Jim Rader jrader at M-W.COM
Mon Jun 28 15:03:27 UTC 1999

C10 keeps the etymology given in C9, C8, and C7.  The source was not
carried past Romanian, most likely because of space constraints.  The
C7 policy was to eliminate ulterior etymologies of words "that are
distinctly outside the general vocabulary of English."  I don't know
how the C7 editors decided what words fell into this category--hence
leaving readers to speculate whether the ulterior etymology was left
out because the word was too obscure to be worth discussing further
or because its source was simply unknown--but subsequent editors have
been stuck with it.  To restore all the ulterior etymologies in W3
would be a huge amount of work and--more crucially for practical
purposes--would create space problems now that  the Collegiates have
been on an etymological starvation diet for so long.

The Romanian word has counterparts in other Balkan languages:
Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian/ <pastrma>, Bulgarian <pasturma> (breve over
<u>), Albanian <pasterma> (two dots over <e>), Modern Greek
<pastramas>.  The probability is that all these words are ultimately
from Turkish <pastirma> / <bastirma> (no dot over <i>), "cured spiced
meat." <Bastirma> looks like the so-called "short infinitive" of a
verb <bastir->, a causative of <bas-> "to press."  Turkish, if I
recall correctly, has lots of nominalized short infinitves of this
sort, e.g, <dolma> "stuffing, filling," from <dol->, "to become
full."  There is fluctuation between initial <p> and <b> in other
native (i.e., non Perso-Arabic) words, e.g., <pasmak>/ <basmak> for
"slipper" (cedilla under <s>).

Curiously--or maybe not curiously depending on your inclination--a
word for "sausage" common to nearly all Slavic languages (and
likewise taken into Yiddish) is also thought to have been borrowed
from Turkic at a much earlier date.  This is, to give the Common Slavic
reconstructions, <*kulbasa> (breve over <u>)/<*klobasa> (two
protoforms are needed to give all the right outcomes), hence Polish
<kielbasa> (slash through <l>), which is pretty naturalized in
English to my ear.  The putative Turkic source is <kulbasti> (umlaut
over <u>, no dot over <i>), from <kul>, "ashes, cinders," and <basti>
"pressed meat," a derivative from the same <bas-> as above. (Exactly
where and when this compound is attested I don't have at hand.)

I once discussed the <pastrami> etymology with Robert Dankoff, a
Turcologist at the University of Chicago.  He had serious
reservations about Turkish as the ultimate source, because he felt
that the pastoral Turks would not have contributed to Anatolia very
sophisticated technology for meat preservation.  Of course, it's
possible that the Turks just gave a name to a technique already known
among the settled Anatolian peoples that preceded them. Such would
not have been the case with the <kielbasa> etymon, though, which goes
back quite a bit further into the Turkic past....

David Gold recently published a rather inconclusive paper on
<kielbasa> in the Polish journal <Polonica>, and he mentions in a
footnote that he is working on a <pastrami> paper.  Unfortunately, my
co-etymologist Joanne Despres tells me that David, who has been
corresponding with her, does not have a modem and thus is not wired
into the cyberworld, so he can't contribute to this discussion.  (He
doesn't know how much time he could be wasting.)

All this reminds me--and takes us back to American speech--that I
grew up in Chicago among folk of German-American and Polish-American
ancestry and I never heard the word "kielbasa."  We always called it
"Polish sausage."  When I was a little kid in the '50's I heard it as
"poler sausage" and only dimly associated it with Poles.  We used to
get it from my great uncle Sam, a butcher who must have immigrated to
North America when he was in his '20's.  He was the only person in my
family with a foreign accent.

Jim Rader

> Merriam-Webster doesn't seem to think the etymology of pastrami is
> particularly obscure.
> [Yiddish _pastrame_, fr Rom _pastrama_ pressed and cured meat]
> The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology is a little more uncertain:
> ... 1940, in Groucho Marx's letters, American English, borrowed from
> Yiddish _pastrame_ , from Rumanian _pastrama_, probably from modern
> Greek _pastono_ I salt, from classical Greek _pastos_ sprinkled with
> salt, salted, from _passein_ to sprinkle; see paste.  The English
> spelling in _-mi_ was probably influenced by _salami_.  Compare also
> _salami_ for semantic development.
> It has also been suggested that the Rumanian word came from dialectal
> Turkish _pastirma_, a variant of _basdirma_ dried meat, from _basmak_
> to press.
> Regards,
> David Barnhart
> Barnhart at highlands.com

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