaning of “anniversary.”

We usually use “anniversary” in English for a date of foundation, a marriage, or a certain event, something that returns yearly (Latin anniversarius, from annus “year” and versus “turning”). The English word has its counterpart in Armenian, daretartz (տարեդարձ), which sounds like a calque: dari (տարի “year”) and tartz (դարձ “turning”).* However, this word is not an exact translation. It has one more and one less meaning than in English.

Indeed, both languages say amoosnootian daretartz (ամուսնութեան տարեդարձ) and “marriage anniversary,” as well as angakhootian daretartz (անկախութեան տարեդարձ) for “anniversary of independence.” However, while the Armenian language uses daretartz to mark the anniversary of the birth of someone who is alive, and hence we say yerchanig daretartz (երջանիկ տարեդարձ) or shunorhavor daretartz (շնորհաւոր տարեդարձ) to greet the person, the English language, as we all know, uses birthday and happy birthday.

There is a difference in birth, as there is a difference in death. It would sound ridiculous to call the 100th anniversary daretartz or “birthday.”  The Armenian language has a special word to commemorate the anniversaries of tragic events. Whether it is the death of millions or a single person, the word in that case is darelits (տարելից). It is another compound word, formed by dari and lits, the root of the verb ltsnel/letsnel (լցնել/լեցնել) “to fill.”

In conclusion, if you want to say “100th anniversary of the genocide,” it is tseghasbanootian haryooramea darelits (ցեղասպանութեան հարիւրամեայ տարելից). However, if you prefer to say “centennial” instead of “100th anniversary,” you can do it with one word: haryoorameag (հարիւրամեակ).

(*) Many compound words are linked by the connective a (ա): dari + a + tartz. In the cases when i and a come together in composition, it is a rule that they turn into e (ի + ա = ե), hence dariatartz becomes daretartz.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Very Public Word

The Armenian word enthanoor (ընդհանուր) has quite a ubiquitous meaning. It is an adjective that usually means “general,” as it appears in the name of various Armenian organizations. For instance, such is the case of the Armenian General Athletic Union (Hay Marmnagrtagan Enthanoor Miootioon, Հայ Մարմնակրթական Ընդհանուր Միութիւն), usually known by its acronym ՀՄԸՄ (Homenetmen).

Now, we know that the English word general comes from the Latin generalis, meaning “relating to all, of a whole class, generic” (from genus “stock, kind”). The Armenian word enthanoor has a meaning quite close to Latin generalis, and it comes from Classical Armenian or krapar (Yeznik Koghbatsi used it in his Refutation of the Sects). Every Sunday, the faithful join to recite the Credo of the Armenian Apostolic Church, written in Classical Armenian, where it is said: “We also believe in only one, universal, and apostolic holy Church.” Here, the word for “universal” is enthanragan (ընդհանրական).

Now, the word enthanoor is actually a compound of an adverb and an adjective: ent + hanoor (ընդ + հանուր), where ent means “together, under” and hanoor (“all, every”). Literally, it would mean “altogether.” Ent is an adverb that did not enter modern usage, but hanoor has been used at times, and one can find it here and there, for instance in the expression hanoor martgootioone (հանուր մարդկութիւնը “the entire humankind”).

Hanoor, composed by the prefix han, more commonly used as ham (համ), which means “all,” and the familiar adverb oor (ուր “where”), is particularly interesting for its many derivations. For instance, the same as the English public (from the Latin publicus, meaning “of the people; general”), the Armenian language created the noun hanrootioon (հանրութիւն “public”) and the adjective hanrayin (հանրային “public”). Consequently, republic (from Latin res publica “public affair, the state”) became hanrabedootioon (հանրապետութիւն, which literally means “the state of all”).

Another example is omnibus, from the same Latin word that means “for all.” The English word came from the French voiture omnibus (“carriage for all”), which was probably the inspiration for the Armenian version: hanragark (հանրակառք “carriage, vehicle for all”).

In the end, here are a few more usual terms that come from the very prolific hanoor, despite being a word that has fallen from usage in colloquial language:

Hanrakidaran (հանրագիտարան “encyclopedia”)

Hanrahashiv (հանրահաշիւ “algebra”)

Hanrakve (հանրաքուէ “referendum”)

Hanrakoomar (հանրագումար “grand total”)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Oil Doesn’t Come From Oil

You use oil to grease the motor of your car, but also to prepare a salad. In both cases, you should call it yoogh (իւղ) in Armenian. Indeed, yoogh also means “fat,” but this is not strange, since oils are basically liquid fat.

Both oil and yoogh have a distant ancestry. The Armenian word was borrowed from some long-lost Mediterranean language, which was also the source for Greek ἔλαιον (élaion) “olive oil” and ἔλαια (élaia) “olive tree,” and Latin oleum “oil.” Latin became the source for a variety of Latin and Germanic languages, including English oil.  Incidentally, the Armenian word karyoogh (քարիւղ) is a literal translation of Latin petroleum (“stone oil”), the technical term for what we use to fill the tanks of our cars, e.g. “gas.”

Knowledgeable readers are also aware that there is a specialized term in Armenian, tzet (ձէթ), which designates olive oil. It already appeared in the Armenian translation of the Bible, probably borrowed from Syriac zaita. Tzet would become the root of many compound words, such as tzitabdoogh (ձիթապտուղ) “olive,” already present in the fifth century. In the same way, Arabic zait “olive oil” would become the source of Turkish zeytin “olive” much later.

Generally speaking, Armenian names for fruit trees have their origin in the name of the fruit, with the addition of the suffix –eni; for instance, khntzoreni (խնձորենի) “apple tree” or geraseni (կեռասենի) “cherry tree.” Some flower trees share this rule; for example, varteni (վարդենի) “rose tree.” The name of the olive tree is an exception. Its root was not the fruit, but the oil produced by the fruit. Thus, we have tziteni (ձիթենի), which literally means “olive oil tree.”

The names of oils derived from various fruits and plants are composed in the same way as in English; for instance, armavi yoogh (արմաւի իւղ) “palm oil.” However, the word tzet has given birth to a long-standing misuse in colloquial language. Apparently, many Armenian speakers (and dictionary writers, unfortunately) tend to think that tzet means “olive” and use the incorrect word tzitayoogh (ձիթաիւղ) as if it meant “olive oil.” It is funny, because if they gave it a thought, they would realize that they are actually saying... “oil oil.”

Conclusion: if you use olive oil, rely on tzet. For other oils, go to yoogh. Never trust tzitayoogh.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If Something Is Scarce, Then It is Expensive

The name of the toothed cutting tool that we today call saw has evolved over time. It was sawein Middle English and sagu in Old English. The name has a common origin with all Germanic languages, and the common root is Proto-Germanic *sago, a word that meant “a cutting tool” and came from an Indo-European root meaning “to cut.”

This looks very straightforward, and it is interesting to see how the same concept varies from language to language. The word saw in Armenian is sughots (սղոց), a composite term which comes from the root soogh (սուղ) and the suffix –ots (ոց). The origin of soogh, however, is unknown.

What does this root mean? It has nothing to do, in appearance, with cutting. Soogh means “scarce, brief, short.” (The word sughakrutiun (սղագրութիւն, “short-writing”), for instance, is the Armenian term for “shorthand.”) Thus, sughots literally means “that makes small.” When you use a saw, you cut something into pieces and make it smaller than the original.

Everything is good so far. But some readers are probably aware of the word soogh “expensive” and the noun sughootioon (սղութիւն “expensiveness”). This meaning only exists in Western Armenian, including several of its dialects; if Eastern Armenian speakers hear these words, they understand soogh as “scarce” and sughootioon as “scarcity.” For them, “expensive” is tang(թանկ) and “expensiveness” is tangootioon (թանկութիւն). However, it is intriguing that speakers of both branches share the composite adjective tangakeen (թանկագին, “valuable”).

But how come soogh means both “scarce” and expensive”? The explanation is very simple: the economic principle of demand and supply. Something abundant has a cheap value, but if that same item is scarce, then it becomes expensive. Thus, the origin of the meaning “expensive” for the word soogh.