Elements, the LMN proposal

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Dec 30 16:38:41 UTC 2006

Elements. Michael David Coogan has written two (or more?) excellent articles
showing that the Latin elementum then English element probably came from L-M-N
in several alphabets. "Alphabets and Elements," Bulletin of the American Schools
of Oriental Research 216 (1974) 61-3;  ")LP, To Be an Abecedarian," J. of the
American Oriental Society 110.2 (1990) 322. His work has been cited
approvingly, e.g. by Victor Avigdor Hurowitz in articles on Hebrew acrostic
psalms) and Wm. Hallo (in his book on Ancient Near East Origins). And before
Coogan, F.A. Wolf, J. B. Greenough (Harvard St. Class. Phil. 1 (1890) 97-99 and
others supported this origin. But the Oxford English Dictionaryetymology offers:

[a. OF. element, ad. L. elementum, a word of which the etymology and primary
meaning are uncertain, but which was employed as transl. of Gr.
{sigma}{tau}{omicron}{iota}{chi}{epsilon}{gifrown}{omicron}{nu} in the various
senses:{em}a component unit of a series; a constituent part of a complex whole
(hence the 'four elements'); a member of the planetary system; a letter of
the alphabet; a fundamental principle of a science.]

Etymology books by Klein and Shipley propose an origin from Greek for elephant,
ivory letters. But they provide no good examples. Does anyone here have further
information? Thanks.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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