μουνί < αἱμώνιον

By: | Post date: 2017-10-23 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

In Etymologies and attestation of μουνί, I had reviewed the proposed etymologies of Modern Greek μουνί “cunt”. By far the easiest course would have been to derive μουνί from Venetian monín “cunt”; but it turns out that the Venetian word likely originates from the Greek, rather than vice versa.

The etymologies I reviewed were listed in a paper from 1975, and none of them were great. They were bad enough that Tasos Kaplanis and I debated in comments whether we should be trying for a Romance etymology, after all.

Anon delivered, pointing out that a recent paper did provide a Greek etymology for μουνί. Sarantakos reminded me of it when I reposted a link to my posts on μουνί, and I realised that I never went through that article properly. 1 It turns out that the paper’s author, Kostas Karapotosoglou, summarised his paper on Sarantakos’ blog; and I’ll work off that—though the journal is one of the few journals on Greek that still turns up at Melbourne University.

So, we start with Athenaeus. Athenaeus wrote the Deipnosophists, a pedantic account of a banquet in which the dinner guests provide all sorts of information that we would not otherwise have about Antiquity:

It is an immense store-house of information, chiefly on matters connected with dining, but also containing remarks on music, songs, dances, games, courtesans, and luxury.

One of the many pieces of information it supplies is the names of different variants of figs. And one of the variants of fig he names is haimōnios, which derives from the word for blood, haima:

τῶν δ’ ἐν Πάρῳ τῇ νήσῳ—διάφορα γὰρ κἀνταῦθα γίνεται σῦκα τὰ καλούμενα παρὰ τοῖς Παρίοις αἱμώνια, ταὐτὰ ὄντα τοῖς Λυδίοις καλουμένοις, ἅπερ διὰ τὸ ἐρυθρῶδες καὶ τῆς προσηγορίας ταύτης ἔτυχεν—Ἀρχίλοχος μνημονεύει λέγων οὕτως· «ἔα Πάρον καὶ σῦκα κεῖνα καὶ θαλάσσιον βίον.»

And as for figs from the isle of Paros (for there are various figs there too, which the Parians call haimōnios; they are the same as those called Lydian, and they happened to get that name because of their red colour), Archilochus mentions them saying: “away with Paros, and those figs, and the seaman’s life.” (Deipnosophists 3.19)

Archilochus was himself from Paros. The word isn’t mentioned elsewhere in Ancient literature (and Athenaeus is all we know of Archilochus’ verse). Eustathius of Thessalonica cites Athenaeus in his commentary on the Odyssey, and one scholiast of the Odyssey uses the word as a missing link in his fanciful etymology of amnion “bowl in which the blood of sacrificial victims was caught”. (The term was already extended in antiquity to “inner membrane round the foetus”: it’s the amniotic sac.) And that’s it.

So this is presumably a one-off local word for a kind of fig, that never went anywhere else. Athenaeus himself says that the usual name for them was Lydian figs.

Fast forward to 2007. Volume V of Trapp’s dictionary of mediaeval Greek has come out. Trapp has lots of good etymologies, but etymologies can always be improved; and Karapotosoglou writes a paper going through what he’s finding in the volume. In the last page of his paper, he reports on a discovery he’s made in Trapp:

μώνια, τά? “figs”. τὰ σῦκα LudwAnek 70,2.

LudwAnek is a work that shows up very often in Trapp: it is a series of mediaeval spelling dictionaries which Arthur Ludwich published in 14 different fascicles, attributed to Pseudo-Herodian 2 You can see the entry online, but it doesn’t tell you anything more than Trapp does: among a bunch of words starting with /mo/, including Moab and Moses, μόλις “just now” and μωραίνω “drive crazy”, μώνια is listed with the gloss “figs”.

We don’t know when the dictionary was written. (We know it wasn’t by the actual Herodian, so it’d have been some time after the 2nd century AD.) We don’t know what kind of vocabulary is in it. Ancient Greek dictionaries are infuriatingly curt like that. If someone has written a thesis analysing the vocabulary in it (and Trapp’s work on it will have made that much easier), we can work out whether it’s plausible that it has vernacular words in it.

But to Karapotosoglou, this does look like the missing link. We know that figs in Ancient Greek were used to refer to female genitalia. We know that a haimōnion (plural haimōnia) was a kind of fig. We know that in a dictionary written sometime after Athenaeus, mōnia is a word for figs. And we know that vernacular Greek dropped unstressed initial /e/: so the development haimōnia > /eˈmonia/ > /ˈmonia/ would have been completely regular.

And as he argues, you can get from /ˈmoni(o)n/ (the singular of /ˈmonia/) to /muˈni/ straightforwardly in Modern Greek:

ενώ μορφολογικά η λ. εξελίχθηκε σε *μωνίον –*μωνίν – μουνίν, με κατέβασμα του τόνου, πβλ.θρόνος (116) – θρόνιον – θρονί, σπάθιον – σπαθί, καθως και το δημώδη τύπο αιμωνιό = είδος σύκου (Πάρος) και τροπή του ο – ου από την επίδραση του χειλικού μ

Morphologically the word developed as *μωνίον –*μωνίν – μουνίν, with the accent descending; cf. θρόνος (116) – θρόνιον – θρονί, σπάθιον – σπαθί, as well as the vernacular form αιμωνιό “kind of fig” (Paros) and /o/ > /u/ under the influence of labial /m/.

If we accept that haimōnion survived into Modern Greek, then all the phonological developments proposed are plausible, although one is questionable:

  • eˈmonion: Koine pronunciation of haimōnion
  • ˈmonion: Regular deletion of initial unstressed e- in most dialects of Greek
  • monˈion: The diminutive neuter suffix -ion was both accented and unaccented, and the accent on the suffix did indeed routinely shift on the path from Ancient to Modern Greek, e.g. spátʰion “sword” > ˈspaθion > spaˈθion > spaˈθi
  • moˈnin: The -o- routinely dropped off in the diminutive suffix -ion, and this was already happening by 500 AD.
    • This change did not apply to -ion when it was not a diminutive suffix: skʰoleîon “school” > sxoˈlion > skoˈljo [skoˈʎo]
  • muˈnin: Though it is not regular, o > u does occur in Greek near labials: e.g. kōnōpion “mosquito” > kunupi.
  • muˈni: Final /n/ drops off in most contexts and most dialects of Greek.

So it can all happen, with one caveat: for monˈion > monˈin to happen, the word had to be considered a diminutive; otherwise, it would have ended up as monˈjo [moˈɲo]. But it wasn’t a diminutive; -ion here is an adjectival ending. The analogy is not impossible; it’s not obvious, either.

The development Karapotosoglou posits still sounds more plausible than the rest of the proposed etymologies, although I’m still uneasy at the notion that an obscure word from one island survived as long as it did.

But in defending the stress shift, Karapotosoglou drops a bombshell that needs a lot more scrutiny:

the vernacular form αιμωνιό “kind of fig” (Paros)

The claim is that the ancient Parian fig name has survived from the time of Athenaeus (if not Archilochus), and is still used on the isle of Paros to this day. And sure enough, if you look up the online Historical Dictionary of the Academy of Athens (the Modern Greek dialect dictionary), there it is:

αἱμωνι̮ὸ τό, Πάρ. Ἐκ τοῦ ἀρχ. οὐσ. αἱμώνιον. Σῦκον ὀνομαστὸν ἔχον τὴν σάρκα αἱματόχρουν καὶ τὸν φλοιὸν ὑπέρυθρον. Συνών. κοκκινόσυκο.

emoˈnjo [emoˈɲo] (neut), Paros. From the ancient noun haimōnion. A fig so called for having blood-coloured flesh and a pink skin. Synonym: kokinosiko “red-fig”.

That is too good to be true.

I mean, seriously. It is too. good. to be true.

There’s two things to note about the form, both of which do not work in Karapotosoglou’s favour:

  • The form does not end in -ˈi, but in -ˈjo. That’s what you’d predict a non-diminutive -ˈion form to end up as—as we noted: monˈjo. But the whole point of the haimōnion etymology of muˈni was that it was treated like a diminutive.
  • It does not drop its initial unstressed e-. The whole point of the haimōnion etymology of muˈni is that the word did drop its initial unstressed e-.

The fact that the initial unstressed e- did not drop off makes the form even more too good to be true.

The sources that the Historical Dictionary has used are of variable quality. Some are by dialectologists employed by the Academy of Athens. Some are by random schoolteachers and antiquarians who submitted their manuscripts to the Academy, and to its predecessors. So it’s worth digging a little further.

The lemma turns up in the first volume of the dictionary, published in 1933.

The Institute for Language and Speech Processing has put up a Flash-based browser of the provenance of the manuscripts of the Historical Dictionary. (Rush to use it while Flash is still supported. sigh.) We’re looking for sources from Paros, from before 1933. The browser has:

  • Ms 87. I. Protodikos. 1870. Glossary. 800 pp, A5.
  • Ms. 367. I. Kakridis. before 1922. Pariaka [journal] Vol. 1 pp. 1-44. 95 pp, 16o small.
  • Ms. 408. I. Kakridis. 1924. Vocabulary of Lefkes, Paros. 170 pp, very small.
  • Ms. 458. A. Papadopoulos. before 1929. Vocabulary of Lefkes, Paros. 30 pp, small.
  • Ms. 545. N. Kypraios. 1928/33. Folklore of Paros Island. 42 pp, A4.

Now of these scholars, Anthimos Papadopoulos was a director of the Historical Dictionary, and a good scholar; he wrote the Historical Dictionary of Pontic, and a series of papers on the origin of phrasal expressions. Ioannis Kakridis was one of the great Greek classicists, and the time frame is right—he’d have been 21 years old in 1922, and he completed his PhD in 1925. German Wikipedia confirms he worked at the Historical Dictionary from 1924–1931. They are both serious enough scholars to have earned the benefit of the doubt.

N. Kypraios wrote two more manuscripts on Paros folklore for the Historical Dictionary. Folklore could at a pinch include agricultural practices, but I think it less likely that the fig name comes from him.

That leaves us with 800 pp of Parian words from I. Protodikos, from a time when Greeks were rabidly trying to prove their continuity from antiquity, and before the advent of good practices in dialectology as we now recognise it.

Yes, it’s a big deal to accuse a scholar of falsifying evidence, even if they are from the bad old days of Greek lexicography. Especially when I don’t know whether the form is record by Protodikos, as opposed to Papadopoulos or Kakridis. All I’m saying is, I’d want to see corroboration from elsewhere of the survival of haimōnion in Paros.


  • […] just discussed Kostas Karapotosoglou’s proposed Greek etymology for μουνί “cunt”, which he advanced in 2008 as an alternative to both the problematic Greek proposals to date, and […]

  • I like Karapotosoglou’s theory for three un-scientific and somewhat poetic reasons:
    – The word has to be of local (i.e. Greek) origin in order to satisfy the proverb: “Έλα μουνί στον τόπο σου” (https://www.slang.gr/lemma/3835-ela-mouni-ston-topo-sou).
    – It’s only appropriate for the word to be related with figs, as the fruit was used as an euphemism for the female genitalia in Ancient Greece.
    – The author’s last name is awfully similar to Karapoutsoglou (this is actually what I thought it was the first time I read it), which would be quite appropriate.

    P.S. How would you translate the proverb and the last name to English? “A pussy must return to its natural habitat” is a bit too zoological, whereas “Fitzblackdick” or “McBigdick” don’t feel quite right…

    • #2. The etymology from “figs” is indeed appropriate; if only I’d have the same confidence that the word had survived that long, and had passed into general enough use. (I’m now wondering whether that elision of the unstressed initial syllable of μώνια was mere scribal error.)

      #3. Σκάσε, βρε αθεόφοβε, και θα τον καλέσω από δω το χριστιανό! 🙂

      #1, #4. How to render that proverb? Well, let us see how slang.gr interprets it:

      Come, pussy, back to your place (habitat).

      An expression of wonderment at an event or a description of an event. The full expression is completed by the phrase “and don’t go looking for a dick.” This complicates matters appreciably, since the saying absent its second component leads to obvious conclusions about what the proper place being alluded to is [which the completion contradicts]. Monogamist individuals will conclude that the “place” is exactly where we all imaging (someone’s male genitalia), and not another which is alien to the officially designated such organ. It’s a mess.

      Well, it’s as plausible an interpretation as any, I suppose: “Pussy, get back where you belong” (“and don’t go looking for cock elsewhere”). So a quite ordinary, heterosexual male assertion that women should adhere to monogamy, colourful only because of its metonymy.

      What’s odd is, why the saying would be used to express surprise at an unexpected series of events, comparable to μνήσθητι μου Κύριε “Christ remember me” (the words of the thief to Christ on the cross), or τι λε ρε πούστη μου “what are you talking about, my dear faggot.”

      The thief’s phrase has been misconstrued (as so much Koine from the bible has in Modern Greek folk speech) as an expression of wonderment towards Christ at Him being crucified. “What are you saying” is a quite ordinary expression of disbelief, with “my dear faggot” added as a conspiratorial rather than homophobic aside (cf. the Commonwealth English use of cunt or bastard among men).

      But how is “women should stop sleeping around” an expression of surprise? Does female heterosexual infidelity really rank so high as a disruption of the natural order, that it merited become a proverbial expression of incredulity?

      And if it does, what does that say about the complacency of the Greek men who came up with the expression? 🙂

      Α, και χρόνια σου πολλά!


      • Haha, thank you for your kind words Nick, I must admit I do lack fear of God. My punishment is that I somehow managed to miss this gem of a comment, but thank god for sick days…

        “But how is “women should stop sleeping around” an expression of surprise?” I think this is rather obvious, stopping people from sleeping around would be a miraculous feat second only to stopping the Earth’s rotation (Everyone Dies™).

        For me, I don’t see the proverb as being exclusively about monogamy as it is about misogyny (all women are promiscuous by nature). Women should stay at home and not go out looking for sex, regardless of their marital status.

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  • June 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « May    
    1. Kostas Karapotosoglou. 2007. Ετυμολογικά στο πέμπτο τεύχος του Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität [Etymological issues around the fifth volume of the Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität], Ελληνικά 57: 385-388.

    2. Ludwich, A. 1905-1912. Anekdota zur griechischen Orthographie I–XIV. Verzeichnis der Vorlesungen der Universität Königsberg. Königsberg 1905–1912

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