How likely is it that the Cypriot Greek word for ironing board is related not only to horse but also to the English “apparatus”?

By: | Post date: 2017-02-23 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Not likely.

Not impossible. But not likely.

Let’s think this though, and the considerations for us thinking this through are not specific to Cyprus; they are pretty generic in etymology.

English was a donor language to Cypriot Greek while the British ruled Cyprus, from 1878 through 1960, and as an international language since. While there is English in Cypriot, there’s isn’t all that much; there’s a lot more Old French, Venetian, and Turkish. (Btw, if anyone reading thinks that Cypriot Greek tʃaera is a borrowing of English chair, stop that. It’s a borrowing of Old French chair.)

The first question to ask is: could the word be just Greek? The second question to ask is: could the word be English at all? If the answer to both is yes, then you may well be dealing with a contamination of the two sources: words don’t always have a single origin, especially if the two origins sound very similar.

So, first up, could someone come up with the term “horse” to describe an ironing board? Of course they could. An ironing board has four legs, and a flat back that you put things on. From Google, I see that ironing horse is occasionally used in English to refer to ironing boards. I’m not seeing any indication that the Standard Greek άλογο is used to refer to ironing boards, and I wonder whether ironing horse was calqued into Cypriot from early 20th century British English.

Second: could English apparatus have been borrowed into Cypriot, and conflated with the similar-sounding Cypriot apparos, to refer to ironing boards?

There’s several problems with such a possibility:

  • How often were English terms borrowed for household items into Cypriot? Was English going to be the language used for household items at all, when relations between Cypriots and the British were nowhere near as intimate as, say, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots?
  • Going from apparatus to apparos requires a slight leap of imagination. Not a huge leap, it’s not impossible, but it’s not tempting either.
  • Why would you borrow apparatus as the word for an ironing board? As opposed to the specific name of the thing, ironing board? Or, you know, ironing horse. You might as well borrow the word beverage to refer to tea. That kind of thing can happen in language, but again it’s not tempting.
  • Does anyone even refer to ironing boards as apparatus? *Googles* Ah they do: Patent US20130192102 – Ironing board apparatus and methods. Well, would anyone within plausible earshot of a Greek Cypriot in 1930, as opposed to someone in the US Patent Office in 2012, be likely to refer to ironing boards as apparatus?

I think coincidence is a more plausible explanation here.

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