Thursday, January 29, 2015

Unbreakable as a Diamond

Diamond is another of those words that English and Armenian languages share due to some common source. More than two thousand years ago, the Latin word adamantem meant “the hardest metal,” and then it was used to mean our well-known diamond.  Then Old French borrowed from Medieval Latin (diamantem) and turned it into diamant. In the early fourteenth century, the word entered English as diamond.

Actually, the Romans had borrowed the word from Greek: ἀδάμας (adámas "unbreakable," with ἀ meaning “un” and δάμας “conquer, overpower”). The Armenians did the same: the word ադամանդ (adamand; Western Armenian atamant) already appeared in the Bible with the meaning of the precious stone.

Incidentally, the format of the Armenian word is very close to English adamant, whose meaning comes directly from the Greek meaning “unbreakable,” via Latin and French. While the English language created two words from the same original source, the Armenian language simply used atamant and, at times, gave it a metaphoric meaning. For instance, St. Gregory of Narek used the expressions atamantea sird (ադամանդեայ սիրտ “diamond heart”) or atamantea havadk (ադամանդեայ հաւատք “diamond faith”) to mean that the heart or the faith can be as unbreakable as a diamond.

Monday, January 19, 2015

There Are Many Ways to “Kick the Bucket”

If you open a thesaurus of the English language (or the thesaurus of your computer) you will find more than a dozen ways to say “to die,” including the slang expression of the title. Every language has its own variety and Armenian is not an exception.

However, the abundance of synonyms does not mean that you can use them interchangeably. The same is true in Armenian. There are different ways for various circumstances and subjects.

The Armenian word for death is mah (մահ). However, the verb mahanal (մահանալ) does not exactly mean “to die,” but includes the concept of slowness. Therefore, we use it to refer to the gradual death of any social phenomenon, like a tribe, a dialect, or a custom.

If you want to refer to the death of a common mortal, you simply say: “Martu merav” (Մարդը մեռաւ, “The man died”). However, if that common mortal gave up his or her life on a battlefield, e.g. sacrificed it, you say “Zinvoru zohvetsav” (Զինուորը զոհուեցաւ) and not “Zinvore merav.

Now, if a priest (or any other ecclesiastic) passes away, we have a more nuanced and particular way to say it, which has no exact equivalent in English: “Kahanan vakhjanetsav” (Քահանան վախճանեցաւ). The verb vakhjanil comes from vakhjan (վախճան “end”), and thus, an approximate translation would be something like “the priest met his end.” It is not polite to say “Kahanan merav.

There is also a particular way for an animal, whether it is a pet or a wild beast: “Gadoon sadgetsav” (Կատուն սատկեցաւ). The verb sadgil comes from sadag, which denotes the dead body of an animal. Your beloved pet may have been as human-like as you want, but in the same way you do not say “The cat passed away,” you should not say “Gadoon merav.”

Of course, if you hold a grudge with someone, you can say sadgetsav instead of merav to express your dismissal. However, it is hard to think that you interacted with a person who was at the level of your furry friend. When you dehumanize someone, doesn’t it say something about your own humanity?