μουνί vs. monín

By: | Post date: 2010-02-10 | Comments: 25 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek
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OK, I don’t particularly intend for this blog to be turned over to the etymology of sundry four-letter words, but the etymology of μουνί which I had posted on turns out to be complicated, and interesting. It’s certainly attracted a lot of interest in comments; I don’t remember my article on πεσσός “pier” getting this much interest.

Things being complicated, I’ll break this up in two. The first post is on whether μουνί is originally Greek or Italian. The second goes through the attestation of μουνί in Early Modern Greek, and reviews the proposed etymologies. My godfather (TAK) has raised a major issue in comments, about whether the dates of any phenomena in literary texts before 1400 can be trusted; that’s a methodological issue, and will get its own post—hopefully with a lot less vulgarity.

The language advisory still applies, especially because I’ll be discussing a metaphor based on said word.

This post and the next is of course secondary scholarship, and is indebted to the linguists who have actually had a go at working out the etymology of μουνί. The latest reference in Kriaras’ Early Modern dictionary—which I’m now inclined to agree with— is:

  • Moutsos, Demetrios. 1975. Varia Etymologica Graecanica. Byzantion 45. 118–130.
  • The article also proposes etymologies for: αγνάντια “opposite”, ανακούρκουδα “crouching”, βότσαλο “pebble”, βούρδουλας “whip”, μουνί “cunt”, βυζί “breast”. The alphabetical bias suggests this resulted from lexicon work: Moutsos acknowledges Georgacas’ help, and I suspect the article came from Georgacas’ unfinished Greek–English dictionary.

The etymology of μουνί “cunt” is complicated alright. If I were vulgar, which of course I am (but not in Greek), I might go so far as to say that the etymology of μουνί… είναι μουνί. The expression doesn’t mean what it’s a cunt of an etymology would in English—meaning unpleasant, obnoxious. In Greek, it means “it’s a mess, it’s chaotic”. The expression is odd (why would vaginas be chaotic in particular?); and the reason behind the expression is actually a key point later on.

The major complication to note is, we have a very similar word in the Northwest Mediterranean, also meaning “cunt”:

  • mona in Venetian (and the Venetian hinterland, in Veneto Guiliano and Trentino)
  • a diminutive monín, which has made it to the Lingua Franca
  • mouni in Occitan, reported as meaning variously “cunt”, “monkey”, and “cat”.

Coincidence can happen, but this kind of coincidence probably didn’t: these are likeliest the same word. If they are the same word, and there’s no obvious common ancestor, then one language borrowed it from other. So which came first?

I was worried about mon-a becoming μουν-ί(ο)ν: the 12th century is way too late for the Greek diminutive suffix -ίον to have remained productive, and a loanword ending in -a should have become a word ending in -α. (Contrast τιμόνι “steering wheel”, from Venetian timón.) The existence of monín in Venetian deals with that problem.

The change of vowel between /o/ and /u/ is another issue; but etymologists rarely care about vowels (as Voltaire apocryphally noted). Greek sporadically has /o/ > /u/ around labials; on the other hand, Venetian borrowed Arabic maimūn “monkey” as monna. So the vowel difference is not something to worry about.

The etymologies I had seen in the previous post were implausible enough that I was happy to accept mona came before μουνί. But there are reasons not to. For starters, we don’t actually have an accepted Latin origin of mona. The Loony Tunes Aristophanean etymology of mona from βυνεῖν, mentioned in the previous post, is proof that Italianists couldn’t come up with something closer to home. Boerio’s old dictionary of Venetian, which TAK cited in comments, left open which direction the word moved in.

But the compelling argument Moutsos mentions is where else the word shows up in Italy. Herhard 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.

That’s a matter for Romanists to work out, though; at any rate, Cortelazzo & Marcato’s 1992 Dizionario Etimologico dei Dialetti italiani accepts a Greek origin, with an Arabic sideswipe:

The word corresponds to the Modern Greek mouní, and seems to belong to the wave of Grecisms that penetrated into Venice in the 14th and 15th century (Cortelazzo 1970). Alternatively, the homophony with monna “barbery ape, monkey” (from the Arabic maimūn) could let us suspect a transition from the animal name; but there is no lack of other etymological hypotheses, including the personal name Mona, from Simona.

As often occurs in etymology, of course, coincidences matter: if Venetian had three identical words for “cunt”, “monkey”, and “Mona”, people will start conflating them in their heads. It’s plausible that Venetian monín went across to Occitan mouni, and it’s also plausible that the confusion took hold there, so that “monkey”, “pussy”, and “pussy cat” got entwined. (Is “monkey” a term of affection there? It sort of is in Greek, via “mischievous child”. Then again, that usage occasionaly turns up in English too.)

So mona has picked up semantic richness in Venice and Toulouse. But that’s not inconsistent with mona being borrowed from Greek. All you need is for the word to have become common and entrenched in the receiving language.

TAK also noted the coincidence of the expression “become cunt” in Venetian (deventar una mona), as recorded in Boerio’s dictionary, and Greek (έγινε μουνί). The expression also indicates a word common and entrenched enough to support metaphor; but I don’t think it is that illuminating. Or rather, it’s illuminating, but not illuminating about how the word travelled.

The Greek expression, as I mentioned above, means “to become messed up”. To illustrate it, I here reproduce an exchange I witnessed 15 years ago, between two recent female graduates in linguistics, in Salzburg:

GRADUATE 1: I’m not going to put the Mozartkuglen in my luggage, γιατί θα γίνουν μουνί! [Because they will become cunt = they will be ruined, they will be a mess]
GRADUATE 2: *laughs very nervously, because language taboos do still count for something*
GRADUATE 1: Μα θα *γίνουν* μουνί! [Well they *will* become cunt!]

Being a creature of little imagination, I couldn’t quite place what the analogy was between “cunt” and “mess”. That’s because I wasn’t aware of the other meaning it has in Greek: “be drenched”. (My experience of Greek has been sheltered.) To my surprise, the expression isn’t defined in slang.gr, the Greek Urban Dictionary; but it needn’t be, it’s in the “proper dictionaries”.

  • This blog gives Babiniotis’ dictionary’s definition of μουνί, including the phrase τα κάνω μουνί/γίνομαι μουνί “make things cunt/become cunt”: “(i) drench someone/something; (ii) argue strongly with someone, ruin one’s relationship with”.
  • The Triantafyllidis Institute’s dictionary entry skips the verb, and make “mess” (the missing link in Babiniotis’ entry) a secondary meaning of μουνί, optionally combined with καπέλο “hat”: “Phrase: cunt(–hat): (a) a mess, damage, or turmoil: After the party, his house was cunt(–hat); (b) a turn for the worse; (c) noisy argument: She’s become cunt(–hat) with her husband again.

So Babiniotis records the “drenching” meaning as primary, and skips “mess” as a stepping stone between “drenching” and “argument”; OTOH Triantafyllidis skips “drenching”, and goes from “mess” to “argument”.

I trust my readers can work out the semantic transition “become [like] a cunt” > “become drenched” > “become a mess (physically)” > “become a mess (situation)” > “end up in an argument (with messy consequences)”. The metaphor builds on the taboo of μουνί, and packages it with plenty of sexism; but its starting point is the association of μουνί with wetness.

Venetian makes the opposite association: Boerio defines “become a cunt” as “become flabby, wither, dry up: lose freshness, beauty, joy; said of a man”.

Venetian’s exploiting the taboo of mona too, in the cause of colourful language; but the initial metaphor is not wetness. I’m guessing it is “shameful to behold” > “ugly to behold”; and the unseemliness is emphasised by applying it to the wrong gender. Which appears to involve a different repertoire of sexism.

So we have the same words in the expression, but different connotations leading to different senses. (And of course English has different senses again—let alone the different metaphorical meanings of cunt in American and Commonwealth English, as applied to a person.) That doesn’t really tells us which language the word came from. Metaphors cluster around concepts, however they happen to be expressed. Metaphors can travel, because people travel. But metaphors can be coined independently, and end up in different places.

So it doesn’t look like “become a cunt” necessarily travelled between Greece and Venice; it could have been coined independently. Still, the word itself clearly travelled. One further piece of evidence for monín getting around the Mediterranean is indirect evidence that it got into Lingua Franca. The *original* Lingua Franca. Kahane & Tietze’s reference work on Lingua Franca is based on common nautical loanwords through the Mediterranean, as they have ended up in Turkish. We don’t know a lot about the Lingua Franca, and we don’t need an intermediate pidgin to explain Italian nautical loanwords in Turkish. But since the Lingua Franca did exist, and was multilingual, it is the most plausible vehicle for such loans to have happened.

Now, one of the entries in Kahane & Tietze is *monín de gassa “cut splice”. We don’t have evidence for the Venetian expression (unsurprisingly, since it literally means “eye cunt”), but it did survive in Turkish as munikasa or münikasa. (Or at least it did: the Turkish Wikipedia names it as kesik örgü.)

A “cut splice” is a kind of rope splice, that, well, looks like a monín:

It looks more like a monín given that the slit closes when the rope is taut. Venetian sailors weren’t the only people who thought so: the English name of the splice is cut splice, but as Wikipedia informs us, there used to be an extra n in cut


  • […] 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 […]

  • […] 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 […]

  • […] 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 […]

  • Umberto Eco, La bustina di Minerva, p. 304.

    Come si scopre un complotto

    La settimana scorsa mi hanno messo il telefono sotto controllo. Così hanno registrato il seguente dialogo.

    IO: Ti sveglio mica?
    LUI: No, ma temo di sapere per cosa…
    IO: Allora questa mona…
    LUI: La mia ragazza l’ha data via ieri… capisci…
    IO: No, non capisco. E tu come niente fosse?…
    LUI: Eh… senti… Io ero a Palermo, sai… per la loggia…
    IO: E quella… così?
    LUI: Guarda, ti giuro, non era gran ché… Sembrava fresca perché era lavata… Tu meriti di meglio.
    IO: Sei un porco, scusa.
    LUI: Uno le ha offerto un sacco di soldi… È successo così, per telefono.
    IO: Chiuso con la mona, OK. Adesso non dirmi che anche l’altra roba… mi interessava anche…

    Prontamente interrogato dal magistrato, gli ho spiegato che si trattava di un dialogo innocente, fatto nello stile spezzato ed ellittico con cui due persone alludono a cose note a entrambi. Stavo telefonando a un libraio antiquario il quale sapeva che da anni sto cercando la prima edizione della Monas Hieroglyphica di John Dee. Ed ecco che era menzionata nel suo nuovo catalogo. Apprendevo con dispetto che la sua segretaria l’aveva già venduto, mentre lui era a Palermo per vedersi con un noto collezionista, il prof. La Loggia. Lui mi spiegava imbarazzato che in fondo si trattava di una copia scadente (addirittura, come si dice in gergo antiquariale, era stata “lavata”), e che d’altra parte era lui che aveva detto alla segretaria di far fuori al più presto tutti i titoli, perché aveva bisogno di soldi.


    Come si vede, una conversazione normale, se letta o ascoltata nel giusto contesto. Ahimè, andremo entrambi sotto processo per sfruttamento della prostituzione, uso illecito del 144, adesione a società segreta, contatti con mafia e servizi italiani e stranieri, spaccio di droga, dazione ambientale a elementi della prima e seconda repubblica, corruzione, concussione e furto di atti giudiziari.

  • a secondary meaning of μουνί, optionally combined with καπέλο "hat": "Phrase: cunt(–hat): (a) a mess, damage, or turmoil: After the party, his house was cunt(–hat)

    In Italian "I capelli" (single "p") means "hair", "κόμη". Could it be the case that καπέλο refers not to hats ("cappelli", with double "p"), but to (untrimmed and unkempt) pubic hair, also known as "bush"?

  • I'm not going to put the Mozartkuglen in my luggage

    Does the plural form Kuglen (instead of Kugeln) exist? Is it exclusively (or mainly) Austrian?

  • Michael says:

    I think this "mouni" word has some phonetical origin in the Sumerian 'munnus', with the same semantical meaning (also "woman"), which is written in cuneiform quite graphically as a triangle with a short median line at the lower angle.

  • Anonymous says:

    Some interesting info. Beekes in βουνός


    Etymology: Acc. to Hdt. 4, 199 Cyrenaean, but the word is Dorian (Solmsen, Berliner Phil. Wochenschrift 1906, 756f.). A dialectal word that was spread in Hellenistic times (DELG). – Fur. 08, 213 cites mounias, mouniadikon as variants of bounias, which may points to Pre-Gr. origin. He further adduces Basque muno `hill'. Further he refers to prounous bounous H. – Fur. 213 n. 53 thinks that bounos stibas (`bed of straw') derives from bunw

  • π2 says:

    According to a google result of "μώνια σύκα", Trapp VI 5 has an entry for μώνια: τά ? Feigen: τὰ μώνια σῦκα LudwAnek. 70,2.

    One more thing to check then.

  • opoudjis says:

    Intriguing! We have Hellenika at the libraryl I'll check it out.

  • Anonymous says:

    The word is connected with medieval Greek μώνια σῦκα < αἱμώνια σῦκα;σῦκον = 1. fig.2. pudenda muliebria. Ἑλληνικά 57 (2007)385-389.

  • TAK says:

    Oops. Nick, when I said: "Babiniotis uses αντιδάνειο, that is why I wrote calque, sorry" I meant I was confused (αντιδάνειο and μεταφραστικό δάνειο are quite different of course…). But I was in a hurry, apologies. I am going to read your new post now.

  • John Cowan says:

    The movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World conflates two different O'Brian books with those titles, with the first supplying the introductions to the characters (being #1 in the novel sequence) and the second (being #10) supplying essentially all of the plot. Naturally, there is no mention whatsoever of cu(n)t-splices.

    I, at least, have discoursed on occasion on the etymologies of (English) dirty words at dinner. So there. Cunt in particular is quite interesting. If it's a native word (and it has obvious cognates in all Germanic languages) what is the n doing there? The North Sea Nasal Spirant Law should make it vanish, as in (English/German) us/uns, other/ander, five/fünf, soft/sanft, goose/gans. Frisian and Low Saxon fall on the English side, but Dutch sometimes goes one way as in ander, sometimes the other as in vijf. And the Dutch for 'cunt' is kut. Could ME cunte, counte possibly be a mixture of an unrecorded OE cúþa, ultimately from PIE *gen-/*gon-, and OF con < Latin cunnus (whose Greek cognate is κυσος, speaking of loss of nasals)? Nobody knows.

    One of the euphemisms for dirty words is (Anglo-)Saxon words, yet piss is definitely French despite also appearing in many Germanic languages, all of which get it directly or indirectly from French. It's unclear whether the similar words in the other Romance languages, like It. pisciare, are direct relatives or not: the whole group is very likely of imitative origin.

  • TAK says:

    Nick, yes, Rückwanderer (Babiniotis uses αντιδάνειο, that is why I wrote calque, sorry).
    No, Jeffreys hasn't found anything you didn't (as I said data is similar with minor differences = the date of the first appearance and the hypothesis on Comnena's Oumbertopoulos). But he too admits that it started off as a diminutive for cubs of animals. So, no difference there either.
    As for 'να': I do not want to question its appearance in the 12th century (it is certain, both in documents and in vernacular texts), I question earlier appearances (as in Skylitzes continuatus). Also the case of Tzetzis, with a hapax legomenon in a rather lengthy corpus of texts, based on a reading in just one ms. of the 14th c. still makes me very skeptical.
    If disputing conventional thinking throws out a lot of data, well no problem with me, if conventional thinking can be proved wrong…

  • opoudjis says:

    TAK: 11:35. να

    The conventional thinking is indeed that, if one manuscript has a vernacular passage in an otherwise learnèd text, and another has a learnèd reading, it is more plausible that the scribe dollied up the embarrassing vernacularism, than that the scribe introduced the embarrassing vernacularism off their own bat. Disputing that…. would throw out a lot of data.

    But I don't see the reason to do so anyway:
    * If you want unambiguous evidence of να used in the 12th century, Caracausi's dictionary of Southern Italian Greek monastic documents has several dated instances (1144?, 1168, 1170).
    * If you want evidence of ἵνα (> να) used where Ancient Greek used the infinitive, some would argue you can already get that in the New Testament. The usage here admittedly, after a verb of emotion, is fairly modern.
    * If you want evidence of aphaeresis of initial unstressed vowels in Middle Greek, well I'd have to crack a book for a change, but I think there'll be a few placenames that can prove it by the 12th century.

    If we accept Tzetzes lapsed into the vernacular for just that one translation, I do not believe να + verb is impossible. The question mark over early literary instances you pose is appropriate, and I'll write further on it: it has a nice parallel with evidence for language change in the New Testament vs the papyri. But I don't see the question mark as strong enough to reject the reading.

  • opoudjis says:

    TAK: 11:35

    I actually knew about the -πωλος variant, but didn't bother searching for it. When I write the post, I'll be more scrupulous; I just wanted a ballpark. Doesn't look like Jeffreys found something I hadn't, though.

    His interpretation is that the suffix started on names as a true diminutive—i.e. dismissive, or "junior". That makes sense, although the "hatchling of a bird" > "cub of animal" sense which Hierophilus gives persists in Modern Greek, and may well explain why the suffix became so popular as a patronymic.

  • opoudjis says:

    @TAK 10:49: Well, no. 🙂

    * monín can't be a calque for βινεῖν, because monín is meaningless in Romance: that's the point of ultimately deriving it from Greek. You mean Rückwanderer, right?
    * The Greek etymologies are all via unattested words, that's true; at least βινεῖν (which is Moutsos') is somewhat more plausible.
    * μουνίν < monín rids us of a Greek difficulty, and just gives us a bigger Romance difficulty, because monín has no Romance etymology.
    * The data from Bova and Erice only makes sense if munno was in Greek a long time ago—before Greek retreated from Sicily. As in 10th century.
    * So having μουνί come from Venice doesn't explain munno in Erice.

    The alternative to monín coming from Greek is untenable:
    * A Middle Greek *mono ends up as Bova Greek monnu and Erice munno
    * The Middle Greek *mono also ends up borrowed by Venetian as mona > monín. (There's no common Greek substrate to Bova and Venice)
    * A couple of centuries later, monín gets borrowed back into Greek into μουνίν.

    And what does that gain us? Any etymology of a Middle Greek *mono is going to be as awkward as the etymologies for Modern Greek μουνίν, and we've just added a couple of unnecessary steps.

    No, we're going to have to come up with a Greek etymology here. "After eliminating the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth"

  • TAK says:

    @Peter and Nick on -poulos:
    Michael Jeffreys in "Modern Greek in the 11th century – or what else should we call it?", Κάμπος: Cambridge Papers in Modern Greek, 15, 2007, 61-89, provides similar data with slightly different dates. E.g. on p. 69 he states "the first such family name I have found is Gavrielopoulos (first decade of the 10th century), a debauched companion of the Emperor Alexander. The termination might have a dismissive connotation. Later in the 10th century there are the Kometopouloi, Bulgarian princes, and a Sarakenopoulos, a military man stationed in Bulgaria." The bulk of his evidence comes from the 11th century (over 30 surnames) but he includes both -πώλος and -πουλος ("which seem to be used interchangeably").
    As for Anna Comnena's Oumbertopoulos, he comes up with some interesting data from seals, which shows that "the man called Oumbertopoulos by Anna called himself on his seals Konstantinos Oumbertos" and proposes the theory that "the -opoulos ending, despite probable vernacular roots, took on in the learned language the force of the American 'Junior', to distinguish between homonyms".

    Oh, and btw, Nick, in the same paper Jeffreys also discusses the appearance of 'να' in Skylitzes Continuatus. Here is what he says (pp. 64-5):

    το δημώδες τούτο και κατημαξευμένον: εγώ σε έκτισα, φούρνε, και εγώ να σε χαλάσω.

    Manuscripts of the continuator are confused here. It is assumed, in the edition that where readings close to 11th-century oral language are found in some manuscripts and conventional written forms in others, preference should be given to oral forms. Thus the future "να σε χαλάσω", is printed in preference to its learned equivalent "σε καταλύσω", since the former is unexpected in writing and therefore the lectio difficilior.

    I couldn't find Tsolakis edition in the library, but from what Jeffreys says, I infer that the 'να' in Skylitzes Continuatus is an editorial intervention, most probably found in later mss. and inserted in the text as a lectio difficilior instead of being considered a vernacular form introduced by a say 13th c. scribe as a "simplification", according to his time's register when 'να' certainly existed.

  • TAK says:

    Nick, thanks for the explanation; now your point is much clearer to me.

    My objection still remains though, because I find all proposed etymologies for Greek μουνίν problematic (as you do too). I think you don't have to be a linguist, to realize that the following (from Triantaphyllides' Dictionary) is far fetched/based on too many missing links/unattested words:

    αρχ. εὐνή `κρεβάτι, κρεβάτι του γάμου΄ ελνστ. υποκορ. *εὐνίον > μσν. *βνίον (αποβ. του αρχικού άτ. φων.) > *μνίον (για την τροπή [vn > mn] σύγκρ. ευνούχος > μουνούχος, ελαύνω > λάμνω) > *μουνίον (ανάπτ. [u] ανάμεσα σε αρχικό [m] και ακόλουθο σύμφ., σύγκρ. *μνούχος > μουνούχος) > μσν. μουνίν ή < αρχ. μνοῦς `μαλακό πούπουλο, χνουδάκι΄ ελνστ. υποκορ. *μνίον > μσν. *μουνίον (όπως στην προηγ. υπόθεση) > μσν. μουνίν (πρβ. όμως και βεν. mona, ίδ. σημ.)

    In my view, an etymology from Venetian monin, dim. of mona, would make much more sense, cause it would be much more straightforward. To what extent this is a calque (< AGr βινείν) as Babiniotis and possibly Moutsos (whom I have not read) suggest, remains to be investigated (and again explained with unattested middle words, right?). But your Southern Italian villages make it possible (though you seem to reject this scenario with your original post's closing sentence – or I am wrong?).

  • opoudjis says:

    Peter: thank you for my next blog post. 🙂

    Here's the executive summary from a quick search in the TLG. It's indicative and not exhaustive, but it doesn't surprise me given what I know:

    * The prevalent etymology is from Latin pullus "bird" (πουλί). The only alternative proposal I know of is from πῶλος "colt".
    * Like all Modern patronymics, it's a diminutive (it's the Peloponnesian diminutive in Modern Greek).
    * First use according to TLG dates as a diminutive (and there are huge slabs of salt to take with any of that, as I'll post eventually): a Hierophilus, writing on diet, 4th/6th C. AD? Consistent with pullus, he refers to "little roosters, little hens, little pidgeons".
    * First expanded use as a diminutive: Leontius of Neapolis (7th century)—no surprise at all, he's the most vernacular author from before the Dark Ages. "little abbot"
    * First use in a proper name: George the Monk, 9th century: Argyropoulos, Gabrielopoulos. Gabrielopoulos also in four 10th century chroniclers. Anna Comnena has an Umbertopoulos in the 11th century, and the Continuators of Scylitzes a Longibardopoulos (i.e. Lombardopoulos).

    … so you guessed right. I don't have access to the right prosopographical dictionary to do more detailed analysis, but that's good enough for me.

  • Peter says:

    OK, I don't particularly intend for this blog to be turned over to the etymology of sundry four-letter words, but the etymology of μουνί which I had posted on turns out to be complicated, and interesting.

    Interesting for sure, but unfortunately it's not a subject matter I can bring up at the dinner table: "Hey, Marie, you want to hear something cool? Do you know that the etymology of the Greek c-word is . . . ."

    I have a question if you don't mind, N. What is the earliest attestation of the patronymic suffix "-poulos"? If I recall my Byzantine history, I am guessing 9th or 10th century. Also, is it Greek in origin, or Latin? Thanks.

    (Note: If it's neither Greek nor Latin, then I don't want to know. 😉 )

  • opoudjis says:

    John: I *knew* I recognised the book title; when reading up on Rusty Crowe in Wikipedia, I fell across the movie very loosely (if at all) based on the novel. That I only heard of this 2003 movie on Wikipedia, and not when it was released, indicates both that I should get out more, and that the movie did not do all that well.

    The movie is Hollywood and not indie, so I suspect it too would have treated the n as silent, if cut splices were mentioned at all. (And I doubt they'd have bothered, in a movie whose audience is meant to be broader than 19th century sailors.)

  • opoudjis says:

    TAK: The second post won't convince you about much of anything, I suspect: the etymologies that have been proposed within Greek over the years have all been either semantically stretched, or phonologically stretched. The evidence that's turned me, like I said, is the presence of munno in Southern Italian Greek. Let me spell it out a bit more explicitly.

    * We have a Venetian word, that may be of either Venetian or Greek origin.
    * The word shows up in the immediate vicinity of Venice. (And, apparently, Provence.)
    * This word does not show up anywhere else in Italian…
    * … Except for two villages: Bova, a Greek-speaking village in Calabria (where Greek has certainly been spoken continuously since the 10th century, and likely continuously since antiquity); and Erice, a village in Sicily, which is known to have a Greek substrate.
    * The word has no known Romance etymology for the word. So it turning up in both Venice and Erice is not because of Roman legionaries: it's not a common inheritance.
    * We could say the word travelled to Bova and Erice through Venetian sailors. But it's implausible that sailors carried the word to just those two villages (which happen to have a Greek connection), and to *no other* coastal village in Southern Italy.
    * In addition, the two villages have munno and monnu—which does not point back to a Venetian mona or monín, but *munno. If the word was a reasonably recent loan, the change on inflection doesn't make sense. (I should say though, this is the weakest point of Moutsos' proposed etymology.)
    * This means a Greek origin is most plausible for both Bova and Erice.
    * Since we conclude Bova and Erice got the word from Greek, and we don't know whether Venetian got it from Greek or not, the simplest hypothesis is that Venetian got it from Greek too.

    Rohlfs can be overenthusiastic about seeing Dorians everywhere in Southern Italy, and I have published a paper refuting his claim that [ɡw] in Apulian Greek (gwenno for Modern Greek βγαίνω [vɣeno]) is somehow derived from Ancient Greek. But this argument has convinced me (and Cortelazzo)—although Rohlfs stated in German much more elegantly. ("Die italogriechische Form lässt eine ältere einheimische griechische Tradition erkennen.")

    The Venetian word could easily have travelled back to Greece. However the timeframe for Venetian–Greek contact rules out the classic Rückwanderer scenario. (Greek lends the word to Venetian, Greek forgets the word existed, Greek reimports the word back from Venetian.)

  • John Cowan says:

    Jack Aubrey, from Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander (1969):

    "Where's the bosun? Now, Mr. Watt, let me see the tackles rigged: you want a hard-eye becket on that block. Where's the breeching?"

    "Almost ready, sir", said the sweating, harassed bosun. "I'm working the cunt-splice myself."

    "Well," said Jack, hurrying off to where the stern-chaser hung poised above the Sophie's quarter-deck, ready to plunge through her bottom if gravity could but have its way, "a simple thing like a cunt-splice will not take a man-of-war's bosun long, I believe."

    The year is 1800. Of course, what historical novelists say is not evidence, but O'Brian is known to have been quite careful with language.

  • TAK says:

    Nick, nice post! You really made me laugh with this: the etymology of μουνί… είναι μουνί!!!!!

    From what you write I think it's obvious that μουνί/mounin/mona, etc. were part of the Lingua Franca of sailors through which they travelled around the Mediterranean (a view that I accept and is supported by surviving texts and their dates). However, I do not actually see why you believe the Greek form came first (perhaps I have to wait for your second post).

    I really liked your point about the cut splice (if indeed related, it would mean that both μουνί and γκόμενα originally referred to ropes and entered modern Greek via the Lingua Franca of the sailors, sth. that I find both interesting and plausible).

    I just note that μούνα too (< Ven. monna) is recorded in Kriaras, in the sense monkey, whereas Somavera records both μούνα (monkey) and μουνάρα (big cunt). Μεγάλε Σομαβέρα!!!!

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