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μούτζα, μουνί and Tzetzes
I thank my esteemed commenters on the last post, and have a post-length response to them, concerning:
- The Complaint of the Anonymous Naupliot
- The Byzantinicity of the Greek insulting gesture of the moutza
- The controversy over the etymology of μουνί “cunt”
- The curious editorial fate of Tzetzes’ Theogony
… Ah yes. There is a Language Advisory on this post.
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.
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,
- who said the gesture was use throughout the Empire,
- 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,
- 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.
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.)
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.
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.)