Etymology Notes: "-stan"

carljweber carljweber at MSN.COM
Tue Jan 1 17:52:30 UTC 2002

Etymology Notes: "-stan"

Carl Jeffrey Weber


I STill remember the IE "st(a)-" morpheme is among the literal handful of
most productive in the IE languages. It's found all over the place  -- its
general sense is "STationary," or "STanding." It's in AveSTan and HinduSTani
cognates. It's in state, Stuttgart, constitution, staff, obstinate, stall,
constipate, stool, understand,  post (as a back formation from Latin
postis) - the list goes on forever.


When Afganistan was named in 1747, two hundred years before Pakistan, it was
translated into English, "Land of the Afghans" (compare "Land of the
 Angles"). The word, "-land," it seems, has a primal association "solid
subSTance". I decided to do some fieldwork, and went to Dunkin' Donuts. My
informant (notwithstanding, not a Muslim), after I asked, "what does '-stan'
mean, like in Afganistan, Pakistan," gave his quick response: "country". Of
note, the "-gan-" of the name chosen in 1747 looks suspiciously like the
most common name in the area - Khan.

One list gentleman's comment on the problem was that in 1947 at the
Partition of India, the name Pakistan was totally named by the
geo-ethnicities (my word) who contributed letters to the naming process.
P(ersia), A(fgan.), K(ashmir), I(ndia). That much is good. These are the
four, and only four, bordering countries. But the gentleman continues with
S(ind), T(urk.). The device of the first four letters he inordinately
applies beyond historical credibility, because  "-stan", meaning "land of"
in English, was known to many people in the area for two centuries, as
stated already. Pakistan at the partition seems to have been named with the
four letters of the bordering countries, + stan. I heard something like that
ten years ago from a Punjabi friend. Why not Pakistan, the "Land of Four
Letters", in its way, the way the Punjab is, the "Land of Five Rivers" in
its. (The name is derived from two Persian words: 'Panj' meaning five with
'Aab' meaning water - the internet reminds me.)

 I looked on the web page for the  Pakistani student organization, to seek
some source documentation - 1947 was not that long ago. I'd say somebody in
1947 thought up that letter-device in a committee, and then they put the old
"-stan" on it.

The Pakistani Student organization has a different etymology for the
Pakistan-word. They say the first part of the word is Urdu for "pure". This gives "Land of the
Pure". I'm skepical about use of an Urdu word here. Where are the 1947
foundation documents? What's this Urdu root about? Maybe the Student group
will get back to me.

My donut man informed me with great confidence that "Paki-" doesn't mean
anything - "it's just a name", he said, with sympathetic understanding.
(Back to "-stan".) I said "America-stan". We laughed about it, but no extra,
free, boston crème - like the dayshift donut lady used to give me until our
relationship soured.

Carl Jeffrey Weber

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