μούτζα, μουνί and Tzetzes

By: | Post date: 2010-02-03 | Comments: 27 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek, Modern Greek
Tags: , , , , ,

I thank my esteemed commenters on the last post, and have a post-length response to them, concerning:

… Ah yes. There is a Language Advisory on this post.

The Complaint of the Anonymous Naupliot

Nauplion: Ever onward. You should add this one:

The Complaint of the Anonymous Naupliot is not currently in the pipeline to my knowledge, but it’s a fascinating text, and I commend to everyone else your post on it.

The Byzantinicity of the Greek insulting gesture of the moutza

Peter: If I’m not mistaken, the μούντζα gesture, not the name itself, goes all the way back to classical times: Greek Sicily.

Hadn’t heard that. Everything’s possible, but does the source make it clear it’s the same gesture?

The Greek insulting gesture of the moutza, involving the spread palm directed at the target (or at oneself, in a Greek equivalent of the facepalm), is traditionally derived as cognate to μουτζούρα “smudge”, and referring to pillorying criminals by smearing ash (or worse) on them.

I did find a blog saying someone’s written the gesture is Ancient and represents the rays of Helios, which is uh, yeah. The blogger doubts the gesture is Byzantine, because if it was, wouldn’t it be attested outside Greece. Well,

  1. who said the gesture was use throughout the Empire,
  2. who said every part of the (increasingly shrinking) empire has had cultural continuity to this day—especially with the massive population movements since the Goths first came for a visit,
  3. who said the gesture isn’t used outside Greece? Oh, you mean Nigeria wasn’t part of the Byzantine Empire? Damn…

(I have to wonder though: has anyone checked in Albania? Or, given Pierre’s comment, the Roma?—these phenomena don’t come to a halt at borders finalised in 1912, after all.)

The blogger also disputes that the moutza originated in pillorying, because the Dodecanesian “moutzes and ash on you” is a major curse, and pillorying was meted out for minor infractions.

  • It wasn’t limited to minor infractions, as this extensive excerpt from Koukoules’ encyclopaedia of Byzantine realia shows: it included adultery, theft, and rebellion; and it could be combined with blinding.
  • She’s underestimating the potency of shame culture.
  • If the moutza combined with ash isn’t about pillorying, I can’t see what else it’s about.

The controversy over the etymology of μουνί “cunt”

Pierre: In reference to your last remark, is μουνίν related to the gypsy gesture, the μούντζα? I have always believed with Colin Edmonson that it probably is. (The gesture has power. There is a wonderful story of Eugene Vanderpool, exasperated by a pestilential taxi driver while trying to give an introduction to the “white tower” on the Elusis road. He finally gave the driver all ten, and the taxi ran , not fatally, into a power pole.)

I’d have thought, as much as anything, the taxi driver was astonished that the Frank knew the local gestures: not just the moutza, but the double moutza, at that.

Relate μουνίν to moutza? I don’t see it: I don’t know where the /dz/ would come from, and the semantics doesn’t fit either.

I’ve seen an obscure Hesychian lemma proposed for μουνί “cunt” (was it Korais?), and Venetian. The etymologies I’m finding in the dictionaries are far-fetched enough to show why scholars have been confused. Not that they’re wrong necessarily, they’re just not obvious.

Triantafyllidis dictionary: Ancient εὐνή “bed, wedding bed” > Hellenistic diminutive *εὐνίον > Mediaeval *βνίον > *μνίον (cf. εὐνοῦχος > μουνοῦχος “eunuch, gelding”, ἐλαύνω > λάμνω “arrive”) > *μουνίον (cf. *μνοῦχος > μουνοῦχος)

Hm. I mean, the developments proposed all could have actually happened in Greek: /evnion/ as a diminutive, /vnion/ with deletion of initial vowel, /mnion/ with assimilation, /munion/ with epenthesis. But /mnuxos/ > /munuxos/ is surely repeating the /u/ already there for its epenthesis, and the only mn- word I know survived into the modern vernacular, μνημόρι “memorial stone”, didn’t go to *μουνιμόρι. (Although given what μουνί means, it couldn’t.) I’m not sure /u/ is a regular epenthetic vowel in Greek, but to be honest I can’t think of epenthetic vowels in Greek right now.

The semantics seems stretched too. The word εὐνή seems to have been poetic, particularly in any marital connotation; I’d be very surprised if it survived alongside κοίτη. Modern Greek does admittedly use καριόλα “orig. wooden bed” (Italian carriola) to mean “whore”: it’s a straightforward metonymy, although the carriola was originally a cradle.

(So the Greek dictionary tells me; carriola in Italian now seems to mean “wheelbarrow”… Oh, I see, it was both: “The characteristics of a carriola were that it was a small bed and that it had wheels; this made it easy for a servant or young person to push it under the great bed occupied by the owner of the bedchamber”. Thornton, Peter. 1991 The Italian Renaissance interior, 1400-1600. H.N. Abrams. p. 153.)

But the further claimed step of *εὐνίον from “bed” to “cunt”… well, I dunno, anything’s possible.

The Triantafyllidis institute isn’t convinced by its derivation from “wedding bed” either, because they suggest another derivation:

Ancient μνοῦς “soft feather, down” > Hellenistic diminutive *μνίον > Mediaeval *μουνίον (as in the previous hypothesis) > Mediaeval μουνίν

At least that’s slightly more plausible semantically than “little bed”, although the attested dimunutive (in the Latin-Greek glossaries) is μνούδιον—and, um, “fine, soft down, as on young birds”? Oooo-kay…

But then, it’s all blown skyhigh by the third option:

(But also cf. Venetian mona, same meaning)

As long as we can get a Romance etymology for mona, we can dispense with the epenthetic acrobatics… Except that Tzetzes is a bit early for Venetian loanwords.

Looking at Andriotis’ Etymological Dictionary, it turns out all three proposals are pedigree. The “bed” derivation is from Georgios Hatzidakis, the founder of Modern Greek linguistics (though not infallible). The “down” is from Menos Filintas, a good etymologist who hasn’t gotten enough attention (although you’ll see him very often in Andriotis.)

The Venetian etymology? Gustav Meyer. The contemporary of Hatzidakis who performed an even more valuable service. Thanks to Hatzidakis, we know the rules which derived Modern Greek words from Ancient. Thanks to Meyer, we know that there are words in Modern Greek from other languages. 🙂 (Meyer did the pioneering work in identifying Albanian, Aromanian and Venetian loanwords in Greek.)

If Tzetzes is early enough to disprove Venetian influence (not a given), and if the Hunger manuscript is preserving Modern Greek as written from Tzetzes, and not the scribe’s ad lib on an earlier, cleaner, and more accurate rendering of the Ossetian (which is also not a given)… then I’ll go with “down” over “little bed”.

Babiniotis’ dictionary has another couple of guesses:

  • “*μνίον derived from Ancient βινεῖν ‘to fuck'”. There are other instances of ancient infinitives turned into modern nouns—φαγεῖν “to eat” > φαΐ “food”, φιλεῖν “to love” > φιλί “kiss”. And the verb did stick around until the Magical Papyri and Philogelos—the latter dated 4th century AD. But unlike the mn- guesses, there’s no obvious reason for /vinin/ to go to /vnin/ > /munin/.
  • mona may be derived from Greek βυνῶ “to fill” (cf. βυζαίνω), in which case it would be a Rückwanderer [loanword reborrowed into source language]”. That “Rückwanderer” (αντιδάνειο) is not an innocent comment: it’s vengeance against Meyer. And ultimately it’s not that important: if the word came into the language that way, then as far as everyone was concerned, it was Venetian.
    I’d defer to an Italianist on the plausibility of the derivation, but while βυνέω ~ βύω has useful semantics (“to stuff, to plug”), the βυνέω variant occurs only once in Greek literature, in Aristophanes Peace 645, in a decidedly non-sexual context: “sealed their lips with gold”. It looks like a pretty far-fetched way to account for a Venetian vulgarity to me—far-fetched enough I’m happy to blame an Italian scholar who doesn’t actually know Ancient Greek. If we’re going to look for Venetian etymologies that way, βινεῖν is far likelier than βυνεῖν.
  • Babiniotis’ dictionary also repeats Hatzidakis’ and Filintas’ derivations; my memory of Hesychius as an etymology must be his entry μνοιόν “soft”, used here to support *μνίον “soft down”. God alone knows what Hesychius was referring to with μνοιόν, but I haven’t changed my mind: Venetian (ultimate origin unknown) is the most plausible etymology, then “down”, then maybe “to fuck”.

OK, that’s enough four-letter words for one post.

The curious editorial fate of Tzetzes’ Theogony

Nikos Sarantakos: Curiously, the TLG text of Theogony does not contain the Ossetian verses -the showing off is cut (abruptly?) after the Latin verses, with a note that “there were many more verses in various dialects but I omitted them as useless”

Yes; I had to do some digging to work out what happened.

  • Tzetzes wrote an epilogue to the Theogony, showing off his command of exotic languages.
  • One scribe got as far as Scythian (Turkish), Persian and Latin, before deciding “screw this, I’m copying a lineage of Gods here, I don’t care about Tzetzes’ job application to Berlitz“. And left the note Nikos cited.
  • That scribe’s copy is what Bekker published in 1840.
  • Other scribes had the same reaction: “We have left the entire epilogue unwritten because it just went on too long (διὰ τὴν πολυλογίαν)”
  • Fortunately for Caucasian linguistics, Herbert Hunger discovered another copy of the Theogony, with the epilogue intact. He published the epilogue in: Hunger, H. 1953. Zum Epilog der Theogonie des Johannes Tzetzes. Byzantinische. Zeitschrift 46, 302-7
  • Thanks to Ronald Kim for putting a googleable draft of his paper online, to allow me to discover this. The final paper is Kim, R. 2003. “On the Historical Phonology of Ossetic: The Origin of the Oblique Case Suffix.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 123: 43-72. The online draft is Kim, R. 1999. “The origin of the Pre-Ossetic oblique case suffix and its implications”. U. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 6.1.

I’ll pick up the Hunger edition when I’m next in the library (it’s passé in most circles to physically walk to consult a journal article, but Melbourne University has no motivation to fork out for a subscription of the electronic version). But this is how the epilogue starts, before the scribe fell asleep:

And you’ll find me a Scythian to the Scythians, a Latin to the Latins,
and to all other nations, as if I’m of the same race.
And embracing a Scythian, I shall address him thus:
[Good day to you, my mistress; good day to you, my lord]
salá malék altí salá malék
And Persians, I shall address in Persian thus:
[Good day to you, my brother; where are you going? Where are you from, friend?]
asaŋxáis karúparza. xatázar xarantási
And A Latin I shall address in the Latin tongue:
[Welcome, my lord, welcome, brother]
véne venésti, ðómine; véne venésti, fráter.
kómoðo, fráter, venésti in ístan tsivitátem?

[And there were many other verses of sundry dialects, but I omitted them as useless.]

Language Hat has a translation of the entire epilogue up. Which is hardly a surprise. (The “Scythian” is slightly different in that version.)


  • […] At the time, Tasos Kaplanis pointed out that the phrase sounded too modern to be from Tzetzes himself, and wondered whether it might not be … […]

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  • there is a clear connection not in Standard Modern
    Greek but in Kaliarda, the modern Greek homosexual
    argot of the 1970s and 1980s, where the standard word
    for cunt is exactly μουτζό!

    Μουτζό is the standard word for "woman" in Kaliarda
    and it derives from the Gypsy word for "cunt".


    Burgenland Romani
    minč n f-a/-a- vagina

    Kalderaš Romani
    miš n f-a/-a- vagina
    miź n f-ja/-ja vagina

    Lovara Romani
    minž n f-a/-a- vagina
    miž n f-a/-a- vagina

    Macedonian Džambazi Romani
    mindž n f
    1. vagina, female sexual organ
    2. womb
    3. girl(-friend) (vulg.)

    Sepečides Romani
    mindž n f vagina
    munaki n f vagina

    Sofia Erli Romani
    mindž n f vagina, vulva

    Ursari Romani
    miž n f-ja/-ja- vagina

    Bugurdži Romani
    mindž n f-a/-a- vagina

    Gurbet Romani
    mindž n f-a/-a-
    1. vagina, female sexual organ
    2. womb
    3. girlfriend (vulg.)

    Macedonian Arli Romani
    mindž n f-a/-a- vulva, vagina

    North Russian Romani
    mindž n f-a/-a- vulva,, vagina

  • Anonymous says:

    I had always heard that the word Gomena came from Greeks who had emigrated to the USA in the 1900s, and when their young daughters became of age, and started to have boyfriends, Greek neighbors would say that they "go with men" thus gomena (go-men-a). So, your definition is much more accurate it appers, but the "Go with men" sure sounded good up to now.

  • John Cowan says:

    it would certainly help plausibility if Persians had a similar custom of soot used in pillorying

    This is probably absolutely irrelevant, but during the Achaemenid Empire a common form of capital punishment was known as "the ashes", and consisted in throwing the culprit into a tall pile of ashes (often contained in a tower to prevent them from spreading out), leading to death by suffocation.

  • gbaloglou says:


    The connection between kitten and cunt appears now to be fairly international, and it looks as if it also exists in Greek (and rather independently of English "pussy"). For not only has a taxi driver told me

    "αν χρειαστεί δίνουν και το γατάκι τους"

    ("if the need arises they give their pussy away"),

    but I have also seen the proverb

    "το γατάκι σαν προσέχεις
    γάμο στέρεο θα έχεις"

    ("for a stable marriage take good care of the kitten").

  • opoudjis says:

    A further piece of evidence about the vernacularity of Tzetzes: all the manuscripts preserve καλημέρα for "good day", and that does indeed seem to be the earliest instance of the expression—although Trapp records καλημερίς "wishing a good day" in Constantine Porphyrogennitus, and Delatte's collection of (was it astrological?) texts contains the corresponding καλησπέρα "good evening".

    The instances of καλημέρα in Kriaras are two or three centuries later: Ptocholeon, the Chronicle of Machairas, and the Account of Famed Venice.

    Which suggests the word, complete with aphaeresis (> καλή ημέρα) was around for several centuries before it made it to manuscript. It's an informal and dialogical thing to say, after all, not a priority for chivalrous poetry… (And it also shows a better attested vernacularism in Tzetzes.)

  • opoudjis says:

    Theodoros "Dr Moshe" Moysiadis discusses the etymology of μούτζα in his recently published etymology textbook (pp. 154–155), as an example of the need to establish semantic plausibility. With his permission, I reproduce his argument.
    * μουντός "dim" does not account for the presence of /(n)dz/ ~ /z/.
    * Venetian muso "snout, face" is in the wrong gender—it should have been borrowed as a masculine.
    * The Byzantine use of the words makes it clear we're dealing with something like "soot", used in pillorying: ἀλείφω τὶς μοῦζες "I smear mouzes = I insult", χρίω τὴν μούζαν "I rub mouzes = I treat with contempt".
    * Dialect points to an original /muza/: West Cretan μουζώνω "blacken", μουζουδιά "soot", Cypriot μούζα ~ μούζη. /z/ > /ndz/ has precedent.
    * It is implausible to derive μουτζούρα "smudge" < μούτζα + derivational suffix -ούρα: μουτζούρα is much more plausibly derived from Turkish mucur ~ mıcır "smudge" < Armenian mocir ~ mcir "ash, soot". So the two words are unrelated, despite their semantic connection.
    * The only derivation which is both phonologically and semantically plausible is from Persian muzh "ibid." (Proposed by G. Gianoulellis, Νεοελληνικές ιδιωματικές λέξεις δάνειες από ξένες γλώσσες, Athens 1982, p. 64, and taken up in the Triantafyllidis Institute dictionary.)

    … Perhaps. There is a history of Persian loanwords in Greek. I'd need to be sure that there was a pathway for Persian words into Greek between the advent of Islam and the Ottoman Empire. I assume "ibid." means "soot" and not "pillorying"; it would certainly help plausibility if Persians had a similar custom of soot used in pillorying.

    And of course the Turkish, Armenian, and Persian all look very similar; without knowing anything about the languages, I assume that's because Armenian vocabulary is heavily Iranicised. The word is probably too early to have come in via Turkish, but it could still have come from Armenian instead of Persian, which would be closer to home. That's provided Armenian has a *moc form, and not just a mocir form. If it doesn't… well, I wouldn't rule out Armenian mocir > Greek μουτζούρα > μούτζα by back formation. Though that is starting to get complicated…

  • opoudjis says:

    And (.i ?xu do mintu la .and poi mi pensi ), you're right. Moutsos dismisses Filintas' "down" as a mere theory, but it's not as implausible as all that.

  • And says:

    Regarding plausibility of the "soft feather, down" etymology, compare — as I'm sure you implicitly were doing — the "thatch/orifice" polysemy of English "minge" and "mott" and (I think) French "chat".

  • ΤΑΚ, many thanks.
    The snag is that the meaning "girlfriend" is, as you say, quite modern so we cannot be sure that it really is the same word with "rope" albeit they sound the same. Moreover, the usual explanation of the semantic shift (the girlfriend being seen as a rope that the lover puts around his neck) seems to me implausible.

    By the way, the earliest attestation of the word that I have found comes from 1925.

  • TAK says:

    Nick, if monna may have had some influence on mona in Venetian, if mouni also meant monkey in Occitan and still means cunt, there must be a connection in romance languages, right? But where does Greek μουνί come in to all this, if not a borrowing?

    Btw, you are right about Romanus Melodus and ινά (I too remember this from Browning).

    As for Glykas's collection of proverbs, I happen to know its textual tradition, because my first publication was on this collection (which is in fact two collections, one in verse and one in prose, as suggested already by Krumbacher in his Medieval Greek Proverbs in 1894). The earliest manuscript is of the 13th c. and if the "να" you found is from the prose collection, then I have serious doubts that it can be attributed to Glykas (the prose collection was most probably written in the 13th century). As for Scylitzes continuatus, I do not know (one must check Tsolakis's edition for the whole textual history of the text).

    But I a must confess that I am still very sceptical about the attribution of this colloquial syntax to Tzetzis.

    I guess I will have to wait for your new post.

    Take care,


    PS. Pity there is no online version of Kahane-Tietze…

  • opoudjis says:

    One more thing: "monkey" in Venetian is monna, from Arabic maimun—also the origin of Greek μαϊμού, of course. Cortelazzo & Marcato's Etymological Dictionary of Italian Dialect (DEDI) doesn't rule out that monna had an influence on mona. And Venetian wouldn't have been the only West Mediterranean Romance language to borrow maimun.

    I thought I heard somewhere a suggestion that the second meaning of pussy in English came first, through a comparison with Icelandic, which would parallel this. But I find no evidence for it at the OED; the exclamation puss to call for a cat is much more plausible anyway.

    Oh, TAK, I found Kahane-Tietze the old fashioned way. That's why I hadn't looked it up yesterday.

  • opoudjis says:

    TAK (1:21): I haven't had time to read the Moutsos yet, but like I said, the presence of munno in Calabrian Greek, and munnu in West Sicilian Romance, is hard to reconcile with a term of Venetian origin.

    Just because the word looks like ultimately being Greek (though the phonology is still a little odd), doesn't mean there wasn't influence into Greek back from Venetian of course. I don't have a reason to rule out "become a cunt = become sopping wet" being of Italian as opposed to Greek origin (or indeed independently invented).

    … The fact that I only know the meaning "become a mess" in Greek, and not "become sopping wet", may suggest the Italian came first. The Italian expression is, ah, less metaphorical?

    Anyway. Like I say, there will be a post. 🙂

  • opoudjis says:

    TAK: We do have να in what looks like the 11th century, in the Continuators of Scylitzes. Michael Glycas and the Continuators both quote this, as a vernacular proverb used as a veiled threat:

    Michael Glycas (using Ancient future): ναὶ μὴν καὶ ἀπειλαῖς, τὸ δημοκοπούμενον τοῦτο λέγων „ἐγώ σε ἔκτισα, φοῦρνε· ἐγώ σε καὶ καταλύσω.“ (And indeed threats, saying the popular phrase "I built you, oven, and I'll destroy you".)

    Scylitzes cont (using Early Modern future, να + subjunctive): καὶ εἴγε μὴ πείθοιτο καὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἔκπτωσιν ἀπειλούμενος, τὸ δημῶδες τοῦτο καὶ κατημαξευμένον ἐπιλέγων: «Ἐγὼ σὲ ἔκτισα, φοῦρνε, καὶ ἐγὼ νὰ σὲ χαλάσω» "And if he did not comply, he even threatened to depose the emperor, adding the vernacular and commonplace phrase "I built you, oven, and I'll destroy you."

    We'd have to check the scribal history of these texts, of course, but I'm doubtful of scribal intervention here. The TLG does throw up a fair few early instances of να where we should check for vernacular interference; I was surprised to see it in Bartholomew of Edessa, for instance. But I don't actually think the 12th century is too early for να. Especially since Tzetzes was a contemporary of Glycas.

    (The same Glycas: I've quoted his chronicle above, but Glycas also wrote the first dated Early Modern Greek text, which included citations… of proverbs.)

    There may be an instance in the verse acclamations, I don't recall; and we know Romanus Melodus was already accenting it as ἱνά—suggesting it was accentless by then, and becoming grammaticalised as a more common grammatical marker.

  • TAK says:

    @Nikos Sarantakos:

    Γκόμενα is not a much more recent word than μουνί (if by much more recent you imply that it is a modern word).

    Γκόμενα, according to Triandaphyllides, derives from "βεν. gomena `σκοινί της άγκυρας, παλαμάρι". The word (as it must be shown in Kahane-Tietze) was in common use in the Levant (in various forms: gomena, gumena, gumina, etc.) and it entered the Greek language in the form γούμενα sometime in the 16th century in territories under Venetian rule.

    I infer both information from Kriaras Concise Dictionary, 2001, where the etymology provided for γούμενα is "< γενουατ. gümena – καταλ., ισπαν., ιταλ. κ.ά. gumena (πβ. Kahane-Tietze 1958: 252-3, DEI, λ. gumena)" and the earliest appearance of the word is in Λεηλασία Παροικιάς , a text referring to the capture of Paros by Hayredinn Barbarossa in 1537. The word also appears in other texts (in Εξοπλισμός Καραβέλας, a 16th c. text, and also in Bounialis, dated 1681, and in Ioakeim Kyprios' Struggle, dated 1648-1667). It also appears in Alessio da Somavera's dictionary (published posthumously in 1709, but with material collected for over 40 years in the 17th century).

    The word gomena (in the form gumena) according to the Pallazi-Folena Dizzionario della lingua italiana, first appears in Italian in 1445, a date consistent with the first appearances of γούμενα in modern Greek, making it thus highly possible that the route that was followed was from Venetian/Italian to Greek and not vice versa.

    It is true that the meaning 'girlfriend' is not attested in early modern Greek texts, but the word, in the form γούμενα, was already there in the 16th c.

    As for μουνί, if we exclude the attribution to Tzetzis, does not go back prior to the 14th c. Excluding the occurrence presented by Nick, the word, to my knowledge, first appears in the 14th-c. Entertaining tale of the Quadrupeds and later in the infamous Mass of Spanos , a text that must be dated, according to T. Karanastassis's convincing but yet unfortunately unpublished PhD thesis, after 1492 and most probably in the early 16th century.

    Though μουνί (14th c.) is older than γούμενα/γκόμενα (16th c.), both words first appear in early modern Greek texts, as far as I know at least. I have no idea why or when γούμενα was abandoned in favour of γκόμενα, but both forms derive from the Venetian/Italian word that denotes a thick rope and was part of the marine jargon. "Πιάνω γκόμενα", as the modern Greek idiom is, also points to a marine expression, in my view, and most probably has nothing to do with the ironic use proposed by Triandaphyllides's Dictionary (= "ειρ. από την εικόνα πως κάποιος τραβάει κτ. πίσω του").

    As for the etymology of μουνί, this is not as clear. However, if indeed mouni exists in Occitan, that is if besides Venetian mona, we also have a similar word in another romance language (in fact the very same word!), then there must be some connection and I believe that we cannot exclude the possibility of the Greek word's provenance from the romance one.

    But things may well be more complicated if the Occitan word had originally something to do with animals (cats, as Stergos said, or monkeys as I found in a dubious Occitan-French webpage, where mouni is supposed to mean 'singe'), because all early modern Greek occurrences of the word (excluding Tzetzis) also refer to some animal's (not human's) vagina…

  • opoudjis says:

    Another quick note: I've got Moutsos' article, and I now accept the form is originally Greek. The killer argument: mona shows up in northern Italian dialect (Veneto, Trentino), but Southern Italian Greek also has the word, which strongly suggests a Greek archaism.

    Veneto also has the diminutive monín, which was a worry for me—Greek wouldn't have been adding the -ίον diminutive in the 12th century.

    The Lingua Franca angle wasn't monín itself—although Lingua Franca, or general merchant contact, could explain the diffusion into Occitan. The Lingua Franca was *monín de gassa (lit. "cunt of eye", surviving in Turkish as munikasa), "cut splice", a type of rope splice. The notion of associating rope slicing with female anatomy was not unique to the Mediterranean: as the Wikipedia article tells us, there used to be an n in the English phrase cut splice.

    There'll be a post about this, eventually.

  • TAK says:

    Nick, I am not quite sure that this passage from V is not a later addition by the scribe in the 14th century.

    It is not because this να γαμεί το μουνίν σου παπάς is over-colloquial or too vulgar, it is mainly because this would be the only occurrence of να + verb form (in my view, an indicative, as in modern Greek, in Kazhdan's and TLG's spelling, a subjunctive) in Tzetzis's works and one of the earliest attestations of this use of να + verb form (in the place of an AGr infinitive) ever, together with those in Digenis and Glykas.

    Please, correct me if I am wrong, but if this is so (and at least as regards Tzetzis's works in the TLG this appears to be so), then it would be more possible to attribute the passage to the 14th century scribe of V than to Tzetzis himself.

    Is Kahane-Tietze available online? I would be eternally grateful if you could provide a link.

    I have to answer Nikos Sarantakos's question separately, cause otherwise I will exceed blogspot's word limit for comments…

  • opoudjis says:

    TAK: Thank you; the date of Tzetzes, and the neuter suffix, make me suspect it is indeed Greek > Venetian. In that case I don't know what to make of Stergios' report from Occitan; it may be coincidence.

    The word is discussed in Kahane & Tietze's book on the Lingua Franca, as I said day before yesterday; I didn't get to look it up last night, because I was lost in Decision Trees and the C4.5 algorithm. (If anyone reading this is familiar with it, could they get in touch?) But that Kahane & Tietze mention μουνί indicates they too thought the word had travelled. I'll look it up today, as well as Moutsos' '70s paper on its etymology (which apparently is the one that proposes βινεῖν as the origin).

  • The intertwined discussions on μουνί and Tzetzes are fascinating, and I'd hate to digress, but what does TAK mean about γκόμενα; Have we a plausible explanation about this crux? And isn't it a much more recent word?

  • TAK says:

    Nick, nice to be back!

    I copy from Boerio's Dizionario del dialetto veneziano:

    MONA (coll'o stretto) s.f. Natura; Potta; Conno , e per met. Salvadanaio e Castagna. Figura , dicesi per onestà. I Greci moderni dicono Muni, il che lascia in dubbio se questa vice sia venuta dai Greci a noi, o da noi sia passata ai Greci.
    MONA O SIOR MONA, Monello; Mariuolo, Voce detta altrui per ingiuria, e vi corrispondono Don Meta; Manico di stoppa, Parole scherzevoli. Tu sei uno zugo.
    DEVENTAR UNA MONA, Ammoscire; Appassire; Soppassare; Alidire, Perder la freschezza, la bellezza, l'allegria, e dicesi dell'uomo.

    So, the connection is certainly there and the Venetian etymology should not be excluded. If the word occurs indeed in Tzetzis then it seems to be a Greek word that entered in the Venetian vocabulary (though the other way round would be more expected; cf. e.g. γκόμενα).

    I was much surprised to read the phrase DEVENTAR UNA MONA in Boerio (lit. become a cunt), because the same expression also exists in modern Greek (έγινα μουνί, esp. when you are soaked after walking in the rain, but also in general as equivalent to έγινα χάλια). Cf. also the colloquial or perhaps dialectal κλαψομούνι with a similar meaning (Perder la freschezza e l'allegria, e dicesi dell'uomo).

    As for Peter's suggested connection between μούτζα (I also pronounce /mudza/ and never heard it as /mundza/ in northern Greece, though the latter would be expected in northern idioms) and μουνί, I would be inclined to reject it as you did. However, there is a clear connection not in Standard Modern Greek but in Kaliarda, the modern Greek homosexual argot of the 1970s and 1980s, where the standard word for cunt is exactly μουτζό! Unfortunately, I have to rely on my memory for this cause I don't have my copy of Elias Petropoulos' Kaliarda with me, but check it out here.

  • opoudjis says:

    Nikos: as it turns out, it is indeed likeliest Tzetzes', and thus the earliest attestation in Greek of the word.

    Pierre: both variants are attested, /mudza/ and /mundza/; I probably incline to the first because I learned Greek in Crete, which drop prenasalisation.

    Pierre: Yes, it is odd about the numbering. Orations II and III are from Sideras' publication of hitherto unpublished funeral speeches. His numbering presumably means I has been published elsewhere, but I don't know where (not having Sideras' edition), and it's not in the current pipeline.

    Peter: your etymology is rejected, but nice try. 🙂 I'm pretty proud of myself for understanding your epigram without having to look anything up. If ye'll pardon my Scots:

    "'Tis sweet to fook; wha'll say nae? But when she asks
    for copper, 'tis mair bitter than hellebore."

    Stergos: Thank you! I was about to reject the Venetian etymology—the final vowel's wrong; you've given me something to check out further. It turns out the Kahanes, who were the experts on Lingua Franca, have written something on μουνί; if I'm lucky, the library will have a copy, and I can find out what. There may be a Genoese (rather than Occitan or Venetian) connection to explore there…

  • Stergos says:


    I do not know whether this adds to the discussion, but for the past 5 or 6 months I am in Toulouse, France and I have been rather surprised to see the local people, who still either speak Occitan or simply know some words and phrases from their grandparents, use mouni in the exact same way as it is used in Greece. A little book which contains local phrases and words found in the Marseille region, listed mouni as well. The etymology it gave had something to do with cats, if I am not mistaken. Well, many people in France call their cats "minou" and when they refer to a woman's "chat" (the actual word used for cat) they refer to their genitals.

  • Peter says:

    Regarding the derivation of the female μ-word, what about the metaphor λειμών?

    λειμών > μών-

    I gave it a shot. 🙂

    OK, that's enough four-letter words for one post.

    Κιλλάκτορος begs to differ:

    Ἁδὺ τὸ βινεῖν ἐστί· τίς οὐ λέγει; Ἀλλ' ὅταν αἰτῇ
    χαλκόν, πικρότερον γίνεται ἑλλεβόρου

    (Greek Anthology V.29)

  • Peter says:

    The examples of it I have seen, including one directed at myself when I went past a clutch of gypsies, involved the tips of the fingers, rather than the palm, pointed at the victim.

    If it's only the "tips of the fingers," it's of the quicky variety. There are many variations. I am partial to the three-finger variety with a slight forward flic of the wrist. I guess it depends on circumstances.

  • Pierre A says:

    Two comments:
    μούντζα: Whenever I have actually heardt the word, it has had a very audible 'nu' before the 'tz'. THe examples of it I have seen, including one directed at myself when I went past a clutch of gypsies, involved the tips of the fingers, rather than the palm, pointed at the victim. And it is a very specific gesture. Otherwise there would be a good deal of unhappiness
    about Saad Zaghloul giving the five-finger μούντζα to Cairo from the east end of the Kasr al-Nil bridge.

    (This is all rather fun!)

    Another question entirely:
    TLG has texts of the second and third Monodies by Bessarion for Theodora Comnena of Trebizond, but not the first, which seems odd. Is the first in the pipeline?

  • Excellent!
    The mounin reference could well be from the hand of Tzetzes, I guess.
    Waiting for the Greek text of the epilogue, though!

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