μουνί < monna "my lady"

By: | Post date: 2017-10-23 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

I’d mentioned in the previous post that Italianists, at least, believe that Venetian monín “cunt” derives from Greek μουνί “cunt”, rather than vice versa. We know that the word was current in both Venetian and Greek at the same time, and in fact it had made it into the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, as monín de gassa, a kind of knot known in English as “cut splice”. (Or, unbowdlerised, “cunt splice”.)

Deriving monín from μουνί is annoying for Greek etymologists, because that means they still have to come up with a Greek origin for the word; and none of the Greek etymologies proposed for μουνί have been convincing. (Karapotosoglou’s recent derivation from an old word for figs is more convincing, but it too has some issues.

At the conclusion of my final 2010 post, Tasos Kaplanis had reasserted his opinion that the Greek word has an Italian etymology after all, deriving it from Monna “my lady”. Since this blog is going to be googled a lot, I think it only fair to promote our exchange from that comment section into an article.

TAK: Nick, you have done a great job collecting all the evidence and I am afraid I cannot do the same. But since we need to end this mounology, please allow me to present my hypothesis.

Monna in Italian is a form with syncope for Madonna (= My Lady) already attested in the XIII century, according to Palazzi-Folena (I copy the entry):
monna [da m(ad)onna, mia signora; sec. XIII] sf. titolo che si dava nel Medioevo alle donne maritate, madonna: monna Filippa ; dim. monnìna.

Monna could have easily become Mona – I don’t know when, but it is certainly attested as such by Somavera in his Italian-Greek Dictionary; I copy from p.306:
Mona. Κυράτζα, η, κυαράτζα, η.
Mona. v. Gatta
Mona. (animale) Η μαϊμού με την ουράν (ζώον)
Mona. v. Natura della donna.

I copied all the relevant entries, but I will only discuss the first one (= lady) in relation with the fourth (= cunt).

The main reason you rejected the Venetian etymology was that it lacked a Latin origin. But the word “Monna” (= lady) was already there in Italian in the 13th century and if you go to trecanni you will see that the word also had ironical uses that questioned the dignity and the character of the ladies that it referred to…

What I see here is a rather classical and easy to grasp “totum pro parte” synecdochical use of the word [the lady became her most significant body part, i.e. her pudendum…]

If we went from Monna>Mona>Ven. mona>Ven. monin>MGr μουνίν or more directly from the diminutive monnina>monnin (with or without intervention of Ven. monin)>MGr μουνίν is something that may be difficult to investigate (I am not an Italianist and I do not quite know when and where the dim. monnina was used).

However, I believe that instead of going through all the acrobatic postulations of all Greek etymologies (from βινείν, μνους, ευνή, etc.), we should accept this direct route, which makes perfect sense, at least to me.

Now, one may ask why Italianists didn’t think of Monna; perhaps they got confused due to the semantic relevance between Venetian mona and modern Greek μουνίν and started looking for a common ancestor which they could not find; who knows.

opoudjis: […] Moreover, it’s not that there was no Romance etymology at all, though I may have implied it: Cortelazzo himself says there’s been no shortage of attempts to explain monna. The real challenge is still the distribution of monnu in Southern Italy, which points to Greek and not Venetian or Vulgar Latin as a source…

[In that, I am referring to the following argument:]

But the compelling argument Moutsos mentions is where else the word shows up in Italy. Gerhard Rohlfs noted that “cunt” is munno in the Greek of Bova, Calabria; and munnu in the Siciliano of Erice. It would be odd for a Venetian form to show up in the Calabrian and Sicilian hinterland. (OK, Bova and Erice are pretty close to the sea, but still.) Southern Italian Greek is archaic, with much influence on the Romance dialects that replaced it—that’s why Rohlfs became interested in it. The word didn’t get into Southern Italy from Latin: it’s much likelier to have gotten there from Greek than from Venetian.

That doesn’t necessarily mean *Ancient* Greek: Southern Italy only became cut off from Byzantium in the 11th century, and Greek was used as a legal language for several centuries longer.

Given Southern Italy, and the lack of a Latin etymon, I’m inclined to go with a Greek origin, then. The one remaining oddity is the ending: if it was difficult to accept mon-a becoming μουν-ίν, it is also difficult to accept μουν-ίν becoming mon-a. But it’s entirely possible that mona was backformed from monín, and that monín was the original form that entered Venetian.

TAK: Nick, the distribution of monnu/munnu/munno in Southern Italy as well as in other places (in Italy I mean) is well attested but with a totally different meaning and etymology: < mondo, i.e world.
Check out this:
dialettando.com

What does Rohlfs exactly say?

I see no necessity for a Greek etymology (all the more because there is NO convincing Greek etymology…). On the contrary, Monna/Mona (as in Mona Lisa) is Panitalian, the texts referred to in trecanni (Dante, Boccacio) are also very well known and the step you have to make from Mona (Lady) to mona (cunt, with a totum pro parte synecdoche) is very small when compared with all the unattested jumps of all Greek etymologies…

So, I guess we disagree.

This debate does need an Italianist; we’re both agreed on that…

One Comment

  • […] I’ve 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 the Italian proposals to date, which Italians themselves are not enthusiastic enough (although Tasos Kaplanis has argued for one here.) […]

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