working out an etymological puzzle

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon May 9 16:07:40 UTC 2011

At 12:05 AM -0400 5/9/11, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>Here's a short article I happened to see (don't know whether there's
>anything new):
>Surely not every word in ancient Greek had Indoeuropean origin. If one
>can invoke 'taboo' to explain this grotesque 'deformation', I suppose
>one can also consider (among other possibilities) the possibility of
>avoidance, consequent disappearance of the IE reflex, and replacement
>from some (non-IE) neighbor language. Just woolgathering.

Thanks, Doug.  This does seem (relatively) comprehensive, and
possibly the references Pangman provides will have more on the
"gymnos" question.  I'll have to take a look at the Huld paper and
that Knobloch piece, or at least the non-German abstract. The key
addition to the story in Pangman's survey piece is this remark on the
nature of the taboo being invoked:

"Huld also identifies the proliferation of irregular derivatives of
*nog-w-o and attributes them to taboo deformation based on
magico-religious beliefs in the potency of the naked body, inferring
an association with magical powers."

So the "deformation" arose not from simple embarrassment about
referring to nakedness (apparently, from the discussion in the short
paper, only male nakedness really counted) as much as the fear-based
taboo induced by "potent" referents and associated magical forces,
standard examples being God, Satan, bears, left (side), the Erinnyes,
the Cape of Good Hope, and such.  Nowadays, it's not necessarily the
*potent* male body that arouses taboo avoidance, as exemplified by
"E.D.", "P.E.", and such.


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